The International Rugby Board (IRB) report on the analysis of match statistics from the 2011 World Cup was released recently (see the report here). It paints a flattering picture of various game specifics in comparison to the 2007 and 2003 World Cups, including competitive balance (see my earlier post on this issue):
...Tier 2 teams were competitive for all 80 minutes of the game. The Tier 1 teams did not pull away over the last 20 minutes which was frequently the case in previous World Cups.
...fewer set pieces, a substantial reduction in kicks from hand and many more passes, Rugby World Cup 2011 saw a renewed emphasis on running rugby.
On the latter, Bret Harris from The Australian newspaper (1 December) is not convinced, citing (perhaps unknowingly) what economists would refer to as selection biases (insofar that the sample of World Cup matches are, on average, less competitively balanced than the population of professional matches):
What was that? Running rugby? If the World Cup was a festival of running rugby, then I'm missing something. Certainly, there were some big scores when the super powers of the Tri-Nations and the Six Nations played the minnows, but in the crucial pool matches and the knockout stages, teams played not to lose rather than to win. There was not a lot of expansive, attacking rugby when the top-tier teams played each other.
For rugby fans, be advised to read the report and make your own decision. My feeling was that the 2011 World Cup (overall) was a marginal improvement on 2007 in terms of attacking/attractive Rugby.