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).

Semi Finals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup: Inputs

Going into the semi final games of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, these are some of the performance characteristics of the four teams remaining.

Alphabetical

Team
Germany
Netherlands
Spain
Uruguay

Alphabetical and Group Position

Team Qualifying Group Position
Germany 1
Netherlands 1
Spain 1
Uruguay 1

FIFA Ranking May 2010

Team FIFA Rank May 2010
Spain 2
Netherlands 4
Germany 6
Uruguay 16

Games Won

Team Games Won
Netherlands 5
Germany 4
Spain 4
Uruguay 4

Goals Scored

Team Goals Scored
Germany 13
Netherlands 9
Uruguay 7
Spain 6

Yellow Cards

Team Yellow Cards
Spain 3
Uruguay 6
Germany 8
Netherlands 12

Red Cards

Team Red Cards
Germany 0
Netherlands 0
Spain 0
Uruguay 1

Games Played at Altitude

Team Games at Altitude
Spain 3
Uruguay 3
Germany 2
Netherlands 1

Games Played at Sea Level

Team Games at Sea Level
Netherlands 4
Germany 3
Spain 2
Uruguay 2

Some other information

  • Germany and Spain have lost to lower ranked opponents in this tournament.
  • The referee for the Netherlands v Uruguay game has refereed four games at this tournament. His last game was Argentina v Germany.
  • The referee for the Germany v Spain game has refereed three games at this tournament. His last game was USA v Ghana.

After all this information, there is this suggestion too:

Photo Credit

Argentina v Mexico

Goals Scored at 2010 FIFA World Cup Venues

145 goals were scored in the 64 games of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. 44 of these goals were scored in the sixteen Knockout Games and 101 goals were scored in the forty-eight Group Games.

(Not included in this total are goals scored from penalties in shoot outs: 8 penalty goals were scored in Game 55, 6 goals were scored in Game 58.)

32 nations participated in the 2010 FIFA World Cup. After all 64 games of the tournament the goals scored by these nations were:

Team Goals Scored
Germany 16
Netherlands 12
Uruguay 11
Argentina 10
Brazil 9
Spain 8
Portugal 7
Korea 6
USA 5
Slovakia 5
Ghana 5
Mexico 4
Japan 4
Italy 4
Cote d’Ivoire 4
Nigeria 3
England 3
Slovenia 3
Chile 3
South Africa 3
Australia 3
Denmark 3
Paraguay 3
Greece 2
Serbia 2
Cameroon 2
New Zealand 2
France 1
Korea DPR 1
Switzerland 1
Algeria 0
Honduras 0

Where Were the Games Played?

There were ten venues that hosted games at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.

Knockout Games

44 goals were scored in 16 games played in the knockout phase of the tournament. Venues and goals scored there:

Venue Altitude (m)
Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Total Goals
Johannesburg JSC 1753 4 2 1 7
Johannesburg JEP 1753 3 1 4
Rustenburg 1500 3 3
Mangaung/ Bloemfontein 1400 5 5
Tshwane/Pretoria 1214 0 0
Durban 0 3 1 4
Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth 0 3 3 5 11
Cape Town 0 1 4 5 10

The timings of goals scored in the Knockout Games (with links to FIFA video of each goal) were:

Minute in Game Goal
3 Germany v Argentina
5 Ghana v USA
8 Uruguay v Korea
10 Brazil v Netherlands
18 Netherlands v Slovakia
18 Netherlands v Uruguay
19 Germany v Uruguay
20 Germany v England
26 Argentina v Mexico
28 Uruguay v Germany
32 Germany v England
33 Argentina v Mexico
35 Brazil v Chile
37 England v Germany
38 Brazil v Chile
41 Uruguay v Netherlands
45 Ghana v Uruguay
51 Uruguay v Germany
52 Argentina v Mexico
53 Netherlands v Brazil
55 Uruguay v Ghana
56 Germany v Uruguay
59 Brazil v Chile
62 USA v Ghana
63 Spain v Portugal
67 Germany v England
68 Korea v Uruguay
68 Netherlands v Brazil
68 Germany v Argentina
70 Germany v England
70 Netherlands v Uruguay
71 Mexico v Argentina
73 Netherlands v Uruguay
73 Spain v Germany
74 Germany v Argentina
80 Uruguay v Korea
82 Germany v Uruguay
83 Spain v Paraguay
84 Netherlands v Slovakia
89 Germany v Argentina
90 Slovakia v Netherlands
90 Uruguay v Netherlands
93 Ghana v USA
116 Spain v Netherlands

Group Games

101 goals were scored in 48 games in the Group stage of the tournament. These are the goals scored at the ten venues in those games:

Venue Altitude

(metres)

Goals

Game 1

Goals

Game 2

Goals

Game 3

Goals

Game 4

Goals

Game 5

Total Goals
Johannesburg

JSC

1753 2 2 5 4 1 14
Johannesburg

JEP

1753 1 3 4 2 5 15
Rustenburg 1500 2 2 2 1 4 11
Mangaung/ Bloemfontein 1400 1 3 2 3 0 9
Polokwane 1310 1 2 2 0 5
Tshwane/Pretoria 1214 1 3 3 1 3 11
Nelspruit 660 1 2 3 3 9
Cape Town 0 0 2 0 7 3 12
Durban 0 4 1 1 4 0 10
Nelson Mandela Bay/Port Elizabeth 0 2 0 1 1 1 5

Until Portugal’s 7-0 victory over Korea DPR found it relatively difficult to score at sea level. The first three 0-0 games in the tournament were at sea level. The fourth 0-0 draw (game 42) was played at Polokwane and the sixth (game 48) at Mangaung Bloemfontain .

More information about goal scoring at the World Cup can be found at this post. The timings of goals scored in the Group Stage (with links to FIFA video of each goal) were:

Minute in Game Goal
4 England v USA
6 Argentina v Nigeria
7 Korea v Greece
7 New Zealand v Italy
8 Germany v Australia
10 Cameroon v Denmark
11 Australia v Ghana
12 Nigeria v Korea
13 Slovenia v USA
14 Cote d’Ivoire v Korea DPR
16 Nigeria v Greece
17 Argentina v Korea
17 Spain v Honduras
17 Japan v Denmark
20 South Africa v France
20 Cote d’Ivoire v Korea DPR
23 England v Slovenia
24 Uruguay v South Africa
24 Spain v Chile
25 Ghana v Australia
25 Brazil v Cote d’Ivoire
25 Slovakia v Italy
26 Germany v Australia
27 Paraguay v Slovakia
29 Italy v New Zealand
29 Portugal v Korea DPR
30 Japan v Denmark
33 Argentina v Korea
33 Denmark v Cameroon
34 Chile v Honduras
36 Netherlands v Cameroon
37 South Africa v France
37 Spain v Chile
38 Serbia v Germany
38 Korea v Nigeria
39 Japan v Cameroon
39 Paraguay v Italy
40 USA v England
42 Slovenia v USA
43 Uruguay v Mexico
44 Greece v Nigeria
45 Korea v Argentina
46 Netherlands v Denmark
47 Chile v Spain
48 USA v Slovenia
49 Korea v Nigeria
50 Slovakia v New Zealand
50 Brazil v Cote d’Ivoire
51 Spain v Honduras
52 Korea v Greece
52 Switzerland v Spain
53 Netherlands v Japan
53 Portugal v Korea DPR
55 South Africa v Mexico
55 Brazil v Korea DPR
56 Portugal v Korea DPR
60 Portugal v Korea DPR
60 Germany v Ghana
61 Denmark v Cameroon
62 Brazil v Cote d’Ivoire
63 Italy v Paraguay
64 Mexico v France
65 Cameroon v Netherlands
68 Germany v Australia
69 Nigeria v Korea
69 Australia v Serbia
70 Germany v Australia
70 France v South Africa
71 Greece v Nigeria
72 Brazil v Korea DPR
73 Australia v Serbia
73 Slovakia v Italy
75 Chile v Switzerland
76 Argentina v Korea
77 Argentina v Greece
79 Mexico v South Africa
79 Slovenia v Algeria
79 Mexico v France
79 Cote d’Ivoire v Brazil
80 Uruguay v South Africa
80 Argentina v Korea
81 Portugal v Korea DPR
81 Italy v Slovakia
81 Denmark v Japan
82 USA v Slovenia
82 Cote d’Ivoire v Korea DPR
83 Netherlands v Cameroon
84 Serbia v Australia
85 Ghana v Serbia
85 Netherlands v Denmark
86 Paraguay v Slovakia
87 Portugal v Korea DPR
87 Japan v Denmark
89 Korea DPR v Brazil
89 Portugal v Korea DPR
89 Argentina v Greece
89 Slovakia v Italy
90 New Zealand v Slovakia
90 Uruguay v South Africa
90 USA v Algeria
90 Italy v Slovakia

Other analysis of World Cup performance can be found here.

Photo Credits

World Cup Grass

South Africa World Cup Stadium

About the Author

Keith Lyons is Professor of Sport Studies at the University of Canberra and is Director of the National Institute of Sport Studies.