AWS Game Notes

Control and Smart Risk-taking Separate France From The Rest

The confidence of youth is a quality often seen in teams across all sports – but far less common an association is that of first-class game control.

The confidence of youth is a quality often seen in teams across all sports – but far less common an association is that of first-class game control.

France, the youngest side in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, and one of the youngest Championships sides ever, seem to have found a way to marry both. With wins over England, Italy and Wales the current crop have tapped into that rich tradition of charismatic, confident French rugby.

But a deep dive into the Official Guinness Six Nations Statistics Powered by AWS, show some indicators that alongside their superb attacking flow, France are playing to a smart, well-planned strategy.

The surface-level statistics are there for all to see: France are the highest points scorers and the highest try-scorers in the Championship  with the lowest amount of possession (43%) and the second lowest amount of territory (46%) – efficiency and ruthlessness in a nutshell.

Their young half-back pairing of Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont (23) are helping to take Les Bleus from 0-60 and back again depending on their needs.

When they are ready to strike it is swift and decisive – five tries off first-phase ball is the same amount as all the other teams put together. France’s five tries in the opening 20 minutes of games is also more than the other five teams have managed combined (4).

With lightning raids completed, France have also proved adept at slowing games down.

Their average attacking ruck speed of 4.5 seconds is by far the highest in the Championship. With just 90 attacking rucks under the 3-second mark – the least of any team in the Championship – it’s clear that France’s attacking strategy does not generally depend on quickly taking opponents through the phases.

That is borne out by the fact that France have made by far the lowest amount of passes in the Guinness Six Nations so far (266) while also making 28 offloads. That is not quite as much as Wales (40) and Italy (41) but proportionately points at a team prepared to take risks when they do push the button.

With the AWS statistics running even deeper this year we can glean extra insight into the kicking strategy of the current Championship leaders, who are putting boot to ball the most, and kicking it the furthest.

From open play Les Bleus have kicked the ball 102 times, just ahead of England on 100 but miles ahead of Ireland (59) and Italy (58).

While those numbers for England and France’s kicking are similar, the numbers also show Galthie’s men are kicking it further, with 70 long kicks to England’s 56. This results in a huge overall kicking metres figure – 3,482m, when compared with England’s 3,051m and looks an entirely different game altogether than Ireland’s 1,461m.

Obviously, Anthony Bouthier claimed approximately a huge chunk of that total with that one miraculous clearance against England! But joking aside the message from France is a clear one – let others attack from deep, the rigid defensive line will hold, they will tackle teams into the dust and attack with purpose when it’s ‘on’.

If this tactic of kick it long and then defensively dominate anyone who runs towards you sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is. Wales mastered the strategy on the way to last year’s Grand Slam.

In 2019 Wales kicked away 39.8% of possession from their own 22, statistically much higher than any other side, they also made the least ball carries as a result, 547, and the least carry metres, 2,699.

So far in 2020, France are the second lowest carriers (305 carries for 1,937m) – England slightly lower on 280 for 1,409m.

Last year, Wales’s punishing defence also won the day and this year the only team still on for the Grand Slam is echoing that trend.

Total tackles? France’s 688 is well above next-highest Italy (597). And the fearsome power of the likes of Bernard le Roux, Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt all coming through in the dominant tackles numbers – France’s 85 well ahead of England’s 71 – every other side stuck in the 40s.

Confidence, calmness, trust in their style and a clear strategy that triggers when to attack and when to kick – all combined with the remarkable attacking prowess of the likes of Virimi Vakatawa, Dupont and Ntamack – mean France are a different beast this year.