Johnny Sexton, Peter O'Mahony, and Conor Murray. Dan Sheridan/INPHO

How does Ireland's experience compare with the other World Cup contenders?

Andy Farrell’s side have three centurions in their ranks.

WHILE EDDIE JONES has gone completely against the grain for this World Cup, we generally hear the top coaches stressing how important experience is when it comes to the biggest tournament in the sport.

Indeed, the winning starting XVs of the most recent five World Cup finals have had over 40 caps per player on average.

Knowing how to handle the pressure that comes with Test rugby appears to be crucial in World Cups. The most experienced squad doesn’t always win, but those who have been there and done it in international rugby for a long time seem to have an advantage.

Sometimes the exuberance of youth is an important factor too, but most head coaches like being able to lean on players who have been around the block. 

So we’ve worked through the top-10-ranked teams involved in this year’s World Cup, listing them by the total number of Test caps in their squad. 


New Zealand – 1,519 caps

Average caps – 46

Average age – 28

Ian Foster’s hugely-experienced squad are top of the charts when it comes to caps, thanks in part to having four centurions in their ranks, with Sam Whitelock alone contributing 147, just one behind second-placed Richie McCaw on rugby’s all-time individual list.

sam-whitelock-after-the-game Sam Whitelock is hugely experienced. Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO Photosport / John Davidson/INPHO / John Davidson/INPHO

This is the All Blacks’ most experienced World Cup squad ever and the 2015 crew took some beating.

While Brodie Retallick [103 caps] is still on the way back from injury, his fellow centurions Aaron Smith [119] and Beauden Barrett [116] will be key men along with Whitelock on Friday night against France.

Most of Foster’s first-choice side is highly experienced, with captain Sam Cane [90] closing in on the century, while centre Rieko Ioane already has 63 caps despite still being only 26-years-old.

The Kiwis have included several fresh faces, notably in the prop slots, where they have had to undergo change over the last year. Five-times capped wing Mark Telea looks set for a big tournament.

100+ caps: Beauden Barrett, Brodie Retallick, Aaron Smith, Sam Whitelock 

70+ caps: Sam Cane, Ardie Savea, Codie Taylor, Dane Coles

50+ caps: Rieko Ioane, Scott Barrett, Anton Lienert-Brown, Jordie Barrett, Ofa Tu’ungafasi

30+ caps: Richie Mo’unga, Damian McKenzie, Nepo Laulala

-10 caps: Mark Telea, Emoni Narawa, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Cam Roigard, Leicester Fainga’anuku


England – 1,486 caps

Average caps – 45

Average age – 28

Given the sense that England are in a bit of a muddle coming into this World Cup, their sheer experience levels are something of a surprise.

Like New Zealand, it helps swell England’s total that they have four centurions of their own, including the 124-times capped scrum-half Ben Youngs.

England also have seven players in the 70 to 100-cap bracket, with some of them still crucial to Steve Borthwick’s team. As this English side attempts to deal with the pressure brought on by their poor form, their Test experience could be important.

Hooker Jamie George is one of the most experienced players with 79 caps but it’s notable that his two understudies, Theo Dan and Jake Walker, have just seven caps between them. It’s also not helpful that Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola are missing for the huge opening game against Argentina this weekend.

100+ caps: Ben Youngs, Owen Farell, Courtney Lawes, Dan Cole

70+ caps: Maro Itoje, Danny Care, George Ford, Jamie George, Joe Marler, Billy Vunipola, Jonny May

50+ caps: Manu Tuilagi, Ellis Genge, Kyle Sinckler, Elliot Daly,

30+ caps: Tom Curry

-10 caps: George Martin, Alex Mitchell, Theo Dan, Henry Arundell, Jack Walker, Bevan Rodd, Dave Ribbans


Argentina – 1,376 caps

Average caps – 42

Average age – 28

England’s pool rivals aren’t far behind when it comes to Test experience. In Michael Cheika, they’ve also got a head coach with a serious amount of nous. This weekend’s battle between the English and Argentinians should be absorbing.

tomas-lavanini Tomás Lavanini is one of the grizzled Pumas forwards. Ashley Crowden / INPHO Ashley Crowden / INPHO / INPHO

What’s notable about the experience in the Pumas’ squad is how much of it is centred in their forward pack. The likes of hooker and captain Julián Montoya [89], back row Pablo Matera [95], and lock Tomás Lavanini [82] have been around the block.

They also have vast experience among their halfbacks, even if someone like 98-times capped out-half Nicolás Sánchez has been behind Santiago Carreras in the pecking order in that position.

100+ caps: Agustín Creevy

70+ caps: Pablo Matera, Tomás Cubelli, Julián Montoya, Matias Moroni, Tomás Lavanini, Matías Alemanno, Guido Petti, Nicolás Sánchez, Jeronimo de la Fuente

50+ caps: Marcos Kremer, Gonzalo Bertranou, Emiliano Boffelli

30+ caps: Facundo Isa, Juan Imhoff, Santiago Carreras

-10 caps: Lautaro Bazán Velez, Rodrigo Isgro, Martín Bogado, Joaquín Oviedo, Pedro Rubiolo


South Africa – 1,370 caps

Average caps – 42

Average age – 30

The Springboks’ World Cup squad is notably more experienced this time around, with a jump from an average of 34 caps last time in 2019 to 42 this year. 

A little like Argentina, it’s striking how much of the South Africans’ experience is based in their forwards. The starting pack will bring major know-how, but so too will the ‘Bomb Squad’ on the bench. Even the two forwards who have fewer than 10 caps, Deon Fourie and Jean Kleyn, are actually experienced players.

While the firepower up front is imposing, it’s worth highlighting how inexperienced out-half Manie Libbok [9 caps] is. With 2019 World Cup winner Handré Pollard not part of the squad, it looks like Libbok will be the main man at number 10 and he’ll surely be drawing on the experience around him as he looks to step up.

The South African players are the oldest on average, with the likes of 37-year-old Duane Vermeulen and 36-year-old Fourie driving that figure up.

100+ caps: Eben Etzebeth

70+ caps: Pieter-Steph du Toit, Siya Kolisi, Duane Vermeulen, Steven Kitshoff, Damian de Allende, Willie le Roux

50+ caps: Bongi Mbonambi, Franco Mostert, Frans Malherbe, Trevor Nyakane, Malcolm Marx, Jesse Kriel

30+ caps: Faf de Klerk, Damian Willemse, Makazole Mapimpi, Vincent Koch, Kwagga Smith

-10 caps: Manie Libbok, Canan Moodie, Deon Fourie, Jean Kleyn, Grant Williams


Ireland – 1,337 caps

Average caps – 41

Average age – 29

Ireland have three centurions in the shape of Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, and Keith Earls, while the 96-times capped Peter O’Mahony could join them in this World Cup depending on how things work out.

keith-earls-before-the-game Keith Earls recently hit the century mark for Ireland. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

Andy Farrell’s squad would have been third on this list of total caps but for losing the 125-times capped Cian Healy in their final warm-up game.

Still, Ireland’s average number of caps is up to 41 from 37 at the last World Cup and it’s notable how some players new to the team in this cycle have quickly racked up good experience, Hugo Keenan [31 caps] and Caelan Doris [31] leading the way in that sense.

There are only four players with fewer than 10 caps in Farrell’s squad, which is a relatively small group. That certainly backs up the impression of Ireland being a settled squad that Farrell has kept together to build cohesion ahead of this World Cup.

100+ caps: Johnny Sexton, Conor Murray, Keith Earls

70+ caps: Peter O’Mahony, Iain Henderson

50+ caps: Josh van der Flier, James Ryan, Tadhg Furlong, Andrew Porter, Dave Kilcoyne, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose

30+ caps: Tadhg Beirne, Hugo Keenan, Caelan Doris, Bundee Aki, Rob Herring, Finlay Bealham, Jack Conan

-10 caps: Joe McCarthy, Jack Crowley, Jeremy Loughman, Jimmy O’Brien


Wales – 1,293 caps

Average caps – 39

Average age – 28

There’s a real blend of the old and new in Warren Gatland’s squad, with four centurions included but also eight players who have fewer than 10 caps, including the co-captain Dewi Lake.

Indeed, several of those inexperienced players could have a real impact for Wales, with the likes of Dafydd Jenkins, Rio Dyer, and Christ Tshiunza having impressed Gatland in the build-up to this World Cup.

It remains uncertain what this Welsh squad will deliver as they aim for the quarter-finals. While the young guns are finding their voice, the familiar faces like Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar, and Liam Williams will need to lend their experience too.

100+ caps: Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar, Leigh Halfpenny, George North

70+ caps: Tomas Francis, Dan Lydiate, Liam Williams

50+ caps: Gareth Davies, Dillon Lewis, Josh Adams

30+ caps: Tomos Williams, Adam Beard, Aaron Wainwright, Nicky Smith, Ryan Elias, Elliot Dee, Gareth Anscombe

-10 caps: Dewi Lake, Dafydd Jenkins, Rio Dyer, Christ Tshiunza, Henry Thomas, Corey Damachowski, Sam Costelow, Mason Grady


Scotland - 1,039 caps

Average caps – 32

Average age – 28

With the recent retirement of Stuart Hogg, Scotland are one of the top-10-ranked teams at this World Cup who don’t have a centurion in their ranks.

richie-gray Richie Gray is Scotland's most-capped player. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

There is still an edge of Test experience in the likes of out-half Finn Russell and second row pair Richie Gray and Grant Gilchrist, but more of this Scottish team are in the 30 to 60-cap bracket – so they do know how international rugby works.

Gregor Townsend’s group also includes more recent additions like fullback Ollie Smith, former Munster out-half Ben Healy, and clever centre Cameron Redpath, who could all have an impact as the Scots try to get out of Pool B ahead of Ireland or South Africa.

100+ caps: none

70+ caps: Finn Russell, Grant Gilchrist, Richie Gray

50+ caps: Ali Price, Zander Fagerson, WP Nel, Hamish Watson

30+ caps: Darcy Graham, Blair Kinghorn, Matt Fagerson, Chris Harris, Jamie Ritchie, Jamie Bhatti, George Turner, Huw Jones

-10 caps: Ben Healy, Javan Sebastian, Ollie Smith, Cameron Redpath, Luke Crosbie, Ewan Ashman


France – 805 caps

Average caps – 25

Average age – 27

It might be a little jarring to find the hosts this far down the list but it’s worth remembering how they ripped up the script four years ago and how head coach Fabien Galthié has built to this point with a group of players that is distinctly of his era.

There are no centurions in this French squad, although Gaël Fickou has 81 caps to his name and is still 29. The most-capped forward in the group is tighthead prop Uini Atonio with 53. Those are the only two French players with more than 50 caps.

And yet, so many of this French squad have undeniably proven their brilliance in Test rugby. Captain and scrum-half Antoine Dupont is set for his 50th France cap in Friday’s opener against New Zealand. He’s only 26-years-old.

Losing out-half Romain Ntamack [36 caps] was a big blow but his replacement, Matthieu Jalibert [26 caps] knows international rugby well at this stage. Wing Louis Bielle-Biarrey is the youngest member of the squad at 20 and he’s a big talent.

100+ caps: none

70+ caps: Gaël Fickou

50+ caps: Uini Atonio

30+ caps: Antoine Dupont, Romain Taofifenua, Cyril Baille, Charles Ollivon Julien Marchand, Grégory Alldritt, Damian Penaud

-10 caps: Bastien Chalureau, Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Paul Boudehent, Antoine Hastoy


Australia – 688 caps

Average caps – 22

Average age – 26

Eddie Jones’ bombshell squad selection saw the likes of former captain Michael Hooper [125 caps], Quade Cooper [79] and Reece Hodge [63] left out, with the Wallabies instead opting for a group with a huge number of fresh faces in it.

carter-gordon Carter Gordon is another inexperienced out-half. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

There is still one centurion in James Slipper [131] but otherwise, it’s a callow-looking Australian squad. That brings the excitement of the unknown too.

Remarkably, 16 players in the 33-man squad have fewer than 10 caps, including starting out-half Carter Gordon. There’s even an uncapped player in Jones’ squad in 19-year-old Max Jorgensen.

It’s a bold approach from Jones but he will hope the fresh energy can send the Wallabies deep into the competition.

100+ caps: James Slipper

70+ caps: Nic White

50+ caps: Marike Koroibete

30+ caps: Taniela Tupou, Rob Valetini, Samu Kerevi

-10 caps: Carter Gordon, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Suliasi Vunivalu, Richie Arnold, Ben Donaldson, Tom Hooper, Zane Nonggor, Matt Faessler, Pone Fa’amausili, Izaia Perese, Blake Schoupp, Josh Kemeny, Langi Gleeson, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Lalakai Foketi, Max Jorgensen


Fiji - 338 caps

Average caps – 10

Average age – 26

Fiji’s lack of regular Test matches in comparison to the other top-1o teams is obvious in their lack of caps, but head coach Simon Raiwalui has also been happy to back young players in his squad. Only Australia have as young a squad as Fiji.

There are widespread hopes that Fiji will be able to cause a few upsets and get out of Pool C ahead of the Wallabies or Wales, but their lack of Test experience is one potential weakness.

Toulon centre Waisea Nayacalevu is the only player in the squad with more than 30 caps, while a whopping 22 of the 33-man squad have fewer than 10.

Experience isn’t everything but Fiji will have to overcome a deficit of it given that there is a hint more expectation around them than usual. They undoubtedly have the talent, while the Fijian Drua’s progress in Super Rugby means many of these players know each other very well.

100+ caps: none

70+ caps: none

50+ caps: none

30+ caps: Waisea Nayacalevu

-10 caps: Caleb Muntz, Jiuta Wainiqolo, Vinaya Habosi, Meli Derenalagi, Teti Tela, Isoa Nasilasila, Samu Tawake, Tevita Ikanivere, Peni Ravi, Luke Tagi, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Jone Koroiduadua, Vilive Miramira, Zuriel Togiatama, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Lekima Tagitagivalu, Simione Kuruvoli, Selestino Ravutaumada, Peni Matawalu, Iosefo Masi, Sireli Maqala, Ilaisa Droasese.

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