Round 4 of the 2023 Guinness Six Nations brought three away wins – just the fifth time that has happened, although remarkably three of those instances have come in the last 12 months, with the Championship also seeing three victories by the visitors in Round 4 last year as well as the opening weekend of this year’s edition.

It came as no surprise to the Opta supercomputer though…

Our experts from OptaJonny dive into the data to see where each game was won and lost.

Italy 17-29 Wales

With Italy and Wales both winless after their opening three rounds, this match became an early Wooden Spoon decider and although Italy could still move past Wales in the standings in Round 5, it feels like Warren Gatland’s side should avoid picking up the unwanted ‘prize’ for the first time since 2003.

Italy will be wondering how they didn’t get more out of their clash with Wales. Italy carried for 795 metres to Wales’ 479 and made 11 line breaks while Gatland’s side broke the Italian line on just four occasions. Italy’s 11 line breaks were the most by any team in a match across this year’s Championship, surpassing Scotland’s tally from Round 2, also against Wales – a statistic that might keep the Welsh coaching staff up at night.

Six Nations 2023 Stats Line Breaks

In fact, for the Azzurri it was their most line breaks against a Tier 1 nation since Opta have recorded this data (from 2010) and their joint third most overall. They are proving to be a side capable of carving even the best defences apart.

Italy Six Nations Line Breaks

Italy’s issue on Saturday, however, was their inability to convert their line breaks into tries. Just two of their tries came after making a line break – an 18% conversion rate – with the Azzurri also conceding two turnovers and one penalty after making a successful line break. Meanwhile, Wales made just four line breaks, but three of their tries came after a break and it was the clinical nature of the Welsh attacks and the profligacy of the Italians that defined this game.

Italy will travel to Edinburgh next week knowing they have the game plan to cause a wounded Scotland a problem, provided they can add the finishing touches in the red zone. Meanwhile, Wales have the daunting task of facing a France team brimming with confidence…

England 10-53 France

England headed into Le Crunch as underdogs, but few will have predicted they’d lose by such a huge margin, indeed a record margin on home soil. It was France’s first win against England in the Six Nations at Twickenham since 2005 and they ended their 18-year drought in some style, bettering their opponents across all areas of the pitch.

Clinical with the ball in hand, accurate and tactically astute with the boot – both from hand and off the tee – and smart at the breakdown. It was a near faultless display from the visitors in mediocre weather conditions, away from home. There haven’t been many better performances in the history of the Six Nations.

Although there was plenty of flair from France, it was their work in the tight which really opened the game up. Almost 60% of their carries in the match were within 10 metres of the previous ruck, the highest ratio of any side in Round 4. Whilst only 4% of their carries went wide, this selective and patient tactic paid dividends against a tiring England side.

Six Nations 2023 Stats - England vs France

Despite both sides making almost the same number of carries, Les Bleus made nine line breaks in the match to England’s one. It is now three years in a row that England have tallied just one (or fewer) breaks in a home Six Nations match, having managed none versus Scotland in 2021 and just one against Ireland last year, prior to that it hadn’t happened since 2012. Pair this with a quick-ball rate of 74% for France compared to 66% for England and you can get a picture of how the momentum built and built as the game progressed and the spaces opened up.

Thomas Ramos won the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match award, but in honesty it could have gone to any of half a dozen French players. Ramos’ excellent goal-kicking (8/9, 89% with an xGK of 80%) and 23-point haul definitely drove the scoreboard, but Thibaud Flament can count himself unlucky not to have picked up the gong. Two tries, 100% tackle rate (9/9), 22 ruck arrivals, five lineout wins, two line breaks and 39 metres gained from seven carries, some numbers from a second-row…

Aldritt and Ollivon were imperious in the back-row too, whilst Dupont gave a trademark masterclass in how to play #9 and Penaud cashed in with two well taken tries. Although they lost against Ireland, don’t be fooled, France are still more than a match for anyone. If they can record a big win against Wales next week, then the pressure will all be on Ireland to defeat an England side looking to rapidly make amends for an embarrassment at Twickenham.

Scotland 7-22 Ireland

When Ronan Kelleher went off injured 10 minutes into the second half, and with Ireland just one point in front, you could be forgiven for thinking it was going to be Scotland’s day at BT Murrayfield on Sunday. Kelleher had previously come on for Dan Sheehan who had also picked up an injury – along with Caelan Doris and Iain Henderson – meaning that Ireland had no recognised hooker on the pitch.

Step forward Cian Healy and Josh van der Flier…

Six Nations 2023 Stats - Scotland vs Ireland 1st Half
Six Nations 2023 Stats - Scotland vs Ireland 2nd Half

In some ways, Scotland vs. Ireland was a game of two halves. The first half had been incredibly tight with little to separate the teams, both on the scoreboard and in the data – Ireland edging the territory battle thanks to their kicking game, while Scotland had some joy with ball in hand, forcing Ireland to miss a lot of tackles.

The second half was a different story. With Ireland not having a regular lineout thrower in the team we might have expected Scotland to kick to the corners and pile the pressure on Josh van der Flier and the Irish lineout. However, Scotland kicked from hand just 10 times in the final 40 minutes, with only three of those finding touch and they gained fewer metres from their kicks than they had in the first half. That helped Ireland dominate the territory and ultimately pull away from Scotland as the game reached the final quarter.

It wasn’t just Ireland’s kicking that helped them win that territory battle in the second half, they also managed to crack the Scottish defence too, making five line breaks to Scotland’s none and ending Scottish Triple Crown hopes in the process.

But back to Josh van der Flier and Cian Healy…

Although Scotland didn’t test the Irish lineout in pressure situations as much as they would have hoped, Josh van der Flier’s throwing was incredibly impressive. Including one high pressure throw deep inside his own 22 the Leinster flanker found a teammate with six of his nine lineouts with all three unsuccessful throws coming in virtually the same area around the halfway line – a long way from any immediate danger. Van der Flier threw five of his six successful lineout throws to the front of the lineout, so it does beg the question why Scotland were unable to get a pod up on the 5m line to pile more pressure on to the set piece.

Josh van der Flier Lineouts Ireland vs Scotland

The lineout wasn’t the only set piece setback that Ireland had to overcome, with Cian Healy having to pack down in the middle of the front row but if anything the Irish scrum became stronger. In the first half Ireland had lost one of their two scrums on their own feed, but with Healy playing hooker in the second half they won each of their two scrums – one via a penalty – and also won a penalty on the Scottish feed too.

Ireland will be delighted in how they overcame adversity in Edinburgh, and they will be hoping for one more big performance in their Grand Slam match against England next week. Scotland, meanwhile, will be scratching their heads wondering how that one got away…

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