Can you believe it? We are now more than halfway through this year’s Six Nations. Where has the time gone? Same place as my hair I suppose.
So what did we learn? Amongst other things, that is is very difficult to win away from home, unless you are in Rome. To quote Tom English of the BBC,
Last season, Ireland lost in Scotland who lost in England who lost in Ireland who lost in Wales who lost in Scotland who lost in France.
This season, Scotland lost in Wales who lost in England who lost in Scotland.
Scotland have turned around their fortunes and rekindled a Calcutta rivalry that was becoming barely a fixture; Wales battled and nearly stole a match which Ireland utterly dominated; and France recorded their first win in nearly a year. We called the Irish and French wins fairly accurately, but Scotland pulled off an unlikely upset and beat England by their biggest margin since 1986.
So what does this mean? Well, our model works by looking at historical scoring patterns in matches (both generally and specifically in head to heads), the current rankings and location to work out an expected score for both sides. More accurately speaking, this means each predicted score is actually a metric to describe the relative historical strength of the two teams, based on their performances over previous years. However, we think it is more fun to think of them as predictions. At the very least, it certainly serves to provoke the trolls lurking on Twitter.
Once again this was a match you felt Ireland were utterly in control of, and then suddenly, come 10 minutes to go you realised that they could actually lose it. This time however, it wasn’t because of Ireland’s oft-criticised inability to score tries – they scored five – but their inability to keep a free flowing Welsh side out. They kept their cool however, and a last minute intercept try from new winger Stockdale saw them finish with a flourish.
Ireland are now three from three, and the only remaining team with Grand Slam hopes. Saturday’s game was a reverse of the norm for them, scoring plenty of tries but losing their defensive structure and allowing the Welsh a sniff of victory in a game they were never really in. It would be incorrect to say they were lucky to win it – if Wales had won it would have been a steal – but in most of Ireland’s recent games the scoreline seems to bely the game. If Ireland allow their opposition to get close on the scoreboard, they will always be in with a chance, and the best teams will take it.
Ireland need to manage the game better, and convert their possession and territory into leads, and then, crucially, kneel on the oppositions windpipe and finish them off. Too many times they let Wales back into a game they had no right to be in.
Next up for Ireland is Scotland at home in Dublin. Despite Scotland’s recent triumph over England, this should be a reasonably easy game for Ireland. It has been well documented that Scotland do not travel well and Ireland’s home record is formidable. The computer says they should win it fairly comfortably. It will be a good chance for them to regroup after Wales, perhaps experiment with their setup, in order to prepare for has always been their most difficult game, England in Twickenham.
Now no longer a Grand Slam decider, it could yet be the Championship decider. Ireland are the odds on favourites after Saturday’s results, over 80% by our calculations, but the title could yet swing away should they lose concentration. However, should Ireland manage to record a bonus point win over Scotland, then they would have one hand on the trophy. England would need to record bonus point wins over France, and then subsequently Ireland, AND win by around 17 points in order to win. A tough task indeed, and clear incentive for Ireland to go out and score tries.
Wales battled heroically and scored well off the scraps they were fed. From three visits to Ireland’s 22, they scored three tries – an incredible return. They will undoubtedly wish they had been as clinical against England two weeks ago.
Sadly for them, title chances are now effectively over. Although mathematically possible, it is extremely unlikely and the computer now gives them less than 1% chance of lifting the trophy come the final day.
It appears they are most likely to come third at the moment, although second is possible it would require some help from other teams. Wales need to focus on their upcoming matches in the form of Italy and France.