Ireland topping the charts in Six Nations stats categories
Joe Schmidt's side are the standard bearers in a number of areas so far this year
Johnny Sexton offloads to Garry Ringrose during Ireland’s Six Nations match against France. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho.
Joe Schmidt’s Ireland may be second in the Six Nations Championship standings but they are standard bearers when it comes to leading the way across the various statistical measurements in the tournament.
In their three matches to date, wins over Italy and France following an opening weekend defeat to Scotland, the Irish teams has scored more tries (13), made the most carries (532), more clean breaks (33), the most passes (694), won the most rucks (414), most metres gained (1,559), defenders beaten (84) and won more lineouts (42) than any other participants.
On the debit side they have lost the most rucks (13) in the tournament, all of which proves something and nothing, but it does offer a segue into a point made by Schmidt prior to the French game, in reacting to the suggestion that Ireland’s style was too attrition-based and oversubscribed to the one-out runner philosophy.
He asked for substantiation in facts and numbers; none was forthcoming, so he challenged the assertions.
“There are times where it is inevitable that you are only going to get one transfer because defensive lines are coming so hard and so fast. If you try to get another transfer, it will be even more attritional because the guy who receives the second pass will get knocked over man and ball.
“Right through November, I’m not sure about the references to one-out runners because it is not something I saw in Chicago or in the Aviva (Stadium). It is not something I’ve really seen so far in the Six Nations. Once you get into the opposition ‘22’ and they don’t have to defend the backfield, they’ve got 14 or 15 guys on the front-line, it is very hard to put a number of passes together.”
Examining two of the statistics categories relating to attack, “clean breaks” and “offloads”, the Irish team leads the way in the former and measures up reasonably well in the latter as the graphic below illustrates. Just in case there is a perception that “clean breaks” is skewed by their nine-try haul in Rome, they made 13 that day, the exact same as the unbeaten England managed against the Italians in Twickenham.
In terms of offloads France (35) lead the way – Ireland’s break down on the following match-by-match basis, v Scotland (5), v Italy (16) v France (6) – but what is very instructive is that in three matches, Wales, whom Ireland play at the Principality stadium on Friday night have managed just 12.
Rob Howley’s side, with two essentially openside flankers in Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric, are content to have their ball carriers to go ground, as part of a direct, hard running style. They look to wear down teams physically with a confrontational approach.
The other category in the graphic relates to the number of penalties conceded and Ireland (21) have made it something of a virtue under Schmidt to “paint good pictures” for referees, although that may be tempting fate as the exception to that rule seems to be Wayne Barnes, the man who takes charge in Cardiff on Friday night.
Intetestingly Ireland’s first three matches have been against the teams who have conceded the most penalties – Scotland (32), Italy (32) and France (38) – so far in the tournament, making it potentially easier in this sequence of games to dominate territorially, on the scoreboard and to relieve pressure. Wales and England will give Schmidt’s side less positive access in terms of these game variables based on the evidence to date.
On a final note and in reference to Ireland’s defence, under Andy Farrell’s guidance, the team has the best tackles made/tackles missed ratio in the tournament. The Irish side has missed 8.02 per cent, Friday’s opponents, Wales, 10.93 per cent while England, their opponents in the final match, are at 13.7 per cent.