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Ireland travel to England this weekend in search of what would only be their third ever Grand Slam, their only previous clean sweeps coming in 1948 and 2009. However, our model has them failing to add to this tally, marking England as favourites with the current projections having the English run out 24 – 17 victors.
For any outraged Irish fans out there, we apologise. Our model works by looking at previous scoring patters in matches, both head to heads and generally, to work out an expected score for each team based on location and current ranking. More accurately speaking, this means that each predicted score is actually a metric to describe the relative historical strength of the two teams, based on their performances over previous years.
Under these circumstances, it should be clear why England come out on top in this model; they have been extremely strong since the 2015, winning 24 from 27 matches and averaging over 30 points at home. In their head to head against Ireland in this fixture they’ve won six from nine, winning on average by 27 points to 15. England’s losses in the past two games has reduced the predicted winning margin (down from around 11 at the beginning of the tournament) but doesn’t yet predict an Irish win.
Put simply, two recent losses, regardless of nature and opposition, doesn’t mark England out as a bad team when measured over the scope of the past few years.
England and Ireland have met 132 times in the past, with England leading the head to head 76 to 48 with 8 draws. The fixture seems to sway back and forth, with one side gaining dominance for 10 years or so, before the other side resurges. Ireland won eight of the 11 matches played between 2000 and 2011, with England winning 6 from the 8 played since.
England’s biggest win came in 1997 with a 6 – 46 victory at Lansdowne Road during a Five Nations French Grand Slam. Ireland’s biggest win came in the emotionally charged match in 2007, winning 43 – 13 in Croke Park 87 years after Bloody Sunday. Since 2006 the teams have been fairly evenly matched in the rankings, with the Irish closing a gap that had been fairly large since around 1988.
Rankings wise, there is a lot to play for in this match, although this is unlikely to weigh heavily on the team’s minds. Whoever wins this game will take second position in the World Rankings likely through to the summer, the next time either team will play.
England have clearly suffered two undesirable results, and rightly Eddie Jones has made some changes to the team selection, but broadly speaking we don’t think that this should concern England fans too much, although the disappointment is no doubt raw. Perceptions can change very quickly in rugby, and should England win this weekend, the defeats to Scotland and France will be written off as matches to learn from and quickly forgotten about.
Should England lose at home however, we would start to join the calls in potentially saying that this is concerning for English rugby. Although still not the end of the world (the Six Nations is a strong tournament at the moment, with every team bar Italy able to beat each other), losing to Ireland at home would represent the biggest shock – from a purely stats perspective – in these three losses. This would also be the first loss that England have suffered at home in the Six Nations since 2012, to Wales, a run of 15 straight games.
England will be motivated, both in trying to stop the Irish Grand Slam in the same way as Ireland did to them last year, and in turning their fortunes around and avoiding their first three-loss Six Nation since 2006. At home, we think they should be able to do this. Probably …
Ireland have performed broadly as we expected in this tournament, winning their first four games in much the fashion we predicted. Aside from the France game in which we predicted a much more confident Irish win (and subsequently prompted an update to our model – the predicted scoreline would be much closer now), our predictions for Ireland have been good.
They have been impressive, conjuring wins with wonderful team play (France) but also also winning comfortably when expected (Scotland). The match this weekend will represent their biggest challenge however – England in Twickenham is a hard game for anyone – but dealing with the pressure and expectation of going for a Grand Slam, on St Patricks day, will be indicative of how far this team can go.
Winning in Twickenham would represent the first overperformance for the Irish team in the Six Nations (by our predictor) and would be quite a marker of their intentions going forward. Winning away from home in the Six Nations is hard, Italy aside (only Ireland have managed it so far this year, in France, just), so winning away twice would be very impressive. With a tour to Australia in the summer, and New Zealand in the Autumn Internationals, this year has serious potential for Ireland in building towards Japan 2019.