Whilst they are currently on a low ebb, their demise has been over exaggerated.
— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 18, 2017
Much has been made of England’s allegedly horrific discipline in the heat of battle, but what do the numbers say and how does their discipline rank among other nations?
The table below shows a comparison of penalties conceded by England under Eddie Jones’ reign of 32 games as head coach, and the rest of the top 8 currently ranked teams in rugby. It seems that the fairest comparison would be to look at penalties conceded over the last 32 games by each team.
If we take a look at the big picture, England have conceded a total of 325 penalties over the 32 games that Eddie Jones has overseen as head coach. Those 32 games are composed of every game they played in 2016, 2017 and 2018 so far, culminating in breaking their 6 match losing streak with a 10-25 win against South Africa.
That averages out to be about 10 penalties a game which is usually seen above the required or at least desired standard to give away during a test match. Six penalties conceded in a game is generally deemed acceptable and is typically considered a well-disciplined performance.
Ireland have conceded the least amount of penalties and have the best average of about 8 penalties conceded per game over the same 32 game period. Roughly speaking England, New Zealand, Scotland and France have conceded 10 penalties a game.
Australia find themselves limping in there just barely outside 11 penalties a game.
If we break England’s 325 penalties down further, it compromises 141, 83 and 101 penalties over 2016, 2017 and so far in 2018 in that order. England played 13, 10 and so far 9 matches in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
That gives us averages of about 10 penalties a game in 2016, about 8 penalties a game in 2017 and so far 11 penalties a game in 2018. This is where it must be noted that England won the 2016 and 2017 6 Nations even with those numbers.
If anything they just made it harder for themselves to win those championships with such poor discipline. In the image below, you can even see a trend of increasing indiscipline from the 2017 6 Nations to the 2018 summer tests.
Discipline isn’t just about penalties. It also covers yellow and red cards. The next most obvious thing to do is to compare England’s yellow and red cards under Jones’ tenure as head coach with the other nations. The table below compares the top 8 currently ranked teams in terms of yellow and red cards.
The number of red cards given out to the top 8 teams over the last 32 games are remarkably similar, with only Scotland not receiving one red card.
As for the number of yellow cards, England find themselves tied with France for the 4th most yellow cards given out to the top 8 teams. There seems to be nothing unusual about England’s discipline in terms of yellow or red cards when compared with the other 7 nations.
There are a few usual suspects when it comes to giving up penalties. Under Jones, 46 players have conceded at least 1 penalty to date. Since that is far too many to list out, our attention will focus on the most disciplined, undisciplined and currently relevant players.
This next image flips that narrative around showing us the most disciplined players.
Minutes played was added for each player to add some context as some players have fell out of favour under Jones in recent years. The perceived most relevant players at the moment have been included in these tables.
It is actually incredibly impressive how disciplined England’s top two scrum halves have been over the years. It makes sense that 11 of the 14 in the table are backs. Forwards are typically closest to and more frequently involved in the breakdown so they are more likely to concede a penalty.
The table below shows the total amount of minutes played per person under Jones who has conceded at least 1 penalty in that time. Included is the average amount of minutes played per person before that person conceded a penalty.
These are England’s most indisciplined players.
We can see that Maro Itoje has played a massive 1690 minutes under Jones conceding a total of 34 penalties in that time. That is 1 penalty just about every 50 minutes played.
More recently in England’s series loss to South Africa, Eddie Jones’ side were still conceding at least 10 penalties a game. Maro Itoje, Mako Vunipola and Kyle Sinckler could all fairly be described as ‘penalty machines’; conceding 7, 6 and 4 penalties respectively over the series.
That accounts for over half of England’s total penalty count of 31 over the series just from those 3 players.
In defence of Itoje, the Saracens lock played every minute of the series whilst Sinckler and Vunipola only played 64 per cent and 51 per cent of the total minutes of the series.
It might be a bit harsh to focus on those 3 players more intently than others but let’s have a look at their average minutes played each before giving away 1 penalty while Eddie Jones has been the head coach.
Mako Vunipola – 1 penalty every 71 minutes on average
Maro Itoje – 1 penalty every 50 minutes on average
Kyle Sinckler – 1 penalty every 43 minutes on average
The amount of penalties England have conceded has been on average in the double digits under Jones. 10 penalties is a lot to give away in a test match but as we have seen, it’s not the worst either in comparison to other nations. It is actually quite typical.
Nor is there anything unusual about the number of cards given out to England either.
The main worry has to be the increased indiscipline from the 2017 6 nations onward to today. The reasons for this could be a combination of different factors including a failure to understand and adapt to the interpretation of specific referees or simply a rush of blood to the head.
With the 2019 world cup fast approaching, England couldn’t do much worse than look to address this area, even only to make life easier for themselves.
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