Apparently comparisons are being drawn between the France team of 2019 and Australia of 2023 in terms of youth. No doubt with the inference of “and look where France are now, serious contenders to win their home World Cup.”
I want to thank AllyOz for doing a lot of the heavy lifting with collecting the data and drawing the graphs. I mostly wrote the analysis of what he did.
Comparing the Squads
Not living in Australia, I haven’t heard this directly, but the rumour factory reaches even the distant north eventually. Let’s do some comparisons, starting with ages.
In 2019, the average age of the French squad was 27±4 (see Figure 1), in 2023 the Australian squad is 26±3 (see Figure 2). For those of you that don’t read statistics, this is a quick suggestion that there’s no real difference between these averages, although you need to read that with some cautions – it’s not very normally distributed data. The median might be a better representative of the average value, so the median age of the 2019 French squad was 26, that of the 2023 Australian squad is 26. No different.
One thing stands out if you poke that a bit more closely, the French had 12 players aged 30+, the Australians have only five. This means the Australian team seem to be lacking senior players, even when compared to the youthful team the French took to the 2019 World Cup. This “super young” Australian squad have nine players aged 23 or younger, so did the 2019 French squad. The real difference is in that group 27-30, where the Wallabies have a little cluster of players with around 30-50 caps, the French squad in 2019 had fewer.
Speaking of caps, in 2019 the French had a median of 15 caps (see Figure 3) and in 2023, the Australians have a median of 12 (see Figure 4). (The averages for both are appreciably higher, 24 and 20 respectively, the data are quite skewed). The Wallabies have an outlier (that’s Slipper) but on average they’re still a little bit lower in caps than that young French squad. If you look at the profile of the caps in the squads, and discount that odd blip in the Wallabies for Slipper, what will probably catch your eye is how similar they are. That might not surprise you after what you’ve read above. The Wallabies have a few more players on 0-10, a few less on 10-20 and it carries on like that.
Age Profile of the French in 2023
One surprising thing jumps out if you look at the figures for the 2023 French squad. Remember the median age of the “young Australian squad, untainted by the experience of losing” were a median age of 26 and 12 caps. For France in 2023, that’s a median age of 26.5 and 22 caps (see Figures 5 and 6). The biggest difference here is the profile of their caps – from 0-30 it’s basically flat, 9, 10 and 7 players in those categories. (Strictly the categories are 3-13, 13-23 and 23-33.) They also have five players in the 40s caps range. Fickou is their most experienced player with 81 (at the time the data were collected). If we apply that 30+ rule for retiring before the next World Cup, that’s only eight of the current squad. One, Atonio, 33, has announced he’s retiring already. Baille, who is 29, but has been getting injured quite a bit might not make it either. Fickou is also 29, 33 is quite old for a centre, he might be gone by 2027. So, reasonably up to 10 players might retire.
Assuming most of the rest make it through, that’s a lot of this team that might be coming to Australia in four years time with another 20+ caps under their belts. Galthié looks to be building a dynasty.
If we go back to that 2019 French team, the 12 players aged 30+ might reasonably be expected to have retired. But, of the 35 players actually in the squad in 2019, only eight made it through to the 2023 squad: Aldritt, Baille, Dupont, Fickou, Mauvaka, Ntamack (he would have been there except for that injury), Ollivon, Penaud and Ramos. I hope you’ll forgive me for not chasing down all the remaining 15 players, but running my eye down the list, most if not all of them are still playing rugby, just not in the French squad, not even in the fringes of the squad. Despite this, Galthié didn’t have a night of the long knives similar to Eddie’s World Cup squad announcement. Although he had four years to make the changes, his current squad has been largely stable for most of that period. There have been changes in response to form, yes, some depth building and the like too, but no horror moments with appreciably large groups of fans left thinking WTF?
I have no confidence that Eddie is as good a coach as Galthié, nor that RA will support him in the same ways as the FFR supported their coach and team, but which eight players from current Wallabies squad stood out at being potentially discussed as best in the world come 2027? You might not pick all of Aldritt, Baille, Dupont, Fickou, Mauvaka, Ntamack, Ollivon, Penaud and Ramos for your world 23 (Mauvaka and Ntamack definitely don’t make mine for example) but I wouldn’t fight too hard if you put any of these names forward in a discussion for inclusion. Perhaps more brutally, but more interestingly, which members of the squad are doomed for the bin? On the grounds that they’re 30+ Arnold, Koriobete, Poreki, Skelton, Slipper and White may be excluded from your murder lists on the grounds they’ll retire.
I started this with the intention of looking at the 2019 French squad and the 2023 Wallabies squad. There are some loose parallels in terms of ages and caps but if you poke the data a bit harder it’s not clear that they stand up to close scrutiny. Further, if you look closely at what has happened to the French squad over the intervening four years it’s not clear that much of what they did then has influenced them directly now.
You might argue that Eddie has got his squad changes in first, Galthié waited until after the 2019 World Cup. However, looking back to my reviews of the 2020 Six Nations, Galthié and Edwards had an instant impact. France came second (on points difference) to England, scuppered by the losing bonus point they conceded to England (or by their somewhat unexpected loss to Scotland). Having exited in the quarterfinals in Japan, they beat the losing semifinalists (with a new coach) and losing finalists (with largely the same team) less than six months later. If you look at that France v England match, you’d recognise a lot of the names from the 2023 World Cup squads. He had the instant impact that Eddie announced he’d have. Would you rather words or deeds?