If England win the Grand Slam, they will be the champions the Six Nations deserves
Lack of offloads and lack of risk has made this a really dull championship
England’s Mike Brown chases the ball against Italy. His side have become more careful and risk-free as the tournament has progressed, scoring just one try in their last three games. Photograph: Tim Ireland/PA Wire.
The first weekend of this Six Nations feels like an awful long time ago. It’s funny to think back now at how enthusiastic we all were about the tournament after those opening games.
With Ireland just about holding on against Wales, with England throwing the ball around against Scotland and, most of all, with Italy beating France, we couldn’t get enough of it. Little did we know then that that was as good as it was going to get.
It’s been a really disappointing championship. The rugby has been hard to watch, bordering on boring ever since then. England are a game away from the Grand Slam having only scored one try in their last three games.
Wales, to their credit, have fought their way back but they’ve only managed a single line break in each of their last two games against Scotland and Italy.
Ireland haven’t scored in the last 20 minutes of any of their games. France have been laboured and have the joint-lowest try total along with Italy.
Defences have been the key to every country in it, with teams cancelling each other out. You would struggle to pick out one team who are trying to play the game with their heads up and play what’s in front of them.
You might be able to make the argument for Italy but even then, you would probably only be saying it because they have mixed it up a bit from the usual Italian way of playing. You still wouldn’t really say it was an expansive game they play.
The most glaring thing that has been missing from this year’s Six Nations has been offloads. I went through the stats for each of the games the other night and it is actually worse than I thought it would be. On that opening weekend, the one that made us so full of optimism for the weeks to come, there were 66 offloads across the three matches.
But if you look at the stats for the three weekends since then, you get a picture of how dull it has all become.
On the second weekend, the number of offloads went down to 35. England went from 18 offloads against Scotland in their first game to just one against Ireland. Wales went from eight against Ireland to one against France.
Only Italy played with any adventure, going from 17 offloads in their opening game against France to 20 in their second game against Scotland.
The offloading has been at that low level ever since. There were only 30 offloads across the three games on the third weekend and 32 last weekend.
All in all, Italy comfortably lead the offload league table on 47 in their four games, followed by England on 35, France on 32 and Scotland on 21. Joint last are Ireland and Wales, with only 14 offloads each in the whole tournament.
Just 14 offloads is a terrible return. Ireland managed just three against Wales, one against England, six against Scotland (when they totally dominated possession, remember) and four on Saturday against France.
I knew it would be low but that’s a shocking total.
You can use statistics to prove anything but I do think those numbers tell you a bit about how these teams have been approaching the games.