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FEATURE The data which outlines why France could lift their first World Cup

The data which outlines why France could lift their first World Cup
9 months ago

Fabien Galthie had a vision. In 2020, after their quarter-final exit to Wales in Japan at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, out went a galaxy of household names; Louis Picamoles, Guilhem Guirado and Yoann Huget, and in came a new crop of players, honed at age-grade level, and showing immense promise. Step forward Romain Ntamack, Louis Carbonel, Cameron Woki and Arthur Vincent.

Four years on, that masterplan is coming to fruition as France are backed in many quarters to finally lift the Webb Ellis Cup, after three final appearances and no winners’ medals.

Their gameplan is built around enormous, powerful forwards, like Uini Atonio and Charles Ollivon and aligning them with dextrous, innovative backs with a freedom to roam within a loose structure. See Damien Penaud and the jack-in-the-box, Gabin Villiere. Of course, conductor-in-chief in this controlled mayhem is Antoine Dupont, who scans, runs cute inside lines and has the ability to create off both feet and soft hands. It is a mesmerising concoction.

Here, in a series of data-led charts, is how they have gone from no-hopers, to genuine contenders over the space of a World Cup cycle, focusing on the final lap, in 2023.

  1. France’s attacking threat

The first graphic displays France’s attacking performances in Test matches in 2023, compared to all other teams competing in this year’s World Cup. Due to the difficulty of fixtures potentially skewing averages, Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams are highlighted in different shades.

The left-hand side of the graphic assess France’s team performances in 2023, where they have scored seven points above the average and are the leading Tier 1 team in 2023, averaging just over one point more than South Africa. However, France are only eighth for tries scored, with South Africa, Ireland and New Zealand all scoring more. France have however kicked the most penalties, averaging 0.78 more than the next highest Tier 1 team, England. Surprisingly, France average the least dominant carries of any World Cup team and don’t overly excel on any of the traditional attacking metrics such as defenders beaten, offloads or metres made, although they have conceded the least turnovers, almost three less than the average World Cup team and over six less than the highest team, Samoa.

The right-hand side details player per 80-minute performances, for all World Cup players who have played 300+ minutes in 2023, across four attacking metrics, highlighting Frances’s top performers in each. Italy’s Monty Ioane is the only Tier 1 player to average more tries per 80 than Damian Penaud, whilst Penaud is also France’s top player for linebreaks and defenders beaten, where the unselected Ethan Dumortier sits second for both.  The final metric, dominant carries, highlights the capability of Moefana to replicate what the injured Danty offers in this area.

  1. France’s defence and kicking game.

This next graphic mirrors the layout of the first, but now focusing on Frances defence and kicking game in 2023. In general, France appear to sit just below the average on the majority of these metrics, however two metrics, perhaps surprisingly, stick out; kick metres and tackles made. Only Ireland and England have averaged more kick metres than France this year, with van Poortvliet and Russell the only Tier 1 players to average more kick metres than Dupont. Although the previous section highlighted how Moefana can match Danty for dominant tackles, no player averaged more defensive turnovers than Jonathan Danty in 2023, which shows how keenly his absence will be felt against New Zealand.

  1. Set-piece

There isn’t much use having a brilliant attack or a solid defence without a functioning set-piece, and this next section details how France’s set piece compares to the rest of the World Cup. Argentina and England are the only teams with a higher lineout success than France in 2023, however only against Italy do opposition teams win more of their lineouts. France have mauled fractionally less than the average World Cup team but win fractionally more penalties at the maul, a trend which continues in defence, where they have faced 0.2 more mauls than average but conceded 0.1 less penalties. Where France may be concerned is their scrum success, which has operated at 86% in 2023, 5% lower than the average World Cup side and the lowest of all Tier 1 nations, except Wales.

  1. Efficiency in the 22

After looking at France’s attack, defence and set-piece in isolation, the above graphic now looks at the ultimate end goal of each of these areas, to get into the oppositions 22 and score. The graphic shows the 22 entries made and conceded by each Tier 1 team (left) and the average points per entry scored and conceded (right), teams are ordered by average entries made. Out of all Tier 1 teams, France have been the most efficient in the oppositions 22, coming away with an average of 2.8 points per entry, whilst South Africa, Scotland and Ireland are the only Tier 1 teams who give their opposition fewer points per visit. However, it appears that France’s ability to get into the oppositions 22 and keep the opposition out of theirs, is where they are lacking. They are ranked only sixth for average entries, whilst only Scotland, Italy and Australia let the opposition into their 22 more.

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