One of the oft quoted beliefs about international rugby and success in RWCs is that experience counts. The implication is that its a complex environment, which much to be learned.
We were naturally intrigued about this and considered it during our past RWC research (recall that we looked back what happened in all of the stages of all of the RWCs held back to 1987).
When we ran our empirical analysis we had a finding which at first seems counter-intuitive but when we reflected began to make sense.
Important note: we looked at the characteristics of teams that had progressed through the tournaments stages, e.g. what specific factors explained the passage of teams, on average, from the pools to the quarter-finals, then quarter-finals to semi-finals etc… So in the finals, if each team had the same number of caps on average, one would expect no difference. This is not to say that caps don’t matter, that is NOT what we are saying.
So what we found was that up until the semi-final stage, teams with more average caps were less likely to progress to that point. To repeat, in the early stages, having more caps was a negative success indicator.
When we reflected on what this meant, we concluded that its possible that in the early stages, teams may have players who have accumulated a very high number of caps, but in part because those nations do not have sufficient replacement talent pools flowing through.
We are not saying that having more caps later on was a bad idea. What we are saying is that we could not find that having more caps later on made a relative difference i .e. affected the probability of progressing. Perhaps this is because teams in the later stages may be very closely mapped in terms of the average number of caps in their teams.