It was an exciting weekend of rugby to kick off the 2018 NatWest Six Nations, with pre-tournament favourites England and Ireland both recording away victories and Wales laying down an emphatic marker of their own in Cardiff.
We dive into the stats behind the results and compare how each team fared in a number of different areas on the opening weekend.
In terms of possession and territory, Ireland led the way out in Paris, recording tournament-high marks of 68% in both categories. Wales were next up with 53% possession and 52% territory, leaving Scotland just on the other side of the divide.
Italy actually had the advantage in both categories over England despite defeat, with 52% in both, but the reigning champions were clearly a lot more clinical with the opportunities that came their way.
This left France on the bottom rung, who only managed to record 32% possession and territory on their home ground, and that lack of ball security and control showed up in the amount of tackles they had to make.
Les Bleus led the way in this category, making a whopping 238 successful tackles, which was, incredibly, over 100 tackles more than any other side had to make this past weekend. England were next up with 136 tackles, before Italy with 105, and finally Ireland, Scotland and Wales all recorded 98 apiece.
2? – @samsimmonds_ is the first @EnglandRugby forward to score a brace of tries in a @SixNationsRugby game since @jameshaskell in 2010 (v Wales), and just the third overall (also @dallaglio8 v Scotland, 2001). Pair. pic.twitter.com/IGWVccisAh
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 4, 2018
Some credit must be given to France, though, who made those 238 tackles at an impressive 94% completion rate. Even in a passive defence, that is a noteworthy completion percentage, especially with that amount of work having to be done.
England were next up with 89%, followed by Ireland at 87%, Scotland with 86% and Wales with 84%. Lastly came Italy with an unimpressive rate of 80%, which played a significant role in England’s seven tries out in Rome.
Set-piece accuracy was also key for the victorious sides this week and England’s 95% success rate on 20 set-pieces helped give them an advantage over Italy, who recorded 87% on 15 set-pieces.
Ireland’s 95% success rate on 19 set-pieces also proved key in Paris, where France’s 88% on 17 events didn’t quite give them the control they wanted.
It was even more pronounced in Cardiff, where Wales’ 95% success rate on 21 set-pieces comfortably outstripped Scotland’s 81% on the same number of lineouts and scrums.
Unsurprisingly, England led the way in defenders beaten with 26, followed by Scotland with 19, Italy with 17 and Wales with 16. Again, these four sides made up the top four for clean breaks, too, with Wales out in front with 18, England in second with 14, Scotland third with 10 and Italy fourth with eight.
The games in Rome and Cardiff were more open and high-tempo affairs, making it wholly unsurprising that France and Ireland trailed in these categories. Both sides managed 15 defenders beaten apiece and France recorded two clean breaks, whilst Ireland played 80 minutes in Paris without a single clean break.
In terms of individual player stats, there were also some interesting takeaways from the weekend’s action.
To keep it as a relevant as possible, we have split individual player stats into backs and forwards.
Ireland’s CJ Stander led the way with 24 carries amongst forwards, followed by Italy’s Sebastian Negri with 18, James Ryan with 15 and then two more Irish representatives, with 14 apiece for Iain Henderson and Cian Healy.
The metre-per-carry average tells a different story, however, with Sam Simmonds’ 75m on 13 carries giving him a 5.8m per carry average and seeing him share the most “explosive” award with Wales’ Alun Wyn Jones, who achieved the same mark on six carries for 35m. Cory Hill’s 4.6m, Alessandro Zani’s 3.6m and Jonny Gray’s 3.4m per carry averages rounded out the rest of the top five.
If we convert these to per carry averages, however, Watson comes out on top with 13m, 7.9m for Thomas, Hogg with 6.6m, Russell with 6.3m and Evans backing up with 6m.
A mention, too, for France’s Guilhem Guirado, who despite suffering from flu in preparation for the Test with Ireland, managed to record 31 successful tackles in Paris, the most of any player on the opening weekend. Simmonds, with 22 tackles, was the only non-Frenchman to feature in the top five, with Kevin Gourdon (20), Sebastien Vahaamahina (20) and Wenceslas Lauret (19) also present.
It will be interesting to see if these trends continue throughout the championship or whether they were simply one-offs in the opening weekend.
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now