The All Blacks’ bid to win a third straight Rugby World Cup has been helped by a favourable pool stage schedule that will allow them to “explode” into the quarterfinals while England face massive odds to win the tournament.
Analysis by The 1014 Rugby for Spark Sport suggests the ‘pool curve’ has a major impact at Rugby World Cups, and that teams who have increasingly difficult games prior to the quarterfinals never win the Rugby World Cup.
The All Blacks play the Springboks in their opening fixture and win, lose, or draw, they will get the chance to prepare for the knockout stages on their own terms by facing Canada, Namibia and Italy in their remaining pool stage fixtures.
England, by contrast, face Argentina and then France in their last two pool stage games, meaning they will be battered even before they meet either Wales, the Wallabies or Fiji in the win-or-go-home stages.
The All Blacks will also enjoy 27 days between their opening game against the Springboks and their quarterfinal, giving them the chance to train intensively and refine their tactics as they did in 2015.
At the previous Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks played Argentina in their first pool stage match and then had three easier games against Namibia, Georgia and Tonga.
That meant they had almost a month between the Argentina game and the quarterfinal against France, which they won 62-13.
According to 1014 Rugby, that sort of schedule represents the best ‘pool curve’ – and England face the exact opposite of that.
This year, England start with clashes against Tonga and the United States, and then their games get progressively harder as they approach the quarterfinals.
They play Argentina and then France, who have never failed to get to the knockout stages, in their final two pool C games.
There are similarities between this schedule and Ireland’s in 2015.
Ireland’s pool stage games at the last Rugby World Cup also increased in difficulty, with Joe Schmidt’s side facing Italy and France in the final pool stage games.
Beset by injuries, they subsequently crashed out at the quarterfinal stage at the hands of a much fresher Argentina side.
Due to the schedule England will also likely have to win five tough matches in a row against Tier 1 opposition to win the tournament.
That is extraordinarily difficult in the context of a Rugby World Cup.
Other teams with a favourable ‘pool curve’ are Ireland, Wallabies, Wales and South Africa.
The Wallabies have their toughest two pool stage games first – against Fiji and Wales – and providing they can get out of the pool they should arrive at the quarterfinals in relatively good shape.
The same applies to Wales but Ireland’s progress beyond the quarterfinals remains in doubt because they will play either the All Blacks or Springboks.
The 1014 Rugby team is also predicting trouble for Scotland in their final pool stage game, when they will face Japan.
The Scots have only four days of rest before that potentially crucial game, whereas the Rugby World Cup hosts will have had eight days of recovery to prepare.
If Scotland lose to Ireland in the opening pool A game, as World Rugby rankings suggest they will, they could be knocked out of the tournament by the Jamie Joseph/Tony Brown-coached Japanese side in the pool stage.
That would really set the cat among the pigeons and open up the possibility that Japan (and Joseph and Brown) could face the All Blacks in one quarterfinal.
The 1014 Rugby team’s analysis will feature prominently on Stuff in the leadup to and during the Rugby World Cup, including several exclusive videos. They will also feature on Spark Sport. Check out their website and for more videos go to the sports section of Play Stuff.
This content was originally published here.