Another pulsating Autumn International weekend is done but many of us are still digesting what was simply a brilliant exhibition of international rugby on Saturday.
The weekend served up a feast of top-class rugby as Six Nations sides Wales, England, Ireland and France all won, while Italy and Scotland were also involved in compelling battles against southern hemisphere opposition.
Ireland’s 16-9 victory over New Zealand will live long in the memory, living up to its billing as a match-up between No.1 and No.2 in the world, with the hosts ending a 113-year wait for a win over the All Blacks on Irish soil.
Ahead of the incoming final weekend of autumn Tests, we’re taking a look back at some of the underlying stories the statistics tell from the weekend.
Teddy Thomas’ brace helped France to a 28-13 win over Argentina, with skipper Guilhem Guirado also getting involved in the three-try victory.
Ramiro Moyano earned the visitors a dream start with a try inside two minutes but Thomas soon got his first after superb footwork from centre Gael Fickou.
And whilst Thomas earned the scoring plaudits Fickou was perhaps France’s most potent attacking weapon against the Pumas – his six defenders beaten the highest amount by any Six Nations player this weekend.
Defenders beaten Gael Fickou – France – 6 Rhys Patchell – Wales – 5 Jack Nowell – England – 5 Jacob Stockdale – Ireland – 5
The 24-year-old was at his evasive best on Saturday, as were Rhys Patchell, Jack Nowell and Jacob Stockdale – who all beat five defenders in their Tests.
Nowell started at centre but finished on the wing for England, scrapping and jinking for every yard as is his customary style, while Patchell’s late score for Wales was a thing of beauty – the playmaker stepping through midfield before racing away to the line.
On to that monumental Dublin clash – not a high-scoring affair but one of the most compelling games of rugby seen anywhere in the world in recent years.
Only one try was scored – Stockdale’s superb effort – but Ireland’s win was built on a relentless defensive display, Joe Schmidt’s men becoming the first Test nation from the northern hemisphere to stop the All Blacks from scoring a try since France achieved that feat in 1995.
Ireland’s discipline means their average of 4.7 penalties conceded per game this month is the fewest of any Tier 1 team in November – while lock James Ryan led the tackle count with 20 of Ireland’s 164.
Tackles made Leonardo Ghiraldini – Italy – 21 Mark Wilson – England – 21 James Ryan – Ireland – 20 Charlie Ewels – England – 18 Jake Polledri – Italy – 17
Ryan wasn’t the top individual tackler this weekend though, Italy’s Leonardo Ghiraldini and England’s Mark Wilson both chopping down 21 attackers.
Both men earn huge credit, Ghiraldini clearly giving a captain’s performance and Wilson standing out once again for England as he touched down their second try.
The fourth and fifth top tacklers also came from the same matches – England’s Charlie Ewels making 18 and Italy’s Jake Polledri 16.
Honourable mention also to Ireland’s replacement scrum-half Luke McGrath, who only came on for the final quarter but made a whopping 10 tackles to inspire his side in an unbelievable defensive display.
It has been evident for some time that Joe Schmidt likes to centre Ireland’s attack around his scrum-half, Conor Murray’s 542 Six Nations passes earlier this year the most of any player – and that’s a pattern we’ve seen continue in Murray’s absence this autumn.
Playing for an hour on Saturday, Kieran Marmion made 104 passes against the All Blacks, double that of opposite number Aaron Smith’s 56.
The next highest among the Six Nations teams was Danny Care’s 63 passes against Japan, still only approximately 60 percent of Marmion’s total.
Passes made Kieran Marmion – Ireland – 104 Danny Care – England – 63 Greig Laidlaw – Scotland – 60 Tito Tebaldi – Italy – 53 Tomos Williams – Wales – 52 Baptiste Serin – France – 50
The 2018 Six Nations champions are of course an increasingly dominant side in terms of possession which contributes to these passing statistics.
Marmion’s game on Saturday featured pass after pass from the scrum-half to willing runners in both the forwards and backs and is clearly driving success for Ireland, it will be interesting to see if any teams adopt a similar style in the 2019 Six Nations.