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HISTORY TELLS US that experience is a vital factor in World Cup success.
Players who have tasted glory on the biggest stage have repeatedly underlined that experience was hugely helpful in getting over the line, while coaches are always cognisant of how important Test level know-how is when World Cups come around.
While the energy and enthusiasm of younger players can be crucial too, experience often has a major say in deciding tight knock-out games at the World Cup.
“The experience side is very, very important,” said Steve Hansen, head coach of the defending back-to-back champions New Zealand.
A hugely experienced New Zealand team won the last World Cup.
Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
“When you go through the history of the World Cup, it’s huge for teams to have about 50 caps and an average age of 28, 29. I guess we are sitting around that depending on who we pick in our starting 15. Most important is that everyone shares their experience.”
Hansen is referring to the fact that players in the winning XVs of the most recent four World Cup finals have had over 40 caps each on average.
The Kiwis had an incredible average of 66 caps on the day of the final at the 2015 World Cup, which is a record that will take some beating.
We obviously don’t know who will be playing in this year’s World Cup final – never mind how many caps they will have – so in the build-up to this tournament in Japan, we have instead looked at the total number of caps in the 31-man squads of the nations who are considered most likely to compete for glory.
In order to compare this year’s squads to the previous four winners, we have detailed the total caps, average caps and average age of thos World Cup-winning squads. It’s worth noting that only 30-man squads were allowed up until 2015.
2015: New Zealand – 1,484 caps (average of 48 caps), average age – 28.2
2011: New Zealand – 1,137 caps (average of 40 caps), average age – 28.5
2007: South Africa – 826 (average of 28 caps), average age – 26.7
2003: England – 1,080 (average of 36 caps), average age – 28.8
Below, we’ve listed teams involved in this year’s World Cup by the total number of Test caps in their squads.
Australia – 1,424 caps
Average caps – 46
Average age – 27.3
Michael Cheika’s highly-experienced group leads the way in terms of caps in the squads involved in the World Cups, with the recent reintegration of 35-year-old outside back Adam Ashley-Cooper and his 119 caps useful in that regard.
Adam Ashley-Cooper brings huge experience.
Source: AAP/PA Images
Ashley-Cooper is one of a handful of veteran players who bloat the Wallabies’ total of caps but are unlikely to feature in their first-choice XV, with prop Sekope Kepu [106 caps], lock Rob Simmons , loosehead prop James Slipper  also in that category.
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper has 95 caps despite still being just 27-years-old, while there is a third centurion in this squad in the shape of 31-year-old scrum-half Will Genia .
There are some inexperienced Test players in Cheika’s squad, with number eight Isi Naisarani – a Fiji native who recently qualified on residency – hooker Jordan Uelese, and the as-yet-uncapped 19-year-old Jordan Petaia included.
100+ caps: Adam Ashley-Cooper, Sekope Kepu, Will Genia
70+ caps: Rob Simmons, Michael Hooper, James Slipper, Kurtley Beale, David Pocock, Bernard Foley
50+ caps: Scott Sio, Tevita Kuridrani
30+ caps: Allan Alaalatoa, Adam Coleman, Reece Hodge, Dane Haylett-Petty
-10 caps: Jordan Uelese, Isi Naisarani, Jordan Petaia.
New Zealand–1,220 caps
Average caps – 39
Average age – 27.3
New Zealand’s total would have been considerably higher but for the exclusion of 108-times capped Owen Franks from their 31-man squad, which is still highly-experienced.
Captain Kieran Read leads the way with 121 caps, while lock Sam Whitelock isn’t too far behind on 112.
New Zealand have lots of Test experience through players in key positions like hooker, openside, number eight, the halfbacks and fullback. Key playmakers Aaron Smith  and Beauden Barrett [78
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