With the 2018 Six Nations Championship in the books, I am publishing report cards based on my data and observations.
Ireland deservedly won the 2018 Six Nations Grand Slam, only having trouble winning one of their five matches. Ireland’s success was built on the number two attack, number one defence and number one attack efficiency in the competition. Looking at when teams got deep into Ireland’s territory, the Ireland team probably controlled matches far better than any of their rivals.
Across the five matches, Ireland entered their opposition’s 22 on 38 occasions, second only to England. However, while England scored 2.02 points per visit to their opponents’ 22 on average, Ireland managed a whopping 3.82 points each time they crossed that 22 metre line. That 3.82 point average was by far the best of the competition. The Irish attack therefore had exactly what every team wants – a high number of opportunities, finished well.
Ireland’s 38 visits to the opposition’s 22 resulted in 20 tries, 18 of which were also successfully converted, 5 penalties (3 of which were scored, one was missed and the other was kicked for touch and the subsequent lineout lost), and 13 occasions when possession went to the opposition.
So, 61% of Ireland’s entries into the opposition 22 ended up with points being scored and 52% resulted in a try. A figure of 3.82 points per entry into this part of the field is better than any of the southern hemisphere teams managed during the Rugby Championship.
Arguably the best defence
Defensively, Ireland were also arguably number one, allowing their own 22 to be breached just five times per match on average during the Six Nations Championship. France, Wales and England were all very similar to Ireland on this figure but the difference was that the Irish tended to have effectively won their matches before having to defend much in their own 22. This was a pattern which had already been seen in Ireland’s November internationals against South Africa and Argentina.
France are the only team that Ireland were unable to get far enough ahead of before serious questions were asked of the Irish defence. Even then, Ireland’s four entries into the French 22 prior to France’s first sojourn into deep Ireland territory could well have been enough to win in difficult conditions. If at least one try had been scored by Ireland rather than one penalty from those four visits to the French 22, Ireland probably would have won comfortably. Johnny Sexton’s kickable penalty miss from the right in the 61st minute was a key moment in this as it would have put Ireland 15-6 up. Instead Ireland needed to produce one of the great Six Nations moves and moments to score the late 45m drop goal which won the match well after time.
Points conceded misleading
Scotland and England were responsible for 40% of the visits to the Ireland 22 in this Six Nations but in both cases, the majority of those attacks (11 out of 15) came with both teams chasing the match having fallen at least 14 points down. Ireland’s 2.68 points conceded per opposition 22 visit – the fifth best of the six teams – may therefore be misleading. The Irish defence conceded just 7 points – a try by Wales – from five breaches of their 22 by Italy, Wales, Scotland and England before Ireland had built the type of lead which is almost always unassailable.
Overall, Ireland scored 78 points more from their 22 entries than their opponents, the biggest points difference of all teams by some distance. Ireland were undoubtedly the best team in the Championship, fully deserving of their world ranking of number two and have confirmed themselves as a genuine contender to win next year’s Rugby World Cup. Ireland’s June matches in Australia and the November 17 international against New Zealand are now huge tests of how good this Ireland team is.