Joe Schmidt’s ultra-conservative game plan may be working but it’s not good to watch

The laws are being manipulated so running rugby is penalised and a kicking game is rewarded

After the third round of the Six Nations match statistics can reveal the playing trends that power that championship.

I would remind you there are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

If you overemphasise statistics you can come down with the coaching disease known as, “paralysis by analysis”.

What statistics do reveal are trends in the game. Such as, the fact that undefeated Ireland have carried the ball a measly 888 metres and only the Italians have carried the ball less, with 800 metres.


While last-placed Scotland have carried the ball 1, 237 metres, only just short of the leaders England with 1,381 metres.

The stat suggests ball-in-hand running rugby is not being rewarded.

That trend continues with the “offloading and line break” statistics.

Italy have made 13 line breaks with 27 offloads; Scotland have made 16 line breaks with 26 offloads; Wales 12 line breaks with 19 offloads while France have a staggering 49 off loads and England 26 offloads.

Ireland are at the bottom of the table with only eight clean breaks and only12 offloads. It is no shock that in having scored only three tries Ireland have scored less tries than Scotland, Italy, Wales and England.

Damning statement

So Ireland are second last or last in metres gained, tries, linebreaks and offloads. It’s damning statement on the current state of rugby’s negative mindset.

Yet, it is the scoreboard that matters and Ireland have scored 63 points, second only to England on 77.

The vast majority of Ireland’s points are from the boots of their excellent goal kickers.

A simple “P law” is in use by Ireland. Get Position, through kicking. Apply Pressure. Get Penalties. Accumulate Points. We used to call that “Munster Rugby”.

Many of those penalties are from scrums.

Even the official Six Nations website finds it difficult to fathom the scrums. The Six Nations statistic states that against France, Ireland won three scrums and lost two. I can promise you my interpretation of a scrum win and loss is very different from the Six Nations statisticians.

The true picture of the Irish and French scrums was that useful attacking ball came out of only two of the 11 scrums. Both were for France, and inside the last two minutes. I can only conclude that penalties from scrums now count as wins or losses.

By the Six Nations statisticians’ definition, you can win the scrum without the ball going in or coming out. Lies, damn lies . . .

Joe Schmidt has cast off the attacking philosophy of his coaching "apprenticeship" and is adopting a pragmatic "forensic accounting" gameplan. That is not a criticism of Ireland or Joe.

The laws of rugby are like the tax laws. The big corporations with banks of layers and accountants bend and manipulate the tax law loopholes for their own gain. Tax legislation is always many steps behind the accountants.

The current laws of rugby are well behind smart-thinking coaches like Joe Schmidt and the rapid development of organised defensive systems. Smart coaches are manipulating the laws so running rugby is penalised and a kicking game is rewarded.

I admire the thinking process, but I don’t like watching the outcome.

Matt Williams

Matt Williams

Matt Williams, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a professional rugby coach, writer, TV presenter and broadcaster