The most important statistic in sport may be the scoreline but some expert number crunching has revealed some fascinating insights into Ireland’s clash with Italy this weekend.
Seven months in the making due to Covid-19, Round 4 will finally be in the rearview mirror come 5.30pm on Saturday as Dublin plays to host the first match of the Guinness Six Nations’ restart.
And what a match it looks set to be, as Ireland bid to keep their Championship hopes alive against an Azzurri team seeking their first win of the campaign.
To drill down into the key details, we’ve used MatchStats powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS) to lift the lid on what to expect at the Aviva Stadium.
Ireland side have spent 15.4 per cent of their total possession inside the opposition 22 in this Guinness Six Nations – the highest share of any team, and well above the 11.9 per cent Championship average.
They are also efficient when they get there, scoring an average of 1.68 points per visit, but there is no doubt head coach Andy Farrell would like to put more points on the board.
Ireland have indeed scored the second fewest points in the Championship and the numbers show why.
They have entered their opponents’ 22 at an average of 6.3 times a match, the lowest of all six Championship teams.
Italy, by contrast, are on the front foot more frequently, averaging eight entries to the 22 per match.
But they come away with just 0.79 points per visit, less than half of what Ireland can muster, showing they can’t match Andy Farrell’s side for efficiency near the try-line.
Part of that is down to Ireland’s impressive set-piece, from which they have scored all seven of their tries so far, including four from the line-out and a further three from the scrum.
The Azzurri know that scoring points is something they need to work on. They have been shut out by both Wales and Scotland and have scored the fewest points.
Ireland have also done a sterling job containing their attack historically, restricted them to ten or fewer points in the first half of each of their ten Championship clashes in Dublin.
ITALY RUNNING FREE
However, there is cause for optimism. Italy top the rankings for carries per game (139) and average metres made (853) – 167m more per game than Ireland.
Only five players have made more than three tackle breaks in this Championship and two of them are Italian, with hard-hitting No.8 Jake Polledri topping the list with six and winger Mattia Bellini with just two fewer.
However, this weekend they will have to contend with Ireland’s powerful No.8 CJ Stander, who has five breakdown steals – more than any other player.
Italy are more efficient at the breakdown, turning the ball over 1.7 per cent of the time they make a tackle, almost triple Ireland’s 0.6 per cent success rate.
History favours Ireland in this match-up and the Men in Green will be confident of extending that here.
Of their 20 Championship matches, Ireland have won 19 with Italy’s sole win coming in Rome seven years ago.
Ireland tend to win convincingly too. The average margin of success is 26.2 points and Ireland boast a cumulative scoring advantage of 155-42 in their four previous Round 4 encounters.
Whether their attack can be quite so ruthless this year remains to be seen but they face an Italy defence that produced their best defensive showing in seven years against Scotland last time out.
Scotland won the game 17-0 but 17 points is the fewest Italy have conceded since beating Ireland 22-15 in March 2013.
That was one of the Azzurri’s most famous Championship results. The statistics suggest they have a chance of matching it on Saturday but Ireland will no doubt be confident of a third win of the campaign.
Do that, and secure a bonus point, and their fate will be in their own hands heading into the final weekend.
‘MatchStats’ powered by AWS are built using detailed historical rugby data from Stats Perform, who bring decades of experience in collecting and analysing data – including the utilisation of AI – to bring new understanding to those in media, betting and team performance.
For more information about MatchStats powered by AWS, visit the website.