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Six Nations 2024: Team Stats Deep Dive - Ireland's Precision, England's Evolution, and More

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Wednesday Feb 21, 2024

History is instructive, as the old adage goes…

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In sports, assuming a team is only as good as their last performance is perhaps one of the most perplexing notions that circulate in the sports sphere.

Basing an assessment of a team or individual on what they have shown in a wider window allows for a clearer, less emotionally driven analysis. Thus, with round three of the 2024 Guinness Six Nations upon us, the current table offers a snapshot more so than a culmination of where each team has been over the past few years.

Diving into the statistics of each team dating back to 2021, courtesy of the remarkable work done by Opta statistics, here are several key statistics that corroborate the performances that we are seeing on the pitch.

Ireland

Leading the charge in 2024 is an Irish side that has come in for heavy criticism following what, in reality, was a quarterfinal loss that came down to the finest of margins.

Since taking charge in 2019, Ireland head coach Andy Farrell has turned a downtrodden side fresh off a humiliating defeat to the All Blacks in the quarterfinal to one of the most consistently exceptional teams in the international arena.

Losing just once in the past twenty games is a testament to the work Farrell and his staff have done with the men in green.

At the heart of this success is a game plan that executes at a mechanical level of precision.

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Starting with their quick attack game, Ireland topped the charts in both ruck success at 97%, and turnovers won at 6.2 per game. When they get the ball, Ireland has a remarkable ability to hold on to it and, as such, has made the lowest number of tackles per match with an average of 121.

Complimenting this up-tempo attacking game is an ability to soak up pressure without conceding cheap points. In this department, Ireland are the most disciplined team when it comes to conceding penalties inside their twenty-two with an average of just 1.8 per game.

At set piece, Ireland have ranked second in both scrum and line-out success. At scrum time, the Irish pack have a success rate of 93% which is behind France who are on 94% whilst at the line-out they operate at a 90.8% which is behind England 91.7%.

In 2024, Ireland have seven of the top twenty players in the Championship when it comes to try-scoring involvements, with hooker Dan Sheehan doubling the efforts of second-place Alex Mann of Wales in this department.

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Of the players who have played over 100 minutes thus far, secondrow Joe McCarthy has committed two or more tacklers every time he has carried the ball 100% of the time which is the most of any player. Just behind him, number eight Caelen Doris has attracted the attention of two or more defenders 81.8% of the time, which is 5th most in the Championship.

Completing the key team stats, Ireland have scored a whopping 74 points including 11 tries through the opening two rounds, scoring on average 7.22 points per entry into the opposition’s 22. These scores are created primarily through Ireland’s intricate passing game, which unsurprisingly tops the charts with 431 total passes, which is built on a lightning quick ruck speed with 59.17% of their ruck being completed in the sweet spot of 0-3 seconds. This ability to keep their attack on the front foot has resulted in Farrell’s side topping the line breaks chart with 18 and has led to an astronomical 994.6 meters being gained.

Summary

Picking up where they left off in the pool stages of the Rugby World Cup, dare we say Ireland looks better now than ever before as they continue to grow their game. Unlike teams of the past, this team feels like the All Blacks of 2008 – 2011 as they have taken the World Cup disappointment as a learning.

England

Life under Steve Borthwick is now in full swing for the Red Roses as the former secondrow has guided his team through 18 test matches thus far.

Winning 11 of the 18 to have a win rate of 61% is a mixed bag, to say the least, but in terms of results, it has been trending upwards, with eight wins in his team’s last nine outings. Of course, the lone loss in this run was a one-point deficit against the Springboks in the 2023 Rugby World Cup semi-final.

Given this exercise is utilising statistics that date back to 2021 and therefore include two Championships in which Eddie Jones was in charge, it is interesting to see where England have been and where they currently sit.

Starting with the positives, England have maintained a consistently exceptional line-out over the past three seasons topping the chart with a 91.7%-win rate. This consistency coupled with a strong discipline inside their 22 and a good kick retention rate of 11.5% have formed the backbone of the English game.

This kick retention has been a purposeful tactic by England, who rank second in both bomb kicks and cross-field kicks and first in box kicks, as they clearly utilised these as their key attacking weapons.

As one would expect, this kicking is either a result of or the reason for England ranking last in ruck success at 95.1% and the slowest average ruck speed at 3.9 seconds per ruck. When confronted with this slower ruck ball, England have kicked at an average rate of a kick per every three rucks.

When it comes to the ball in play, England is more conservative and ranks last in offloads with an average of 4.5 per game and second last in terms of the ball in playtime with 26.15 minutes per game.

In 2024, England’s game has remained similar to their previous outings as they top the charts, with 21.95% of their rucks taking six or more seconds to complete. This is over double the amount of slow ruck balls than Ireland, who are first at 10.09%.

Most concerning for Borthwick and his coaching staff is the scrum, which has historically been a key strength to the English game but now sits at just a 60% success rate through two rounds. Interestingly, this drop-off has been coming, with England sitting in 4th at 89% since 2021, with just Italy and Scotland behind them.

Taking his Premiership-winning formula from Leicester to England, Borthwick is big on ball retention, with England offloading the least, completing just five, which is twelve behind leaders Scotland.

Positively for England, this strategy has yielded the second most 22m attacking entries with twenty; however, they have been inefficient in this area, scoring just 3.45 points per entry, which is last in the Championship. Seemingly employing a strategy that is death by a thousand cuts, England is second in terms of points scored with 43 but have scored just four tries.

Defensively, England is looking to bed in a new system under former Springbok assistant Felix Jones but has followed the trend of the past three Championships by trailing just Italy in missed tackles. Since 2021, England have completed 85.3% of their tackles which is fifth in the Championship. In 2024, they have missed 43 tackles so far which in large part is down to the hard press being employed by their new system.

In terms of the eye test, it feels as though England are trying to play more rugby and as ever this will take time. Going purely on the stats, however, their rate of play has remained the same in 2024 as it has for the past three Championships.

Summary

There are signs at face value that England are looking to grow their game but at the present moment it has yet to bed in, it will be interesting to see if they will implement personnel changes with the likes Ollie Lawrence and Manu Tuilagi looking well suited to Felix Jones’s defensive system. In the attacking department, ballcarriers such as Tommy Freeman, Ben Earl and the aforementioned centres will be key to England’s development in the carries, meters gained and points scored in the 22m stat.

Scotland

All of the thrills and some of the spills is perhaps the best way to sum up Scotland.

Renowned for their attacking flair, Gregor Townsend’s side are actually significantly more pragmatic than their many highlight reel moments would lead you to believe.

Interestingly, Scotland ranks 5th in terms of average kicks in play with 27.7, but they do, however, top the charts in cross-field kicks whilst ranking second in kicking meters and territorial kicks (both behind France. This stat highlights the exceptional nature of Finn Russell’s finely tuned boot when kicking from hand.

Playing off what is often a quick ruck ball with an average of 3.6 seconds per ruck since 2022, Russell looks to turn opposition defences by pining them back with searching territorial kicks. Taking on the bulk of the responsibility, Russell and, previously, Stuart Hogg handled the bulk of kicking as Scotland ranked fifth in the box and fourth in kick retention.

Kicking for territory does not mean that Scotland were looking to find touch, in fact it is the opposite as they have the second highest ball in play time with an average of 27.29 minutes per match.

A clear area of weakness for Townsend’s side in the Championship has been their ability at set piece, where they rank 4th in line-out success rate (86.8%)and last at scrum success rate (87.6%).

Discipline-wise, Scotland ranks 5th in penalties conceded inside their own 22, which one would suspect is linked to their inefficiency at set piece time.

Elsewhere Scotland have struggled to get the ball back when in defence as they rank 5th in turnovers won with an average of 4.9 per game.

In 2024, the statistics of the past three seasons have, by and large, continued through the opening two rounds.

At scrum time Scotland are last with a 58.82% win rate and have won just 16 line-outs whilst interestingly stealing four to be joint first in that department.

When the ball goes to ground, Scotland are still one of the better sides in the Championship in terms of quick ruck ball as they secure 0-3 second rucks 53.17% of the time.

In the kicking game, Scotland is far and away at the top of the charts with 82 kicks in play and also at top of the offload charts. Completing the stats, Scotland are second on both meters carried and meters gained despite ranking 5th in linebreaks.

Summary

Scotland has the attacking talent to put any team in the Championship under pressure; the concern for Townsend’s side will be their ability to win an arm wrestle at set piece time.

France

Les Bleus have almost certainly been the most surprising of the Six Nations sides in 2024.

Many have speculated that Fabien Galthié’s side are suffering from a World Cup hangover following their devastating one-point quarterfinal exit.

Despite securing a Six Nations Grand Slam in 2022, their numbers have been mediocre in several key areas over the past three seasons.

Starting with the positives, the French scrum has been a serious weapon as their powerhouse pack have the best scrum win rate at 94% whilst also topping the offloading charts by some distance with 8.9 per game.

For all of the talk about French flair, Galthié’s side have been one of the more pragmatic outfits in the Championship since 2021.

Ranking last in terms of ball in play time with 25.40 minutes per match and dominated the average kicking meters with 1003 per championship. Accumulating these meters, France have completed 29.7 kicks in play.

In a similar vein to Scotland, France kicks for territory and not retention, as they rank first in territorial kicks with 10.6 per match and last in terms of retention rate at 9.3%.

Clearly comfortable without the ball, France are second in tackle success rate with 89.6% as they look to pressurise the opposition into making a mistake.

From an attacking perspective, the average ruck speed ranks 5th at 3.8 seconds per ruck and ranks 6th in terms of kicks to ruck ratio (meaning they will kick after fewer rucks rather than going through the phases).

Outside of a rather fortunate ending to their clash with Scotland, little has gone right for the French so far in 2024.

Thumped by Ireland on the opening night, France have struggled in attack as they rank 5th in points scored and attacking 22m entries. Interestingly, they are also at the bottom of the passing charts and arriving at attacking rucks.

Clearly, in this area, the absence of Antoine Dupont is a significant hit for Les Bleus as the Toulouse magician papers over the cracks for any team he is in. Without him, any frailties that were in the French game have been brutally exposed thus far in the Championship.

Summary

Murmurings of discontent have been swirling and this appears to have transferred onto the pitch where France are so clearly missing the calming influence of Dupont who covers up the cracks in the weaker part of the French game.

Wales

An interesting case of a team who not only changed coaches but flipped philosophies over the past three seasons.

Looking to imprint his stamp on the Welsh set-up, Wayne Pivac’s plan to bring a more expansive game yielded mixed results and ultimately led to the return of Warren Gatland.

During this period, Wales also enjoyed the quickest average ruck speed at 3.1 seconds per ruck, which tied into their sublime offloading game, where they topped the success rate at 80.7% and were second in attempts at 7.1 per match.

Seemingly standing in stark contradiction to the above Wales led the kick retention chart with 14% whilst attempting the most bomb kicks and second most box kicks.

Second only to France in kicks in play, Wales looked to everything contestable in the field of play as they topped the ball in play time with an average of 27.35 minutes per match. This was likely linked to their line-out which ranked 5th with a success rate of 86.2%.

In 2024, Gatland’s squad have plenty of promise as they begin a new era following the retirement of several iconic players who dominated the previous era of Welsh Rugby.

Positively, the Welsh line-out under new commander-in-chief Daffyd Jenkins tops the lineouts won chart with 28 and is second in line breaks with 10.

One area that will be of concern especially against Ireland in round three is their mediocre ruck speed which is far and away the highest % when it comes to the 4 – 6 second rucks at 42.45% whilst their 0-3 second ruck is 34.43%.

This ruck speed has likely led to them sitting second behind Scotland in terms of kicks in play, with 66 through two rounds as they look to apply pressure in the opposition’s territory. This pressure has yet to tell in terms of penalties, with Wales having not landed any three-pointers, but they have scored six tries through the opening two rounds which is second only to Ireland.

Defensively, the Welsh have been exceptional in terms of breakdown steals, as they are joint 1st with France on five and have missed the fewest tackles with 35.

Summary

Wales are doing the basics of open play well as ever with any Warren Gatland coached side and will look to add layers to their game in the remaining three rounds.

Italy

Plenty of bluster but no real substance is the brutally honest summation of Italian Rugby since 2021.

Near the bottom of all of the charts, they want to be at top, and at the top of all the charts, they want to be at the bottom.

Out of the rumble that has been just a lone win since 2015, there are signs that Italian Rugby are about to turn a corner. Unfortunately, none of these are tangible stats but rather a promising young nucleus of players backed up by an uber-competitive u20, u18 and u16 teams.

Clearly looking to utilise their talented young playmakers such as Ange Capuozzo, Paolo Garbisi, and Tommaso Menoncello, are third in both offload success (73.2%) and ruck speed (3.6 seconds).

In general play, the Azzurri kick the least in play (670 meters) and keeps the ball in play for the 3rd longest per match (26.51 minutes).

Unfortunately, whilst the endeavour is there, this has seen them be put under intense pressure and has resulted in the concession of the most penalties inside their 22 with an average of 3.5 per match.

At set piece, their scrum ranks 5th at 88.3%, and their line-out is last at 85.6%, whilst their tackle success rate is last at 85%. These stats would indicate that much of the pressure exerted on them is of their own doing.

Through two rounds in 2024, things have yet to improve under new head coach Gonzalo Quesada, albeit they may be skewed, having been put to the sword by Ireland.

Still far and away at the top of the missed tackles chart with 58 so far with a success rate of 86.26%, Italy have also endured tediously slow ruck ball with just 45.25% coming in the crucial 0-3 second range.

This ruck ball has contributed to a severe lack of meters being made as Italy ranks last at 575.5 so far and has the least attacking entries into the 22 with just 8.

One area that has drastically improved, however, is the scrum, where they rank second behind France at 83.33%.

Summary

It is too early to assess the Quesada era as he picks up from a Kieran Crowley era that, in all reality, fizzled out following some good wins. For Italy to be competitive, the stats would indicate that they need to work on their ability to clear their lines and, with it, pressure.

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