We are fast approaching the halfway point of the 2024 Guinness Men's Six Nations.

Ireland and England are the only teams who remain unbeaten. However, the competitiveness of the Championship thus far has been such that only games involving the former have finished with a margin of more than four points. Ireland have come steaming out of the blocks, but history teaches us that no Six Nations campaign goes without its challenges.

Only after Round 3 can there be more serious speculation about the victor or the possibility of a Grand Slam in 2024. With such passionate rugby communities invested in the Championship, you can guarantee there’ll be a fight for every placing in the table. Every round is of paramount importance for every competing nation, and insights provided by Sage help track their progress through the competition.

To kick off the third round, Championship favourites Ireland face an as-yet winless Wales. Ireland’s convincing victory over Italy in Round 2 was a remarkably precise performance. In Round 1, their emphasis on kicking [insert link to last week’s article] was a departure from their tactics in last season’s Championship. Against Italy though, their high-volume passing game was back in full force. Ireland made a remarkable 243 passes in Round 2 – 54 more than any other team in a match this season. This game plan relies on quick ball and an incredibly low error count, both of which have been emphatically achieved by the Irish thus far. Ireland’s pass to kick ratio is by far the highest in the Championship – they’ve averaged 7.8 passes per kick – and unless Wales can find a new way to pressure the home side, the rhythm of their attack may be a beat too fast for the men in red.

Wales’ opening 40 minutes against Scotland in Round 1 was a cauldron for an inexperienced side. Driven by the frustration of this loss – despite an impassioned second-half comeback – they delivered a far more rounded performance against England. In fact, Wales outdid their ultimate rivals in terms of both passing and kicking metres. Pivotal to this – and fast becoming the bedrock of this new-look side – Tomos Williams made more passing metres than any other player in Round 2 (461.7).

Wales’ discipline was also remarkable: they conceded just five penalties and 70 metres from subsequent kicks to touch. Against Scotland, a furious fightback; against England, the bedrock of a good performance without the bite. Can Wales combine these performances to claim a famous win this weekend? Scotland face the ‘Auld Enemy’ this weekend at Scottish Gas Murrayfield, having lost to England just once in their last six encounters. Should they emerge victorious, it will be the first time that they have won four consecutive Calcutta Cups since 1972.

Though they’ll be bitterly disappointed with their narrow loss to France, Scotland’s tactical shift in 2024 is evident. They retain their sparkle in attack, but are being more selective about when to use it and when to take territory. Unsurprisingly, this is typified by the talismanic Finn Russell: where he made an average of 9.3 kicks per match last season, he has made an average of 20 in this season’s Championship. Similarly, Ben White has kicked 28 times in Rounds 1 and 2 – more than any other scrum-half. This perhaps shows some more maturity in Scotland’s game this season, balancing their moments of brilliance with a more consistent approach to field position.

Moving their tactics in the opposite direction, the England team of 2024 is trying to play more with ball in hand. Compared to last season, they’ve kicked the ball 38% less and made 46% fewer kicking metres per match. The kicking strategy seems to be focused on retaining possession: England have made the most box kicks (24) and have the second-lowest average kick distance (28.2 metres). Against Wales, George Ford leveraged his particular skillset to take a more nuanced approach to field position: he kicked a 50/22 which yielded 45.5 metres of territory gain (and a match-winning penalty in the following possession) and launched a spiral bomb with an enormous hang time of 4.9 seconds which was retained.

England’s attacking intent is highlighted as much by their passing as kicking. Alex Mitchell has the longest average pass distance of any Championship scrum-half (8.1 metres), and it was his 11 metre pass which initiated the crisp handling for Fraser Dingwall’s try. The respective changes in the English and Scottish game plans – almost reversing – will make this Calcutta Cup all the more fascinating. The final match of Round 3 will see France host Italy. Despite the anticipation of the French Rugby World Cup response, both sides have been on the receiving end of heavy Irish defeats. However, there were glimmers of ‘French flair’ in their win over Scotland.

Despite their opponents being in the ascendancy for much of the match, Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s try from nothing was what eventually won them the match. Instinctive, Nolann la Garrec zipped the ball 9.8 metres down the blindside to the electric young winger. Backing himself to change the game, after 0.3 seconds of touching the ball Bielle-Biarrey put it on the toe and, in a flash, he was 25.3 metres downfield scoring for Les Bleus. Italy – whilst thoroughly stifled in Round 2 – similarly want to play with the ball. In fact, their pass-to-kick ratio of 5.8 is second only to Ireland. Against a French team struggling to find their best form, will the Azzurri find opportunities to show off their attacking talents? This fixture was settled by just five points in Round 1 of last season’s Championship; it promises to be an exciting, free-flowing game in 2024.