By Alex Shaw of RugbyPass.com
The 2019 World Cup is now just days away from starting in Japan. All squads have been named and confirmed, and excitement levels are swiftly rising all across the globe.
New Zealand are reigning champions and the only side to have lifted the trophy three times, but the field is wide open with South Africa, England, Ireland and Wales having all put down markers of late - and one company's analysis says the All Blacks aren't the favourites.
Esportif, one of the world's leading player representation companies, have published their analysis of the 31-man squads through their intelligence division and there are some interesting takeaways from their forensic look at each of the 20 sides participating in the tournament.
They have produced a 'data score' for each team based on number of caps, players in prime age range, number of players at the same club and number of total clubs drawn from. They also factor in head coach experience, recent form and historical World Cup win percentage.
They further include 'squad value' in the calculation, which is based on an internally devised assessment of salary for each of the players in the squads. For players representing countries who may not be on full-time contracts, Esportif used a figure between US $20,000 and $30,000, unless other information was available.
And, according to the data, Esportif argue that England, who are given a score of 90 out of 100, should narrowly be given top billing ahead of the All Blacks, who were given a score of 89.
The data score has Samoa with the lowest mark of 60, with Namibia and Tonga (both 63), Russia (64), Canada and the USA (both 65) just ahead of them. South American side Uruguay, who have an incredibly challenging pool, lead the way as the 'best of the rest' with a mark of 66, before the 'big three' of tier two come in with Georgia (69) and Japan (70) both sitting outside of the tier one nations, although Fiji's score of 73 sees them tie for tenth spot with Italy.
At ninth overall comes Argentina (74), with the Six Nations pair of France and Scotland both tied on a mark of 79. There is then a three-way tie between Australia, Wales and South Africa, all of whom score 85 on Esportif's metric.
It leaves England, Ireland and New Zealand as the top three and it is Eddie Jones' side who come out on top with a score of 90, narrowly edging ahead of the All Blacks (89). Ireland finish up in third with a mark of 86.
Away from the data score, we have rounded up some of the other interesting takeaways from Esportif's analysis: Only Ireland, New Zealand, England and France have picked entirely domestic-based squads, with Ireland only selecting from four sides. In contrast, Tonga's 31-man squad is drawn together from 27 different clubs, 25 of which are not in Tonga.
Russia have the oldest squad at the competition, with an average age of 29.3, while Uruguay's is the youngest at an average age of 25.9. Interestingly, the South American minnows still also boast the fifth most caps of any team at the competition with 1,109.
In terms of tier one nations, Ireland have the oldest squad with an average age of 27.8, while France have the youngest with an average age of 26.5. The Wallabies have the most caps at the tournament with 1,423, while Samoa are the most inexperienced squad with just 424 caps. The least experienced tier one nation is France, with Les Bleus only accounting for 807 caps.
Those top two teams are flipped when you compare Esportif's rankings with the RugbyPass Index, with New Zealand (89) ahead of England (87), although Ireland (85) finish third in both. South Africa (83) and Wales (78) complete the top five, before Australia (73) come in at sixth. Although the RPI predicts a larger disparity between those last three teams than Esportif, both models have the same top six teams.
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