However, there’s plenty that the matches we’ve seen unfold over the last few months can tell us about next year’s major events.
We’ve analysed the fortunes of the six northern hemisphere sides who compete in the Six Nations, along with the four southern hemisphere teams who contest the Rugby Championship, to see how much their performances and squads can be predicted by their efforts in the autumn.
What can we predict from the autumn results?
Since the start of the World Cup era, the home nations’ performance against a southern hemisphere side at the sport’s showpiece event has followed a pretty simple pattern.
Where they’ve tasted defeat in the autumn, they’ve gone on to lose every rematch with the same side at a World Cup, while a win or a draw has seen exactly half of all rematches end in victory – in many cases this is a marked improvement on their overall record against the game’s southern giants.
Which nations raise their game at the World Cup?
In northern versus southern hemisphere clashes at the Rugby World Cup, the teams that contest the Six Nations all suffer a drop in their win percentage apart from Italy.
The Italians have won a paltry 6.1% of matches against one of the four Rugby Championship teams outside of World Cups, but this rises to a respectable 20.0% – better than Wales and Scotland – on the biggest stage.
Conversely, those four southern sides all win a higher proportion of matches against Six Nations teams when they face off at a World Cup, with one team in particular looking more dangerous.
South Africa’s win percentage in north versus south clashes is 68.4% outside of World Cups – almost indistinguishable from Australia’s – but this rises to a New Zealand-esque 88.9% at the World Cup.
How well can we predict tournament squads and line-ups?
It will come as little surprise to learn that players who establish themselves as regular starters during the Autumn Internationals stand themselves in good stead for selection the following year.
Even a solitary start in the autumn gives a player almost a 50/50 chance of getting into the starting line-up the following year, with this rising to almost 75% with two starts.
The same pattern also holds for the Six Nations, where two starts in the autumn gives a player an even chance of making at least three tournament line-ups in the spring.
However there’s plenty of hope for players who weren’t able to break into the starting line-up this autumn.
On average, over one in four players who started at a Six Nations championship didn’t do so in the preceding autumn, and this rises to almost four in every 10 of those who start at least one World Cup match.
In fact, over 40% of players who made one of the last three World Cup squads didn’t start a single game during the previous Autumn’s Internationals.
By far the most sure-fire way to win a World Cup place in the autumn, however, is to score a try, with 82.0% of players who did so going on to be selected for the following year’s tournament.
Will 2019 be Ireland’s year?
Finally we wanted to highlight an intriguing statistic that we uncovered during our research.
Ireland’s recent victory over New Zealand this year was only the second by a northern hemisphere side over the All Blacks in the year before a World Cup, which is impressive enough in itself.
However, where it gets interesting is that the only other northern hemisphere side to manage this was England in 2002, in the build-up to their famous Jonny Wilkinson-powered World Cup victory in 2003.
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