Analysis: What have we learned from the first three rounds of the 2019 Championship?

Josh Adams in the lead up to his try with Elliot Daly 23/2/2019
The second rest week gives everyone a chance to draw breath and prepare for the final assault on the 2019 Championship.

The second rest week gives everyone a chance to draw breath and prepare for the final assault on the 2019 Championship.

But there is no rest for our official stats providers AWS who have dug deep into the numbers to pick out the key trends from the first three rounds of action.

Head over to our Match Downloads section for every statistic you could ever need, but below we summarise some of the more interesting developments that we have spotted.

England under Eddie Jones this year have made it clear they don’t mind not having the ball.

Much more to come on their defensive structure and kicking tactics, but it is instructive to learn that at 42.9, they are the team that have enjoyed the least possession of all six teams.

Contrast that to Ireland who have enjoyed 56.7% and it is clear to see that the two teams have entirely different approaches to how to win a game.

England might have had the least ball, but in the territory stakes, they are out in front at 56.1%, emblematic of their approach to kick ball back to the opposition deep in their own half and then back their defence to keep them penned in.

Gregor Townsend and Scotland have made no secret of their desire to put pace on the ball and that is reflected in the fact that the ball is in play in their games more than any other team (42.9 minutes per game average)

The only unbeaten team left in the Championship, there is no doubt that Wales’ fitness is proving vital in three hard-fought wins from three.

Warren Gatland’s side back themselves to finish games stronger than their opponents – and that means that all seven of their tries have come in the second half.

By the same token, they are yet to concede a second-half try and overall have scored 78.8% of all their points after the turnaround.

Their defence also seems to grow when the going gets tough, they have shipped 33 points in first halves but again only 14 on the resumption.

A word here for Italy who are also fast finishers, their tally of 22 final quarter points is second only to Wales. If they can start halves stronger, they average just 2.0 points from minutes 1-20 and 1.0 point from 40-60, then their first win of the Championship cannot be far away.

Townsend and Scotland remain confusingly inconsistent, they have yet to ship a single point in the second quarter of games and yet nearly half of all their points shipped have come in the final quarter.

Attacking rugby has been the order of the day so far this Championship.

Every single side is averaging at least two tries a game and there have been 48 in total across the first nine matches.

England are the top try scorers with 11, again an indicator that they don’t need loads of ball from which to do damage.

Second to England are Ireland with nine while every team including table toppers Wales have seven.

Of England’s 11 tries, four of them have come from counterattack – their most productive area for crossing the whitewash.

But that flies in the face of the general trend for the other five nations, it is the lineout that is the greatest source of all tries.

15 of the 48 scored or 31.3% have come from the lineout and Ireland are the best proponents, with five of their nine scores originating from the lineout where Joe Schmidt loves to unveil some of his best strike moves.

Wales however have preferred to do their damage off the scrum, three of their seven have come from there and Scotland and Ireland will need to take note in rounds four and five.

Strike quickly or play the waiting game. That seems to be the message from an attacking perspective so far.

15 of the 48 tries in the Championship so far have come off first phase, almost a third, while eight more have come after 11 phases or more.

Top scorers England have preferred the fast striking approach, six of their 11 tries have come off first phase. Compare that to Italy, their opponents next time out, who prefer to show patience – not one of the seven Azzurri tries have come off first phase.

The battle at the set-piece has made for intriguing reading.

It is Italy who are calling the shots at lineout time, closely followed by France.

Clearly Conor O’Shea’s side have been doing their homework because their success rate of 93.1% on their own ball is backed up by the fact that they have also claimed nine lineout steals and counting. The most in the Championship so far and a whopping 20% success rate on opposition ball. England beware.

The scrum is all about Irish dominance, Greg Feek has his pack of forwards humming along nicely.

They are the only side with a 100% record on their own ball whereas the Italians have room to improve at the bottom with a 75% success rate.

The third set-piece these days is the re-start and here it is Les Bleus who have impressed.

They are the only side to have re-claimed both a halfway restart and a 22 drop out already this season.

The goalkicking numbers have slipped a little this year in comparison to last.

The current Championship average is down at 67.4% but the leaders here are Ireland who are up at 83.3%.

That is in thanks in no small part to both Conor Murray and Joey Carbery who have stepped in well for Jonathan Sexton when required. And the Munster duo are still yet to miss a shot at goal between them (5/5 combined).

France’s goalkicking needs work, they sit below 50% as it stands, but they are only team to have a drop goal so far – Camille Lopez slotting over in the first half of their clash with Wales.

The breakdown is always a key battleground, and here we get an idea of just how England can strike so quickly when they get the ball.

They lead the Championship with a 98.8% success rate at the breakdown on their own ball – they have only turned the ball over in possession there three times across the first three games.

But they are not the quickest in the game at recycling the ball, that honour again goes to the Azzurri who average 3.39 seconds per breakdown which is quicker than both England and Ireland.

On the other side of the ball, we get an idea of how Wales and Shaun Edwards’ much vaunted defence can get set.

They slow down the ball more than any one else, opposition ruck ball is at 4.04 seconds for them across three games which no other team can compete with.

A special mention here for both Jamie Ritchie of Scotland and Wenceslas Lauret who both have four breakdown steals across the first three games. That puts them top of the individual charts. All the more impressive for Lauret who was dropped in Round Two for Le Crunch before his recall against Scotland.

Scotland love to attack with ball in hand, while England prefer to put boot to ball. France are the best at slicing through defences while Ireland have the power to run through teams.

A quick look at the attacking games makes for vital reading as well.

Townsend’s men lead the way for running metres this Championship, averaging 918.7 a game which dwarfs England’s 579.3 at the other end of the scale.

Blair Kinghorn’s 464 metres with ball in hand is way out in front after three rounds but it is France who are making the most incisions when they get possession.

They are not afraid to take a risk, they have made 48 offloads already this Championship while no other team have made more than 21, and their total of 17 line breaks is also way out in front.

Louis Picamoles has been a key part of this, his 44 carries and six offloads are the most of any player this year so far while Yoann Huget’s six linebreaks make him an attacking force to be reckoned with.

Ireland’s power game is still in full effect, their 28 tackle breaks are more than other team, Jacob Stockdale leading the way with five.

Meanwhile, England have made a whopping 111 kicks from hand already this Championship – no other team is in triple figures – Ben Youngs their key kicker with 49 and counting, Conor Murray a distant second with 36.

John Mitchell only arrived in England in November to take over as defence coach but his influence is already being felt.

England have only shipped five tries so far this Championship, joint first alongside Ireland.

And their set-up is predicated upon irrepressible line speed, squeezing the life out of teams in possession as Mark Wilson leads the charge from breakdown to breakdown while Henry Slade shuts down the passing lanes in the outside channels.

That is why, although England have been forced to make the most tackles, at the worst success rate in the Championship of 89.4%, they remain the toughest nut to crack.

Just ask Wales who needed 35 phases to finally break them down in Round Three.

England are happy to miss tackles from time to time, because when they get you they make it pay. 107 dominant tackles and counting is by far and away the most in the Championship.

Wilson has 72 tackles already this year, while Slade has four interceptions and counting. Clearly the English press is squeezing tight.

When it comes to keeping on the right side of the referee, it is Wales and Ireland who stand out.

Both of them have only shipped 19 penalties total across the first three rounds. Compare that to Italy and Scotland who are up at 29 each respectively.

France are the only team with two yellow cards so far this Championship  but the key area for all teams to improve on in the final two rounds is the tackle.

47 of the 139 penalties awarded so far – 33.8% – have come in the tackle so clearly there is scope to improve.