Win v Performance – are we expecting too much?

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As teams move deeper into the second round of matches in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, many commentators have been critical of win v performances that would seem, at first glance, to be good enough at this stage of a multi-phase tournament.

The question needs to, therefore, be asked – when it comes to win v performance – are we expecting too much?

This poses several elements to it and chiefly, goes back to the old adage of ‘which is more important, the result or the performance?’

The very basis of that question must fall on the side of the result; as that is the arbitrator of the outcome. But the emphasis on the performance is one that is continually referenced (as a forecast of what is to come).

Are we expecting too much?

How many times have fans seen sides scrape a win through methods that are not necessarily the most attractive? A win in the face of possession and territory stats that favour the opposition is still a win.

Then in the very next game, the same team produces the performance they inevitably were searching for (in the previous contest). Shouldn’t that team be praised for improvement? More so by their own management, than external viewpoints.

Many leading journalists and commentators have been critical of England’s first two performances. The general consensus was that their performance against Tonga was ‘scrappy and disjointed’.

Stuart Barnes noted in his Sky Sports column that England ‘were unimpressive but this tournament is not going to be won by brilliance in the early days.’

 

Writing in the Guardian, Robert Kitson stated that ‘not even the most diehard [England] fan could possibly claim this as the most exhilarating spectacle of the opening weekend.’ Should that be a problem?

The job got done right? A bonus-point win achieved. No tries conceded, a physical challenge to keep them on their toes – that is the best preparation, isn’t it? Will people really look back on that game as anything other than ‘doing what needed to be done’, should they go on to be successful in the final.

Many observers sometimes think the obsession with performance can dominate a team’s psyche. New Zealand’s performance against South Africa, whilst ultimately successful, was far from dominating.

The Springboks’ inaccuracy and deep down lack of belief that they could repeat their victory from the 2018 Rugby Championship, caused their downfall (along with two quick pieces of incisive play by the All Blacks in the first half).

What most can be sure of is, that any recognition of sub-par performance on the part of the Kiwis will not permeate their mental well-being. Indeed, you can be sure that should they go on – as many expect – to win a third consecutive crown, that there will be no talk of performances. Only victories.

 

Past RWC victories not reliant of ‘performance analysis’

If one thinks back to the 2003 England side, the effective efficiency of Clive Woodward’s team may [to some] have translated into great performances but, the truth is the world championship came down to a drop goal kicked off Johnny Wilkinson’s weaker foot.

Does anyone talk about whether they were the dominant performers in that game?

Equally frustrating to many commentators is the refusal by coaches to recognise ‘poor’ performances.

Post the Tonga match, Eddie Jones (see main picture) was reasonably upbeat, particularly about the defensive effort in keeping out a single try. Yet this irritated some who thought the England head coach should’ve been more neutral in his appraisal. The norm is to highlight the faults; as well as the positives.

Overemphasis on Win v Performance analysis

What will be interesting to see is if this insistence on performance levels persists as teams get deeper into the tournament, with greater rewards on the line. Fans can imagine that with all the controversy around the Welsh camp player’s fitness and strategies so far during the competition, is that Warren Gatland has only one thing on his mind – that is winning.

If Gatland is successful in leading his men to victory in Yokohama in five weeks time, you can be sure, there will be no talk of ‘the manner in which they will have been victorious’. The post-tournament consensus might simply be, that his legacy will be complete.

Furthermore, at the time of writing this, Ireland has just been defeated by Japan and you can be 100% sure that Joe Schmidt would swap any kind of performance, for that score-line to be reversed.

 

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