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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.
In a fixture that was widely proclaimed pre match as being traditionally the lowest scoring match in the Six Nations, this was an entertaining match that certainly bucked the trend. The French took an early ten point lead through some Teddy Thomas magic in an almost carbon copy of last week’s try against Ireland. A ten point lead is often the ‘magic’ number required (explained here in this piece), but Scotland played with a composure that was missing from their previous match against Wales to overturn the deficit and take the victory at full time.
This was only Scotland’s third ever win over France in the Six Nations, so they deserve no little credit for coming back to take the win under difficult and tense circumstances. However, this was far from a perfect display (should such a thing even exist). The Scots were still highly error prone – a trait that we discussed last week – and their victories often seem to be in spite of those errors, rather than because they manage to cut them out.
Errors are part and parcel of the game. Every team makes them, often they are induced by pressure from the opposition, but Scotland’s errors still seem to be more ‘unforced’ (a term borrowed from tennis) than forced. There were players crossing, dropped balls and knock ons throughout the game, all of which needlessly turned over the ball to the opposition. Finn Russell missed several penalty kicks to touch under absolutely no pressure whatsoever. All of these mean that Scotland freely offer up easy points for their opposition to grasp, not a trait that will favour Scotland come tight matches against better opposition.
However, this was still a much improved performance from last week. After going ten points down they didn’t panic in the same way that they appeared to against Wales, and began to play a much more measured style of rugby that was largely effective in making ground against the French. How much of this is due to Greg Laidlaw’s reinstatement at scrum half is hard to say, but the difference between last week was noticeable. Certainly his kicking was vital in the Scottish win.
Next up for the Scots is England and, with reference to our point above about the effect of their errors, they should take note of how effective the Welsh were at stopping England scoring. Wales conceded just two penalties in the entire game, and made so few errors that England failed to score for over an hour. This is the same England that have averaged 34 points a game at home since the beginning of 2016. If Scotland are to threaten England they will have to cut down on their errors in a similar fashion and dry up the English points. Should they do this, then perhaps they have a chance of a first Calcutta Cup win since 2008.
This was France’s eighth game without a win, with a solitary draw against Japan at home their best result since last years Six Nations win against Wales. As this was only his second game in charge, Jacques Brunel will have a certain grace period before he feels pressure bearing down on him for French winning ways to return.
France were reasonable however, despite the loss. They played some solid rugby and even showed some of the French flair of old in the scoring of their two tries. By the benchmark of the France of old, this would be a poor performance, but of the France of recent years, we think that this is an improvement. Scotland have a strong Murrayfield record at the moment, and to push them so hard for much of the game is commendable.
Next up for France is Italy at home in Paris. This should be a chance for France to finally record that first win, and perhaps get their Championship moving. After that they welcome England, also in Paris, before travelling to Wales for the final weekend. France will feel both these subsequent fixtures are eminently winnable, certainly they have the players and the talent to do so, but they will need to tighten up their game significantly to do so.