So what on earth happened out there this weekend? Shock results? Last minute winners? Just who is in charge here? Get a grip! Everyone just keep a lid on it for Pete’s sake.
Well, we predicted the outcomes, correctly calling Wales, Ireland and England as victors, but the matches and score outcomes were a little unexpected.
So what does this mean? Well, our model feeds in games from the previous 4 years and works out an expected score for each team based on location and current ranking. More accurately speaking, this means each score is actually a metric to describe the relative strengths of the two teams, based on their performances over the previous 4 years. However, we think it is more fun to think of them as predictions. Any significant difference to the predicted score could therefore indicate over or under performance relative to their previous matches.
Ireland were predicted to win this match by 14 points, pretty comfortably, and initially it appeared to be going largely to plan. Ireland dominated the match and looked in control however were rarely more than a converted try ahead. Large periods of Irish dominance and attack yielded little reward with the French defence proving more than equal to the challenge. Neither team really looked like scoring a try until a moment of individual brilliance from Teddy Thomas saw him run in from halfway to give France a one point lead with 5 minutes to play.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Ireland showed great composure under pressure to work their way up the pitch, retaining the ball in over 40 phases of play to set up Sexton for a monstrous drop goal, which he nervelessly converted to give Ireland a famous victory.
Ireland displayed the match control we have been used to from them over the past few years, but unfortunately also showed their weakness; that sometimes their attack can be predictable and blunt. France were well organised in defence and showed little trouble in stopping the Irish attack. Ultimately, Ireland came to rely on the other facet that has become so predictable, Jonny Sexton’s kicking. Nerveless under the greatest of pressures, Sexton saved Ireland’s blushes at the death, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in a match they appeared to be winning comfortably.
Ireland will need to show more ability to ‘kill games off’ if they are to threaten England in Twickenham for the Six Nations title. Merely controlling games is not enough, Ireland need to score more points to put their opponents away and keep them at bay. Happily for them, they should have three, relatively easy, matches at home to experiment before travelling to England on St Patrick’s Day. Ireland have now recorded eight wins in a row, their last defeat coming to Wales in Cardiff during last years Six Nations. They are now likely to make that 11 before the 17th March and a Grand Slam showdown with England. A prospect to relish.
France showed promise under their new coach Jacques Brunel. As mentioned earlier their defence was organised and effective. However, their attack was fairly minimal and incredibly they failed to even enter Ireland’s 22 until the 65th minute. Their second and final entry resulted in the only try of the game. France were better than expected but, sadly for their supporters, we feel it is unlikely to be enough to record any big wins in the Six Nations this year. With Scotland away and England at home, France might feel there is a chance of an upset. With the French history of unpredictability, who are we to say they cannot?