The Analyst’s Six Nations Roundup: Round 2
During the 2022 Six Nations tournament, we’ll be bringing you data recaps of each weekend of action on The Analyst. France now remain the only unbeaten side left in the competition, and we dive into the data behind their win over Ireland and each of the other results in Round 2.
Wales 20-17 Scotland
These two teams reversed their fortunes from Round 1, with Wales bouncing back from a humbling defeat in Dublin and Scotland crashing back down to earth after their Calcutta Cup win. It was a nervy affair, with the boot of Dan Biggar eventually deciding which way the spoils went thanks to a simple drop goal at the end.
The grunt of the back-rowers was a key factor in the arm wrestle for the upper hand in the match. Wales had debutant Jac Morgan leading the way, and having been picked out by The Analyst pre-tournament as a player to watch, he didn’t let us down.
His opposite number Hamish Watson is some player to match though, and his phenomenal work rate was evident yet again as he extended his run of tackles without a miss in the Six Nations to an unbelievable 180. Morgan provided more threat with the ball in hand, but a missed tackle and a few discipline transgressions dropped his rating down ever so slightly.
Both players were selective at their attendance of defensive rucks, only ever being the first arrival (Morgan 10 times, Watson 9). On attacking rucks, Morgan’s rate (71%) of securing the ball was impressively superior to Watson’s (56%), although Watson did affect more clear outs (9 vs. 3). The pair have different styles, but both are undoubtedly effective.
Going back to the boot, it wasn’t all about aiming at the sticks. Wales decided to put boot to ball in open play more often than any other side (37) and they were rewarded with good chases and a round-high five retained kicks, as well as a successful 50:22. Biggar is undoubtedly one of the best tactical kickers in the game and his skill at putting the ball on a sixpence paired with strong chasers gives Wales a solid platform to progress the ball down the pitch effectively.
France 30-24 Ireland
Despite being just the second round of this year’s Six Nations, France’s clash with Ireland was billed as a potential Championship decider. After recording convincing wins in Round 1, along with England’s loss at Murrayfield and Scotland’s subsequent defeat in Saturday’s early kick-off, France and Ireland were the only sides left with Grand Slam hopes come 5:45pm in Paris.
Six minutes later it looked like Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes were over too. Dupont’s try after 67 seconds was the earliest they’d ever conceded in a Six Nations game and when Melvyn Jaminet slotted a penalty minutes later to take the score to 10-0 it seemed like the game was over before Ireland had fired a shot.
Although Mack Hansen responded for Ireland straight from the restart, the first half continued to be dominated by Les Bleus. It wasn’t until the second half that Ireland rallied. France in the first 40 minutes won the collisions, recording a 41% dominant carry rate and getting over the gainline from 69% of their gainline carries, a stark contrast to Ireland’s tallies of 21% and 43% respectively. This meant Ireland had to commit more than one tackler on 67% of France’s carries, leaving gaps for their elusive backs to exploit.
Andy Farrell’s side made amends in the second half, gaining the edge in terms of dominant carries, gainline success and post-contact metres, but the disparity wasn’t as great as in the first half and Fabien Galthié’s side held on to secure the all-important victory.
Italy 0-33 England
The final game of the weekend and there were few surprises in Rome as England claimed a comfortable bonus-point win against a toothless Italian side. It was ultimately a scrappy match with plenty of errors and points left on the pitch. England’s defence will have pleased Eddie Jones though, preventing the opposition from scoring even a single point for just the second time in their Six Nations history (also 20-0 vs. Scotland, 2014).
In attack, Marcus Smith pulled the strings and England did hit their stride moving forward but their conversion rate was still well below the standard they’ll need to challenge for the Championship. England made a round-high 12 incursions into the Italian 22, so to come away with ‘just’ the five tries will be a disappointment. Having said that, the disappointment will be far greater in the Italy camp, they made 11 entries (the second-most in Round 2) into England’s 22 and came away with nothing.
For England, handling errors were their downfall, 14 across the game really hit them hard. Italy also made 10 handling errors but compounded with 12 penalties conceded, any momentum they had was quickly stifled.
Across the tournament handling errors is a definite area the Azzurri will need to work on if they are to salvage a win somewhere along the way. England actually have quite a low rate, based on the quantity of ball they’ve had, so if they can start converting their chances then there is still hope they can make a challenge for the title.
Team Balls Played with Hands Handling Errors Handling Error Rate Italy 371 23 6.2% France 484 26 5.4% Wales 511 23 4.5% Ireland 640 24 3.8% Scotland 475 17 3.6% England 545 19 3.5%
Running alongside this year’s Men’s Six Nations is the Men’s U20 Six Nations and after two rounds we can dip into the action and see how things stand. Since the tournament began in 2008, England have won more than half of the 13 editions (7 titles), including a Grand Slam in 2021. This year got off to a comfortable start for them with a win in Edinburgh, but Round 2 threw up probably the biggest shock in the tournament’s history.
Under the Friday Night Lights in Treviso, a dogged Italian side recorded a 6-0 win over England, preventing the visitors from scoring any points for the first time in the tournament. If the current crop of Italian youngsters can make the progression to senior Test level, then they could become a real force to be reckoned with.
Ireland are perennial challengers for the U20 title, and only COVID denied them glory in 2020. This year they’ve started by thrashing Wales and then securing a last-minute victory away from home in France. A showdown at Saracens’ Stonex Stadium with England in Round 4 now looks to be a key fixture if they are to secure a third title and second Grand Slam in this competition.
Italy’s win over England heaps the pressure on Scotland, who have now lost seven games on the bounce in the Championship and are looking to avoid back-to-back wooden spoons. Wales bounced back from a hiding in Cork in Round 1 to secure a welcome win against Scotland last Friday, but a tough trip to Doncaster awaits in Round 3, against a wounded England side who will still be reeling from that most unexpected of losses to Italy.
Player Index Ratings
Based on Stats Perform’s algorithms we can use granular performance data to provide player ratings and objective analysis. Two weeks in and France are the only side still with a 100% record intact and it’s unsurprising to see their box office star, Antoine Dupont, ranking second for Round 2. The livewire scrum-half scored a try, assisted another, made 48 metres from six carries and also completed 7/7 tackles in another world-class performance.
Dupont wasn’t the top-rated player this weekend however, with England’s new star Marcus Smith claiming that honour. The Harlequins fly-half orchestrated a comfortable bonus-point win for his side in Rome, injecting pace and vision into a sometimes sloppy display from the visitors.
Always finding space and time for himself, not only did he score and assist a try, but Smith also made 12 incisive carries for 97 metres, whilst his tally of seven defenders beaten was the most by an England #10 in 20 years in a Six Nations fixture (Wilkinson 8 vs. Ireland, 2002).