With the 2018 Six Nations Championship in the books, I am publishing report cards based on my data and observations.
Wales were the 2018 Six Nations runners-up but at virtually no time did the Welsh team look like genuine challengers for the title, losing both of their away matches at Twickenham and the Aviva Stadium. In each case, Wales fell to a near unassailable deficit before they had been in the opposition 22 more than once.
Chance creation up with the best
Wales’ attack was the second best – together with Ireland’s – in crossing the opposition’s 22 metre line with controlled possession. However, both England and Ireland made more visits to their opponents’ 22 if the matches against Italy were removed. Once Wales got into the 22 their efficiency in scoring points fell far behind that of Ireland’s with a below competition average of 2.58 points per match. While this was compensated for to an extent by scoring from penalties outside the 22, that lack of efficiency is part of the reason Wales never really looked like real contenders after the Scotland victory on the opening day.
Early opportunities for opponents
More importantly though was Wales’ lack of 22 entries in the first half of their opening matches, and a deficit in this compared to their opponents in their first three matches. The Welsh got away with this to a certain extent in the opener against Scotland as they scored converted tries on each of the two occasions that they went into the opposition 22. At Twickenham though, they conceded tries from the first two entries against them and in Dublin, Wales were only in touch at the break because of picking up points from penalties won in moves which never entered the Ireland 22. Soon after half-time though they were blown away, a fact perhaps lost in a late comeback which flattered them.
In all but one of Wales’ matches, the first team to enter the opposition 22 wasn’t the Welsh but their opponents. The only exception was Italy but even the Italians had a converted try on the board within the first 10 minutes, admittedly after Wales already had two.
This propensity to give up opportunities early on meant that an ability to stop those chances being turned into points was important for this Welsh team. However, Wales opponents scored 2.85 points per visit to the Welsh 22, a figure which beat only bottom placed Italy amongst the other Six Nations teams. A reasonable defence in terms of allowing opponents into the “red zone” was therefore shipping points at a higher rate than France, Ireland and England.
Combining that reasonably high level of points conceded from teams who were in the Wales 22 with giving up those opportunities early meant that Wales were up against it in their two key away matches in particular after conceding two first half tries in each.
Given how close the teams behind Ireland and above Italy were in quality, it would be churlish to suggest Wales weren’t worth their second place finish. In terms of 22 entries though, they do not appear to be better than France who were fourth and very much in flux this year. Indeed, few would disagree that France should have won in Cardiff on the final day which, had it happened, would have put Wales in fourth place.
With England and Ireland both visiting the Millennium Stadium next year, matches against Wales’ two toughest opponents should be easier fixtures than this time around. Not giving away early opportunities and conceding fewer points if they arise may make Wales the genuine contenders for the Six Nations Championship that they weren’t in 2018.