The first set of results in the Six Nations 2021 suggest a thoroughly one-sided match was followed by two closely-fought affairs.
But, as always in sport, the final scoreline does not always represent the true picture or reflect the stats from the game.
Some hits but more misses for Italy
While no-one can argue that France were not superior to Italy in every respect in the first match on Saturday, the Azzurri’s figures in the main attacking categories are actually quite impressive when taken at face value.
France outscored them seven tries to one in a 50-10 win in Rome, and at the end of the day that is all that matters. But the Azzurri’s total of 957 metres gained (from 150 carries) was second-best of all six participating teams on the opening weekend.
As an attacking force, they made almost as many line breaks as France (seven to eight), almost twice as many passes and won just as much quick ruck ball (63 per cent).
Unfortunately for Italy, they were unable to convert those stats – and the territory and possession that also went in their favour – into more than 10 points.
A malfunctioning lineout (79 per cent success rate) stymied their attempts to make the most of promising positions, but it was Italy’s low tackle completion percentage that really did for them.
Italy missed a quarter of their 115 attempted tackles, and against a team as threatening in attack as France, that is asking for trouble. By contrast, France made 161 of their 180 tackles, for a much higher success rate of 89 per cent.
Scotland figure it out
Meanwhile, the numbers racked up by Scotland in their 11-6 win over England – the lowest-scoring match in the history of the opening round of the Six Nations – are far more impressive than the five-point winning margin suggests.
Gregor Townsend’s side bossed the game from the first blast of Andrew Brace’s whistle and thoroughly deserved their first win over England at Twickenham since 1983.
The number of times Scotland carried the ball was almost double that of England (134 to 70), with 43 per cent more metres made (665 to 384).
Seven penalties conceded in the first quarter – nearly half their overall match total of 15 – killed any hope England had of seizing early control and gave Scotland a foothold in the game.
Scotland had the bulk of the possession (62 per cent) and territory (58 per cent) and England’s tackle count of 163 tells the story of how they were forced onto the back foot for the majority of the match.
For once, Scotland’ tackling-machine Jonny Gray was made relatively redundant on the defensive front, his tally of 12 was eight fewer than his Exeter Chiefs team-mate and opposite number, Jonny Hill. Instead, it was Gray’s ability as a ball carrier that stood out on this occasion, with the second-row taking the ball to the opposition line 16 times – the most in the match.
The only negative for Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend will be the failure to score more points from the six line breaks they managed compared to England’s nil.
Wales’ red wall
Ireland were in the fight for much of their game against Wales in Sunday’s fixture, despite playing for over an hour with 14 men, but had to settle for a losing bonus point in a 21-16 defeat.
Andy Farrell’s side kept the ball extremely well after losing Peter O’Mahony to a red card in the 14th minute and had the majority of possession (61 per cent) and made twice as many ‘hit-ups’ as Wales, who were forced into making an incredible 245 tackles – one of the highest tackle counts in the Championship’s history. Justin Tipuric made 29 alone.
Ireland were the only team on the opening weekend to make in excess of 1,000 metres with the ball in hand and managed five line breaks to Wales’ three. Even without the presence of O’Mahony, the visitors still managed to steal three Wales lineout throws and effect four breakdown turnovers.
Despite having much slower ball to work with, one telling stat in Wales’ favour was gain line efficiency. Three-quarters of Wales’ carries got them good go-forward as Ireland tired in the tackle and lost some of the intensity of their line speed.
The game ebbed-and-flowed in line with three periods clearly defined by the penalty count. After conceding the first five penalties inside the first quarter, Ireland trailed 6-0 to two Leigh Halfpenny kicks. But in the second quarter, the tide turned and Wayne Barnes penalised Wales six times in a row. Buoyed by this, 14-man Ireland scored 13 unanswered points to take an unlikely 13-6 lead into half-time.
But once Irish indiscretions crept back into their game, with the concession of six straight penalties of their own, from the 46th minute through to the 65th, Wales capitalised to the tune of 15 points to end any hopes the visitors had of pulling off a remarkable victory were gone.