So what happened out there this weekend? Well, the short version is: Ireland beat Scotland comfortably. England lost to France, thereby handing Ireland the title with a week to spare. And Wales thrashed Italy.
I know what you’re thinking … England lost to France? How could this happen? What’s happened to Eddie Jones’ Invincibles? What happened to Ford and Farrell’s telepathic partnership? Are England now rubbish? Should they, in fact, be replaced by Georgia?
Calm down everyone. Keep it together for crying out loud. If you’ve been reading the normal ‘mainstream’ media (I hate that term, but it seems applicable here) then it would appear all is lost for the men in white. They might as well give up now. Just what is the point anymore?
Well here at Rugby4Cast we (at least try to) take a slightly more long term view. So if you’re English and after a few glimmers of hope, or perhaps just a more realistic, less hyperbolic view of rugby in general, then read on (and then like, follow, share, of course).
If you’d like the actual England debrief then see here.
But firstly, how did our computer do? Not too badly, it would seem. England let us down again unfortunately, but the match was forecast to be tight, and it was, so that is not too concerning. Generally, our score predictions were actually pretty tight this weekend, which is encouraging.
So what does this mean? Well, our model works by looking at historical scoring patterns in matches (both generally and specifically in head to heads), the current rankings and location to work out an expected score for both sides. More accurately speaking, this means each predicted score is actually a metric to describe the relative historical strength of the two teams, based on their performances over previous years. However, we think it is more fun to think of them as predictions. At the very least, it certainly serves to provoke the trolls lurking on Twitter.
Ireland knew that they’d need to win, and win big, in order to put pressure on England and put themselves in with a chance of winning the title this weekend. This they did, relatively comfortably, putting away a good Scottish side (although bad at touring) and scoring four tries to secure the bonus point. In the end, due to England losing in Paris, this turned out to be overkill, but it was a fairly impressive Irish display in doing what is necessary, not panicking, and getting the job done.
Ireland have therefore secured the Six Nations title with a week to spare. They have also broken their record for most consecutive wins (11 – starting from England last year), and have also replaced England as the world’s second best side. Quite a day for the Irish.
All is not yet won however, for next week they travel to Twickenham, and will be going for the Grand Slam. Ireland have only won two Grand Slams ever, once in 1948 and the other in 2009, so this will be a huge moment for the Irish, and one no doubt, that the English will be keen to spoil, taking revenge for their own Grand Slam defeat at the hands of the Irish, just one year ago.
Our computer model has England as favourites for that match, although this has narrowed considerably since the tournament began. We are now predicting a 6 point victory for the English, which is down from around an 11 point victory at the start of the tournament. Our model, however, does not take into account confidence or other qualitative metrics like that, so we’ll leave it up to you to decide how this will affect the teams going into Super Saturday.
Our model takes into account scoring patterns, both generally and specifically in head to heads, along with current rankings and adjustments for home advantage to attempt to predict future fixtures. In this regard, England can still be regarded as extremely strong. They average just under 31 points a match at home and, when accounting for World Rugby’s assessment that home advantage is worth three extra ranking points, would be ranked above Ireland. They also have a strong record against Ireland in Twickenham, winning it seven times from ten since 2000, on average 27 points to 15.
So this will be a difficult game for the Irish, by far the most difficult they have had so far in the tournament. However, they will come into it confident that they already have the title in the bag, and knowing that there are a few more chinks in the English armour than there have been recently.
Ireland should be wary as well, having conceded some soft tries this tournament. So far, they have been lucky (think Sexton last minute drop goal against France, Stockdale intercept against Wales) to get away with it, but they will likely need to tighten up against the English to win at Twickenham.
It will be a fascinating game, one to watch for sure. And as added spice, whoever wins will take the number two spot in the rankings. All to play for.
Scotland played well, despite the very one-sided scoreline. But for (at least) three botched last passes, this game could have been very competitive. Scotland are clearly there or thereabouts, it is just their accuracy and execution that is somewhat inconsistent week to week. However, we think that this should be regarded as quite a successful tournament for the Scots. Before the tournament began we forecast them only winning two games, largely due to the combinations of location and opposition, although a couple were predicted to be quite close. So, to go into the final weekend with two wins, and likely three with Italy to come, is an significant achievement for Townsend and his men, despite (incorrectly we feel) been talked up as title contenders before the tournament began.
Should they beat Italy, this would be the second year that the Scots have recorded three wins, beating everyone over the course of the two years. This would be the first time this has happened – the only other time the Scots have recorded three wins in a season was 2006. This is a good platform for them to build on going forward, and should they continue to improve at their current rate (see below for Scotland’s rise), we may even join the mainstream media bandwagon and legitimately call them ‘title contenders’ come next year.