During the 2022 Six Nations tournament, we’ll be bringing you data recaps of each weekend of action on The Analyst. Here’s the lowdown on all the action from Round 3.
Scotland 17-36 France
France travelled to Murrayfield, a venue they’ve struggled to conquer in recent years, having last won in the Scottish capital in 2014 and still carrying the scars of their last defeat there, which denied them a Grand Slam in 2020. Getting off to a good start would be key for Les Bleus to settle any nerves. However, when Romain Ntamack put his kick-off out on the full and the usually reliable Melvyn Jaminet missed what appeared to be an easy penalty for a player of his ability, for a brief moment it felt like the Murrayfield curse could strike again.
But if there’s any team that can change their fortunes in a brief moment it is France.
In the eighth minute, Scotland kicked long to Antoine Dupont. The current World Rugby Player of the Year needed no second invitation to run it back, finding a gap in the Scottish defence before being brought down in the Scottish 22. From there, Scotland couldn’t recover. Lightning-quick ball and some accurate offloading saw Paul Willemse crash over the try line mere seconds later.
France love to play with pace and are arguably the most dangerous team in world rugby when allowed to implement that style. With that in mind, it’s often in the oppositions’ best interest to try and slow down the play to nullify the France attack. Since Steve Tandy joined Gregor Townsend’s coaching staff, Scotland’s defence has been rock solid and many will have expected them to effectively slow the game down. However, France managed to keep the ball alive instead of setting up too many attacking rucks, making it incredibly difficult for the Scots to create slow-ball situations for Les Bleus.
France had just 41 rucks in total, the fewest in a Six Nations game since Scotland’s 32 against Ireland in 2013. However, Scotland made just 36 carries in that game. France made 75 at the weekend, an average of 1.83 per ruck, the highest figure in a Six Nations game since the beginning of the 2010s.
France’s slick offloading played a huge part in this. They didn’t offload hugely often – Wales and Ireland attempted more – but when they did offload it was accurate (91% success rate, the best in Round 3) and damaging to their opponents (two tries assisted from offloads, more than all other teams combined).
England 23-19 Wales
For 40 minutes at Twickenham, there was little to talk about. The opening half didn’t provide the greatest advert for rugby, although Eddie Jones won’t have minded too much as his side took a 12-0 lead into half-time with Wales not firing a shot. It’s not an unfamiliar tale for Wales at Twickenham –they are the only side never to have led England at the break in a match there in the Six Nations (Italy managed it in 2017 in case you were wondering…)
However, not many sides enjoy a second-half comeback quite so much as Wales, winning 15 games in the Championship after trailing at the break, at least five more than any other team. It seemed like it was unlikely to happen though when Alex Dombrandt made the most of a loose lineout throw deep in Wales’ 22 and crashed over for the opening try just minutes into the second half.
But Wales came to life in the last half hour, scoring three tries and getting to within a score of sneaking a win that looked unlikely with 30 minutes left on the clock.
Wales increased their tempo as the match went on. Both theirs and England’s ruck speed was slower than the rate usually required to give opposition defences major headaches (sub-three seconds), but Wayne Pivac’s men improved their breakdown speed as the game went on.
Chasing the game in the final quarter, Wales upped their intensity further and when Kieran Hardy replaced Tomos Williams in the 69th minute the men in red enjoyed their best period of breakdown dominance. It may just have been a coincidence, but Hardy’s arrival seemed to increase the tempo as he fired off 40 passes in 11 minutes, compared to Williams’ 59 in 69 minutes, as Wales’ ruck speed dropped below the three-second threshold for the final 11 minutes.
|Ruck Speed (Secs)
|Last 11 Minutes
But it proved too little too late as England held on for a win. It felt like the right outcome overall, but having been outscored three tries to one, Eddie Jones with be left with plenty to think about. This game was just the fifth time in Six Nations history that a team has won despite their opponents scoring two tries more than them. The last occasion? A four-point win for England against Wales at Twickenham in 2016.
Ireland 57-6 Italy
It’s hard to make much of the stats when a team is reduced to 13 men, in rather unfortunate circumstances, so early in the match. Ireland had the better of Italy in most areas of the game, but the Azzurri can walk away from the Aviva with a certain amount of pride, having frustrated Ireland for large periods despite their numerical advantage.
That said, Ireland did post their second biggest victory against Italy in the Championship and the fourth biggest overall since 2000. They will still feel they should have racked up an even bigger score in the event that this year’s tournament is decided by points difference.
There were some impressive performances on both sides, with Italy skipper Michele Lamaro leading by example in making 18 tackles to take his tally to 59 for the Championship. That rate is just a shade under 20 per game, and he’ll need to maintain that if he’s to have a chance of beating Jonny Gray’s record of 100 tackles in an edition of the Championship, set in 2018 (no other player has made 90+).
Lamaro will have been unhappy about his eight missed tackles, however, the most ever by a forward in a Six Nations match. Not all missed tackles are equal though, each of those misses saw the ball carrier tackled immediately and in some cases, the Italy flanker’s enthusiasm forced his opponent into a channel where a team-mate was waiting to make the hit. By way of comparison, Ali Price missed just three tackles at the weekend, two led directly to clean breaks and one resulted in a try conceded.
In the Irish back row, Caelan Doris was at his barnstorming best, gaining 93 metres with ball in hand, the best tally by a forward in a Six Nations match since Louis Picamoles vs. England in 2017, while Michael Lowry impressed on debut, the Ulsterman grabbing two tries and unselfishly assisting another, with the try line – and the opportunity to go for a hat-trick – at his mercy.
Round 3 saw Wales welcome back one of their most consistent performers of the last 10 years in Taulupe Faletau, and he didn’t disappoint. The Bath star was the top-performing player from any side based on Stats Perform’s algorithm that uses granular performance data to provide player ratings and objective analysis.
The No. 8 carried the ball 13 times for 62 metres against England, also completing 19/19 tackles and hitting 19 rucks across his 80 minutes. The 31-year-old was relentless until the final whistle when Wales were denied a most unlikely tilt at a remarkable comeback.
Ireland’s one-sided win against Italy meant they provided the rest of the top five, so this week we’ve highlighted the top performer from each side to give some added insight. Rory Darge undoubtedly announced himself on the biggest stage with a thunderous performance at Murrayfield. Alex Dombrandt might not have picked up the official Guinness Man of the Match award (Marcus Smith did) but his efforts did not go unnoticed, and it was his poachers’ try that made the difference.
Other notable mentions go to Damian Penaud who provided the icing on the cake for a dominant and thrilling French performance and Danilo Fischetti who rallied valiantly after his Italian front-row companions got shuffled up significantly.
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