Performance at Sea Level and at Altitude at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa

I monitored the performance of teams at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. I was interested in goal scoring performance at sea level and altitude and summarised the data in Goals Scored at 2010 FIFA World Cup Venues.

Watching the 2010 Football World Cup took me back to the 1995 Rugby World Cup (RWC) in South Africa. I was a member of the Welsh Rugby Union’s management team at the 1995 RWC and was there as a performance analyst. It was the last tournament at world level before the professional rugby union era. Invictus dramatises some of the events at that RWC. It remains the only RWC tournament to be played in part at altitude.

I have revisited performances at the 1995 RWC and present some data here about points scoring performance at sea level and altitude. There were 32 games played at the 1995 RWC, 24 Group Games and 8 Knockout Games. The results from these games can be found here.

These are the data from the games played (averages with .66 and .5 are rounded up and averages with .33 rounded down):

Qualifying Stage: Total Points Scored Each Game

Sea Level (Groups A and B)

Points Scored

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Total Average
East London 60 58 56 174 58
Durban 42 47 66 155 52
Stellenbosch 45 45 45
Cape Town 45 29 74 37
Port Elizabeth 37 38 20 95 32

Altitude (Groups C and D)

Points Scored

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Total Average
Bloemfontein 67 78 162 307 102
Rustenberg 89 72 40 191 64
Johannesburg 62 43 47 152 51
Pretoria 48 46 41 135 45

Note: Japan played all three pool games at Bloemfontein. New Zealand scored 145 points in the game against Japan. Cote d’Ivoire played all three pool games at Rustenberg and conceded 89 points to Scotland in their first game.

Knockout Stages: Total Points Scored Each Game

Sea Level

Points Scored

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Total Average
Cape Town 47 74 121 61
Durban 48 34 82 41

Altitude

Points Scored

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Total Average
Pretoria 78 28 106 53
Johannesburg 56 27 83 42

Qualifying Stage: Total Points Difference Each Game

Sea Level (Groups A and B)

Points Difference

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Total Average
Stellenbosch 39 39 39
Port Elizabeth 31 16 20 67 22
East London 24 6 6 36 12
Durban 6 7 22 35 12
Cape Town 9 13 22 11

Note: only one game was played at Stellenbosch. Australia defeated Romania.

Altitude (Groups C and D)

Points Difference

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Total Average
Bloemfontein 47 22 128 197 66
Rustenberg 89 36 18 143 48
Pretoria 28 36 3 67 23
Johannesburg 24 25 1 50 17

Note: Japan played all three pool games at Bloemfontein. New Zealand scored 145 points in the game against Japan. Cote d’Ivoire played all three pool games at Rustenberg and conceded 89 points to Scotland in their first game.

Knockout Stages: Total Points Difference Each Game

Sea Level

Points Difference

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Total Average
Durban 24 4 28 14
Cape Town 3 16 19 10

Altitude

Points Difference

Venue Game 1 Game 2 Total Average
Johannesburg 28 3 31 16
Pretoria 18 10 28 14

Literature

Sport Science support for rugby union performance was emerging in the mid 1990s. There is very little digital literature available on the support players received in the early years in the 1990s. From personal experience the biggest development was in strength and conditioning support. This situation was transformed by the professionalisation of the game after RWC 1995 and there was an explosion of interest in supporting athletic performance thereafter. 

Ronan O’Carroll and Donald MacLeod (1997) presented some findings on the Scottish rugby team that participated in the 1995 RWC (Scotland played all three of its RWC at altitude in Group D). Michael Hamlin and his colleagues (2008) note that “Repetitive explosive power (∼−16%) and 20-m shuttle performance (∼−3%) decreased substantially at altitude compared to sea level. Acclimatisation to hypoxia had a beneficial effect on sub-maximum heart rate and lactate speed but little effect on other performance measures. In conclusion, 1550-m altitude substantially impaired some measures of performance and the effects of prior adaptation via 9–13 sessions of intermittent hypoxia were mostly unclear.” (Some related articles here.)

Ross Tucker (2010) has provided further insights into playing rugby at altitude (see here also).

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