Co-host of performance analysis podcast Running the Numbers, Sam Larner, has dived into the Stats, powered by AWS, to give his analysis of an intriguing opening weekend in the 2021 Guinness Six Nations.
And he starts with a France side that got off to a flyer in Rome, with a convincing 50-10 victory over Italy.
France scored a try on a stunning 8% of all their carries. Put slightly differently, they scored 0.6pts for each carry they made – putting up 50 points on just 84 carries.
They produced a display of clinical try-scoring excellence, picking up where they ended the 2020 Guinness Six Nations – a Championship where they had the second-fewest carries per game (108) but scored the most points (138) and came agonisingly close to winning a first title since 2010.
The below clip shows them scoring off first-phase ball for the fifth try of the game
In 2020 France were happy to put plenty of work on their defence, they made a Championship-high 194 tackles per game, eschewing the tactic of holding on to the ball at any cost favoured by the likes of Italy and Ireland.
The problem with giving up possession is that you also give up opportunities and therefore need to be more clinical when you do have the ball.
This was something England struggled with last year. They won the Guinness Six Nations of course, so their struggle was relative, but they scored 63 fewer points and ten fewer tries than in 2019.
Playing without the ball seems a more natural tactic for Les Bleus. France scored five points for each 22 entry but spent less than three minutes, combined, in the Italian 22-metre zone.
Pinches of salt need to be taken as this was an inexperienced Italian side who haven’t yet hit their stride, but France are giving their remaining four opponents plenty to think about.
Do you want to squeeze France and try to limit the amount of time Antoine Dupont and co have with the ball in their hands? Go ahead, that’s just how they want it.
Scotland dominated the Statistics, powered by AWS, as they secured their first win at Twickenham since 1983 and regained the Calcutta Cup in the process.
They racked up 24 minutes of possession, second only to Ireland in Round 1 and forced England to attempt 192 tackles, only slightly less than double Scotland’s figure.
Ollie Lawrence was brought in to replace the power game England lost with Manu Tuilagi out due to injury. Usually teams will pick a big ball-carrying centre to punch a hole in the defensive wall.
That ties in defenders and creates space for your fleet-footed outside backs to show off their skillset. That is the plan, but Lawrence saw the ball just once, one carry for three metres.
In fact, the whole England backline had quiet games with the ball in hand. England’s centres and back three combined for 26 carries and just seven passes.
That total of 33 carries and passes was the lowest of Round 1, 13 behind the next lowest, Wales. Most tellingly, England failed to register a single line break in the entire match.
It is clear that England intend to continue with the gameplan that brought them Guinness Six Nations and Autumn Nations Cup success in 2020.
It works. But that still needs to involve the hugely talented backline that Eddie Jones has at his disposal. Will those outside backs see more of the ball next weekend against Italy? It could become a bit of an arm wrestle if they don’t.
The flow of penalties can tell us a lot about the momentum of the game. Wales’ 21-16 victory over Ireland on Sunday was split into four clear parts:
Part 1 (0-24 minutes): Wales 0 penalties v Ireland 5 penalties – Score 6-0 Wales
Part 2 (25-45 minutes): Wales 6 penalties v Ireland 0 penalties – Score 13-0 Ireland
Part 3 (46-66 minutes): Wales 0 penalties v Ireland 6 penalties – Score 15-0 Wales
Part 4 (67-80 minutes): Wales 5 penalties v Ireland 1 penalty – Score 3-0 Ireland
A concern for Wales will be that all bar one of their 11 penalties was conceded at the breakdown. This was an area of the match where Ireland clearly had the upper hand.
Ireland’s ruck speed was exceptional, they were able to play 71% of their ball within three seconds, the most of Round 1, and 97% within six seconds, also the highest on the opening weekend.
That speed of play and boatload of possession meant Ireland could carry for over a kilometre, the only team to do so.
The Welsh defence were up to the task though, they bent but did not buckle, leaving not only with a win but just one try conceded.
Each week we will call out one player whose value might not have been clear when looking at the traditional stats. This week the advanced statistics, powered by AWS, led us to select Scott Cummings as our Hidden Work winner.
The Scottish lock had respectable totals of five carries and eight tackles, no misses, but he led the way in Round 1 with 45 attacking ruck arrivals.
By getting around the pitch to secure Scottish ball, Cummings was able to free up his pack mates; Jonny Gray, Hamish Watson, and Matt Fagerson to make double figure numbers of carries and get Scotland over the gain line.