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How experienced are Ireland compared to the other World Cup contenders?

We’ve tallied up the caps and average ages of the leading nations involved in Japan.

HISTORY TELLS US that experience is a vital factor in World Cup success.

Players who have tasted glory on the biggest stage have repeatedly underlined that experience was hugely helpful in getting over the line, while coaches are always cognisant of how important Test level know-how is when World Cups come around.

While the energy and enthusiasm of younger players can be crucial too, experience often has a major say in deciding tight knock-out games at the World Cup.

“The experience side is very, very important,” said Steve Hansen, head coach of the defending back-to-back champions New Zealand.

richie-mccaw-and-dan-carter-lift-the-webb-ellis-cup A hugely experienced New Zealand team won the last World Cup. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“When you go through the history of the World Cup, it’s huge for teams to have about 50 caps and an average age of 28, 29. I guess we are sitting around that depending on who we pick in our starting 15. Most important is that everyone shares their experience.”

Hansen is referring to the fact that players in the winning XVs of the most recent four World Cup finals have had over 40 caps each on average.

The Kiwis had an incredible average of 66 caps on the day of the final at the 2015 World Cup, which is a record that will take some beating.

We obviously don’t know who will be playing in this year’s World Cup final – never mind how many caps they will have – so in the build-up to this tournament in Japan, we have instead looked at the total number of caps in the 31-man squads of the nations who are considered most likely to compete for glory.

In order to compare this year’s squads to the previous four winners, we have detailed the total caps, average caps and average age of thos World Cup-winning squads. It’s worth noting that only 30-man squads were allowed up until 2015.

2015: New Zealand – 1,484 caps (average of 48 caps), average age – 28.2 

2011: New Zealand – 1,137 caps (average of 40 caps), average age – 28.5

2007: South Africa – 826 (average of 28 caps), average age – 26.7

2003: England – 1,080 (average of 36 caps), average age – 28.8

Below, we’ve listed teams involved in this year’s World Cup by the total number of Test caps in their squads.

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Australia – 1,424 caps
Average caps – 46 
Average age – 27.3

Michael Cheika’s highly-experienced group leads the way in terms of caps in the squads involved in the World Cups, with the recent reintegration of 35-year-old outside back Adam Ashley-Cooper and his 119 caps useful in that regard.

rugby-wallabies-samoa Adam Ashley-Cooper brings huge experience. Source: AAP/PA Images

Ashley-Cooper is one of a handful of veteran players who bloat the Wallabies’ total of caps but are unlikely to feature in their first-choice XV, with prop Sekope Kepu [106 caps], lock Rob Simmons [98], loosehead prop James Slipper [91] also in that category.

Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has 95 caps despite still being just 27-years-old, while there is a third centurion in this squad in the shape of 31-year-old scrum-half Will Genia [105].

There are some inexperienced Test players in Cheika’s squad, with number eight Isi Naisarani – a Fiji native who recently qualified on residency – hooker Jordan Uelese, and the as-yet-uncapped 19-year-old Jordan Petaia included.

100+ caps: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Sekope Kepu, Will Genia

70+ caps: Rob Simmons, Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Kurtley Beale, David Pocock, Bernard Foley

50+ caps: Scott Sio, Tevita Kuridrani

30+ caps: Allan Alaalatoa, Adam Coleman, Reece Hodge, Dane Haylett-Petty

-10 caps: Jordan Uelese, Isi Naisarani, Jordan Petaia.

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New Zealand - 1,220 caps
Average caps – 39
Average age – 27.3

New Zealand’s total would have been considerably higher but for the exclusion of 108-times capped Owen Franks from their 31-man squad, which is still highly-experienced.

Captain Kieran Read leads the way with 121 caps, while lock Sam Whitelock isn’t too far behind on 112. 

New Zealand have lots of Test experience through players in key positions like hooker, openside, number eight, the halfbacks and fullback. Key playmakers Aaron Smith [87] and Beauden Barrett [78] have real know-how at this level.

Interestingly, Steve Hansen has also included a large crop of relatively inexperienced Test players, including props Atu Moli [2] and Angus Ta’avao [8], as well as wings Sevu Reece [3] and George Bridge [5], hoping they will add energy, mobility and pace.

100+ caps: Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock

70+ caps: Aaron Smith, Ben Smith, Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick

50+ caps: Dan Coles, Sam Cane, TJ Perenara, Sonny Bill Williams

30+ caps: Anton Lienert-Brown, Ryan Crotty, Ardie Savea, Scott Barrett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi, Joe Moody, Codie Taylor

-10 caps: Brad Weber, Atu Moli, Angus Ta’avao, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, Jack Goodhue, Shannon Frizell.

__________

Ireland – 1,155 caps
Average caps – 37
Average age – 27.8

A little similarly to the All Blacks, Ireland would have brought even more Test experience to this World Cup but for the non-selection of the 67-times capped Devin Toner. 

rory-best-celebrates-with-jonathan-sexton-after-the-game Ireland have very experienced leaders in key positions. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

There is a centurion in the Ireland group in the shape of 37-year-old captain Rory Best, set for his fourth World Cup and already on 120 caps. The hooker is part of an extremely experienced crop that also includes fullback Rob Kearney and halfbacks Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton.

In that sense, Ireland look encouragingly experienced in key positions, while there is still a hint of freshness with the inclusion of three-times capped Jean Kleyn and other relatively new faces like Jack Carty, Tadhg Beirne and Chris Farrell.

Head coach Joe Schmidt’s group includes 11 players back from the 2015 World Cup, while Best, Sean Cronin, Cian Healy, Murray, Sexton, Keith Earls and Kearney all played at the 2011 tournament. Best also featured in 2007.

100+ caps: Rory Best

70+ caps: Rob Kearney, Cian Healy, Johnny Sexton, Keith Earls, Conor Murray, Sean Cronin

50+ caps: Peter O’Mahony

30+ caps: Iain Henderson, Robbie Henshaw, Tadhg Furlong, CJ Stander, Dave Kilcoyne, 

-10 caps: Jean Kleyn, Jack Carty, Chris Farrell, Tadhg Beirne.

__________

Wales – 1,130 caps
Average caps – 36
Average age – 26.8

Captain Alun Wyn Jones and his 137 Test caps lead the way for Warren Gatland’s Wales, whose 27-year-old wing George North also adds major experience with 80 caps for his country and the Lions.

Dan Biggar, set to start at out-half in the absence of Gareth Anscombe, brings 73 caps to the mix, while centre Jonathan Davies and fullback Leigh Halfpenny are among the most experienced members of this squad.

Interestingly, Gatland has included a number of relatively new additions, with prop Rhys Carré in Japan having only made his debut last month, while Tomos Williams, James Davies and Ryan Elias all have fewer than 10 caps.

100+ caps: Alun Wyn Jones

70+ caps: George North, Leigh Halfpenny, Dan Biggar, Jonathan Davies

50+ caps: Ken Owens, Justin Tipuric, Liam Williams

30+ caps: Gareth Davies, Tomas Francis, Jake Ball, Nicky Smith, Ross Moriarty

-10 caps: Rhys Carré, Tomos Williams, Ryan Elias, James Davies. 

__________

England – 1,115 caps
Average caps – 36
Average age – 26.7

Eddie Jones’ squad are also without a centurion and the player closest to hitting the 100-mark, Dylan Hartley, has been left out.

owen-farrell-with-his-son-tommy-after-the-game Owen Farrell is one of England's most experienced players. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

There is, however, crucial experience in starting halfbacks Ben Youngs and Owen Farrell, as well as tighthead Dan Cole and second row Courtney Lawes – who both look like being back-up to the first-choice XV.

The reintegration of Joe Marler has brought 62 caps back into the group at loosehead, while Jones also has a superb crop of players who seem certain to reach the 50-mark in the likes of Billy Vunipola, Manu Tuilagi, Jonny May and Jamie George.

Jones has ensured new energy exists in his squad with the inclusion of players like once-capped Ruaridh McConnochie and twice-capped Lewis Ludlam, while it is frightening that the impactful Tom Curry and Sam Underhill still only have 13 and eight caps, respectively.

100+ caps: None

70+ caps: Ben Youngs, Owen Farrell, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes

50+ caps: George Ford, Joe Marler, Joe Launchbury, Mako Vunipola

30+ caps: Billy Vunipola, Jamie George, Maro Itoje, Anthony Watson, Jack Nowell, Elliot Daly, George Kruis, Jonny May, Manu Tuilagi, Jonathan Joseph

-10 caps: Ruaridh McConnochie, Jack Singleton, Lewis Ludlam, Piers Francis, Joe Cokanasiga, Sam Underhill, Willi Heinz.

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Argentina – 1,087 caps
Average caps – 35
Average age – 26.8

The Pumas don’t have a centurion in their midst, with captain and hooker Agustín Creevy top of their charts with 85 caps.

Head coach Mario Ledesma has not been afraid to back youth in his World Cup squad, including eight players who have fewer than 10 caps. Indeed, Santiago Carreras and Lucas Mensa only have one Test cap each.

Out-half Nicolás Sánchez is among the most experienced players in Argentina’s squad, while the inspirational back row Pablo Matera has racked up 62 caps at the age of 26. 

100+ caps: None

70+ caps: Agustín Creevy, Nicolás Sánchez, Juan Manuel Leguizamón

50+ caps: Tomás Cubelli, Pablo Matera, Joaquín Tuculet, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Julián Montoya, Matías Alemanno, Tomás Lavanini, Jerónimo de la Fuente, Javier Ortega Desio

30+ caps: Ramiro Moyano, Matías Moroni, Guido Petti, Tomás Lezana, Matías Orlando, Juan Figallo

-10 caps: Bautista Delguy, Santiago Carreras, Lucas Mensa, Santiago Socino, Rodrigo Bruni, Mayco Vivas, Felipe Ezcurra, Juan Cruz Mallía.

__________

 South Africa – 1,053 caps
Average caps – 34
Average age – 27.9

Rassie Erasmus’ Springboks have seen a fair amount of change in the past two years, with relatively inexperienced players like Lukhanyo Am and Makazole Mapimpi potentially set to have a big impact in Japan.

tendai-mtawarira Tendai Mtawarira has 111 caps for the Boks. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

There are, however, many players who have been there and done that at Test level for years, with 111-times capped loosehead Tendai ‘The Beast’ Mtawarira among them.

Frans Steyn and his 61 caps have been reintegrated into the squad, while Eben Etzebeth, Willie le Roux, Francois Louw and the freakishly good 27-year-old Pieter-Steph du Toit all have 50 caps or more.

Erasmus also has many important players, including captain Siya Kolisi, in the 30- to 50-cap bracket.

100+ caps: Tendai Mtawarira

70+ caps: Eben Etzebeth

50+ caps: François Steyn, Willie le Roux, Francois Louw, Pieter-Steph du Toit

30+ caps: Duane Vermeulen, Siya Kolisi, Steven Kitshoff, Bongi Mbonambi, Elton Jantjies, Frans Malherbe, Jesse Kriel, Damian de Allende, Lood de Jager, Trevor Nyakane, Handré Pollard, Franco Mostert

-10 caps: Lukhanyo Am, Makazole Mapimpi, Kwagga Smith, Herschel Jantjies, Warrick Gelant, S’busiso Nkosi.

__________

Scotland – 923 caps
Average caps – 30
Average age – 27.3

Gregor Townsend doesn’t have the kind of top-level Test experience in his squad that the leading World Cup contenders possess, with only John Barclay [74] and Greig Laidlaw [73] exceeded the 70-cap mark. 

Instead, Townsend can call on exciting talent including the new addition Blade Thomson and thrilling outside back Darcy Graham. Six-times capped centre Sam Johnson already appears to be a key player.

Townsend has included eight of the starting XV from the controversial defeat to Australian in the quarter-finals of the 2015 tournament, meaning there is a fair amount of recent World Cup experience.

100+ caps: None

70+ caps: John Barclay, Greig Laidlaw

50+ caps: Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray, Tommy Seymour

30+ caps: Finn Russell, Grant Gilchrist, Fraser Brown, Ryan Wilson, WP Nel, Peter Horne, Gordon Reid, Sean Maitland

-10 caps: Blade Thomson, Sam Johnson, George Turner, Darcy Graham, Scott Cummings, George Horne.

__________

France – 802 caps
Average caps – 26
Average age – 26.5

It’s no major surprise that France come into this tournament with the fewest total caps of the leading nations, given how much they have tended to chop and change players in recent years.

romain-ntamack France have included lots of young players like Romain Ntamack. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Number eight Louis Picamoles [79 caps] and captain Guilhem Guirado [70] are the two most experienced players in this squad, while Maxime Médard, Rabah Slimani, and Yoann Huget are set for their third World Cups.

Head coach Jacques Brunel and his staff have included no less than nine players who have fewer than 10 Test caps coming into the tournament, including the recently-qualified wing Alivereti Raka and the promising Toulouse backs Thomas Ramos and Romain Ntamack.

100+ caps: None

70+ caps: Guilhem Guirado, Louis Picamoles

50+ caps: Maxime Médard, Rabah Slimani, Yoann Huget

30+ caps: Sébastien Vahaamahina, Wesley Fofana, Baptiste Serin, Gaël Fickou, Bernard le Roux, Maxime Machenaud

-10 caps: Peato Mauvaka, Alivereti Raka, Gregory Alldritt, Thomas Ramos, Romain Ntamack, Demba Bamba, Emerick Setiano, Charles Ollivon, Sofiane Guitoune.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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