Phew. Breathe everyone. The first two weeks are over. The results are in. We now have a couple of weeks to process everything before it all begins again. So what happened?
Well, we predicted the correct outcomes again, calling Ireland, England and Scotland as victors, with a little tighter scorelines than last week, but still not great.
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.
Whilst England fans everywhere would have hoped that the score-line we predicted (36 – 17) would materialise, the final result (12 – 6) was a lot closer and could have gone either way, with England only really being safe when the ball was kicked far into the West Stand by Owen Farrell after 80 minutes. In a way, a closer finish than we predicted was expected, given that Wales tend to up their game significantly for England (we’ll try to do a piece on “outperforming” soon).
Fans from both sides will hope that the miserable weather, in conjunction with the aggressive defence, was to blame for their collective inability to finish off try-scoring opportunities and all will hope that future games involving these sides will be rather more polished (although for the partisan fan, this game ranked highly in terms of excitement).
England started incredibly strongly, notching up 12 points in the first 20 minutes and looked likely to walk away with the match. However, the Welsh defence, supplemented with incredible discipline (incredibly they only conceded two penalties in the entire match) kept England off the scoreboard from then on.
England’s win means that their impressive run of results continues, now having only lost one game from 25 under Eddie Jones, and are still our favourites to win the Championship, despite away fixtures to Scotland and France next, because of their home advantage against Ireland in the final game.
England will likely need to improve however, if they are to feel comfortable about beating Ireland and taking their third successive Six Nations title. It is unlikely that this performance will have put any fear into Ireland about travelling to Twickenham. It is also worth remembering that England have a long awaited fixture against New Zealand coming up in the Autumn. As Eddie Jones is continually reminding us, England have set their goals high; winning World Cups and being the world number one side are the benchmarks that they are to be judged by. By that measure, this performance is surely well short of the mark. New Zealand had no trouble thrashing Wales by 15 points in Cardiff last November.
A win is a win however, and Six Nations games very different from Autumn tests. England controlled the game well, ground out the win and kept their Championship on course. Next up is Scotland, who came back from ten points down against the French to keep their strong Murrayfield win record going. Although the English will still be favourites there, the Scots will fancy their chances and approach the game with no little optimism. An exciting prospect for the Calcutta Cup.
Wales looked dangerous with the ball in hand and were perhaps unlucky not to have scored a try – the decision by the TMO not to award Gareth Anscombe a try will be long debated and Sam Underhill’s try-saving tackle on Scott William’s long praised – but England’s aggressive first-up tackling and (for the most part) superior kicking game, kept Wales out, save for two penalty kicks.
Wales, despite the loss, are still in the hunt for the title although they are now dependent on other results going their way. They can do little more however, than focus on their next fixture against Ireland which will inevitably be a tough one. Ireland have only been beaten twice since 2014 in Dublin – Wales and New Zealand – but Wales will go there with confidence given they have an excellent record on Irish soil themselves, having only losing twice there in the past ten years.
Should Wales win, it will greatly bolster England’s chances of winning the Championship. However, should England also trip up in either Edinburgh or Paris then we may have an enthralling three way contest on the final weekend once again. A repeat of 2015…?