Co-host of performance analysis podcast Running the Numbers, Sam Larner, has dived into the Matchstats powered by AWS, to give his analysis of the five rounds of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
We are almost at the end of the 2021 Guinness Six Nations and it has been an incredible Championship. Wales were denied a Grand Slam in a match for the ages in Paris but that was far from the only noteworthy game of the Championship.
England against France just a week earlier might have been the match of the year were it not for Les Bleus’ performance a week later. And it was a very different game but the Calcutta Cup matchup in the opening round was a barnstorming way to kick off five, or six, weekends of rugby.
With 14 of the 15 games in the bag we can take a look back at some of the statistical highlights of this Championship, as well as the races for some alternative titles.
PLAY TO THE WHISTLE
Discipline has been a major focus of the Championship this year and one of the most scrutinised teams have been England.
Their performances against Wales and Ireland, both losses, were held up as examples of how a team can lose a match themselves by giving away endless penalties.
As a whole though, discipline has been worse this year than it was last. Only France have conceded fewer penalties in 2021 than they did in 2020. The make-up of the penalties has been interesting though.
In 2020 the most frequently penalised part of play was the tackle. Last year there were 3.1 penalties for high tackles, late tackles etc. That was followed by ruck penalties, 2.2 per match, and scrum penalties, 1.4 per match.
In 2021 that has flipped considerably. Ruck penalties now top the charts, 4.9, followed by scrum, 1.5, and offside, 1.1. This change has impacted all teams but arguably none more so than England.
England have given away 4.2 penalties more per match in 2021 than they did in 2020. That equates to 21 more total penalties. Bar an incredibly penalty-filled match in Paris on Friday, England will finished tied as the most penalised team alongside Italy.
Both teams have given away 67 penalties in the Championship but Italy have received seven yellow cards to just one for England. This statistic provides hope for England. Yellow cards are given for either acts of dangerous play or repeated defensive, or scrummaging, penalties.
Italy frequently find themselves inside their own 22, defending wave upon wave of opposition attack. Penalties will come in that situation.
The solution for Italy is much more complicated. For England, it is quite straightforward. The majority of their penalties come at the ruck, 34 to be precise.
But we can use the AWS Infringement Flow metrics to see that 21 of those penalties come in attacking situations, from not releasing, entering from the side, or going off their feet.
It should be much easier for England to fix getting to rucks quicker, something they had no problem with last year.
The other good news for England is that last year they committed the most foul-play penalties (10) this year they are the only team to commit none.
It has been a difficult Championship for England but at least we can pinpoint the issue.
SUPPORT IS THE KEY
Every great visible action on a rugby pitch usually comes off the back of a number of invisible actions.
The linebreak by the winger might only have been possible because of the excellent clearout from the second row which created quick ball. We can make the invisible visible by looking at ruck arrivals.
Tomas Francis of Wales is the most active ruck hitter in the Championship and the only player to hit more than one every two minutes.
Francis and Taulupe Faletau have played near enough the same amount of minutes, Faletau just 56 minutes longer. In that time Faletau has carried 66 times for 357 metres, both Championship top tens.
Francis has carried just eight times for 28m. Now we know the hidden work that Francis has been doing, it all becomes clearer.
Faletau is one of the best ball-carriers in the world. The Welsh coaching staff correctly decided that it would be foolish for Faletau to sacrifice some of his carries for a more democratic share of ruck-hitting work.
Regardless of whether Wales finish first or second in this Championship, the hidden work done by Francis will be just as crucial as the very visible work done by Faletau.
With one game left to play, some of the stat categories are still up for grabs. Metres gained is currently led by England’s Elliot Daly on 434m but Scotland’s Duhan Van der Merwe is just 2m behind.
Should the Scottish winger gain 67m or more on Friday night not only will he move into first place he will also have gained the most metres in the last three years.
Antoine Dupont currently leads the offload category with seven but he is being chased by Stuart Hogg who has one fewer.
Gregory Alldritt and Julien Marchand could also catch those two, the pair of Frenchman currently have five offloads each. If Dupont does not top this category it would be the first time in three years.
Finally, Dupont also leads the try assists category with four but he is closely followed by Ali Price and Stuart Hogg, on three and two respectively.
Dupont won in 2020 but it was Scottish victory in 2019 thanks to Finn Russell.
Each week we will call out one player whose value might not have been clear when looking at the traditional stats.
This week the AWS advanced stats led us to pick Scotland’s David Cherry. The hooker hit 32 attacking rucks, more than any other player this round.
He also carried seven times and made five tackles in addition to scoring two tries. He did that in just 49 minutes!