Renowned rugby statistician Stuart Farmer brings us some interesting snippets of analysis on the eve of the 2014 RBS 6 Nations Championship.
No side has ever claimed a third successive RBS 6 Nations but Wales are in line to do so, following their Grand Slam in 2012 and taking the crown with just one defeat last season.
No one has claimed three outright Championships in-a-row since it all began in 1883, although Wales did gain three consecutive titles in the Five Nations between 1969-71, with the 1970 crown being shared with France.
It seems as though a poor start to the Championship does not faze the Welsh either, tripping up as they did at home to Ireland in round one last season but still going on to claim the silverware.
They became just the ninth side since it all began in 1883 – and the first from Wales – to win the title outright after losing their opening match, and the only ones to do so in the Six Nations since France in 2006.
ARE PLAYERS GETTING YOUNGER?
Ignoring the first season of the newly expanded RBS 6 Nations in 2000, when all players were of course appearing in the Championship for the first time, there have been 560 players to have made their Championship debut.
The average age of a player on debut has been a shade over 25 years of age – Wales’s 92 debutants have been the youngest with an average age of 24.4, while Ireland’s have been the oldest at 25.7 years.
On average backs are 24.2 years-old when they make their bow in the RBS 6 Nations, while forwards are 25.8. Wingers generally are the youngest players, the 75 so far being an average age of 23.7 on debut day, and props are 26-and-a-half when they make their first appearance.
Wales have the youngest backs at just 23, a year younger than their French counterparts, but conversely the Welsh have the oldest locks, who are 27.1 years old on debut, but even that does not surpass Ireland’s average age for a prop on first appearance in the tournament at 27.3 years.
What will be the trend this year? Generally, older players have made their debuts in the World Cup years of 2003, 2007 and 2011, while there is always a reduction in the age of players making their bow in the Championship immediately following a World Cup.
OLD AND YOUNG TEAMS
The six oldest starting line-ups in the history of the RBS 6 Nations have perhaps surprisingly all been French, with the oldest named being when they took on Italy at the Stade de France in 2012 which had an average of very nearly 30 years of age.
The youngest on that day was Wesley Fofana at 24 and the oldest Lionel Nallet at 35. France won 30-12.
The youngest team ever to have taken to the field in the RBS 6 Nations was Scotland for their visit to Ireland in 2004, with the whole side averaging 25 years of age. Ireland won 37-16 with the oldest Scot on the field being prop Gordon Bulloch at 29 and the youngest centre Tom Philip at 20.
DO THE IRB WORLD RANKINGS PREDICT THE WINNER?
The IRB World Rankings were first introduced a month before the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Australia, since then they have been updated every month taking account a number of factors such as the results of matches, the margin of victory, the strength of the opposition, and where the match was played, all weighted by time so that more recent ‘form’ is reflected in the algorithm.
Countries are ranked between 0 and 100 points with matches played at World Cups having more significance than other games.
Right now, in January 2014, England are the highest ranked of the RBS 6 Nations team in fourth spot – behind leaders New Zealand, South Africa and Australia – with 85.7 ranking points.
They are almost five ranking points ahead of France (fifth), Wales (sixth) and Ireland (seventh), with Scotland (ninth) a little further back and Italy (thirteenth) bringing up the rear. So, does this translate into a guide as to the finishing positions in 2014?
Looking at the previous RBS 6 Nations Championships and the relative merits of the competing teams in terms of the IRB World Rankings, we see that on only three previous occasions countries have carried off the title after being ranked as the best RBS 6 Nations side in the January prior to the tournament: France in both 2006 and 2007 and England in 2011.
Interestingly, the two Grand Slams won by France in 2004 and 2010 came with them ranked in second placed of the RBS 6 Nations teams, while Ireland’s in 2009 came with them in fourth spot.
Wales have a habit of breaking the form book wide open, gaining two Grand Slams when ranked fourth and the 2008 Gran Slam coming when only Italy were ranked lower. Last season, again, Wales took the title when going into the Championship in fourth place of the six contenders.
HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE
Of course with having a six-team RBS 6 Nations with each nation playing five games there will always be an imbalance between home and away games in a campaign.
This year France, Ireland and Wales each have three home games, while England, Italy and Scotland each have only two. But does the disparity really present a disadvantage?
Of the 14 previous RBS 6 Nations champions, since it began in 2000, just five have been won by teams who played only two home games in a season, and two of those turned into Grand Slams for Wales in 2005 and Ireland in 2009.
The other three were won by England in 2000, France in 2007 and Wales last year.
The other nine titles have been taken by nations favoured in the draw by playing more home games: England in 2001, 2003 and 2011, France in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2010, and Wales in 2008 and 2012.
In fact, every season since 2001 where the year is even the title has been won by either France or Wales!
UNDER-20 BREEDING GROUND
At the same time as the RBS 6 Nations Championship kicks off, the annual Under-20 Six Nations also begins – a tournament which mirrors the senior version of events.
A glance at the extended squads announced for the current senior RBS 6 Nations we find that over three-quarters of the 205 players named have played in the Under-20 or Under-21 Six Nations before.
Proof, for certain, that we should make a serious note of this season’s Under-20 event to be on the lookout for the players of the next generation.
Individually it is France who have the highest percentage of Under-20 graduates with almost 80% of their squad being first blooded in the junior event.
Ex-London Welsh and Cambridge University winger James Wellwood is unique as he is the only player to have appeared for two separate countries in the junior Six Nations, having represented Wales Under-21s in three games in 2004 and scoring a try against Italy, and then turning out on two occasions for England Under-21s the following year and scoring a try against his former team, Wales, at Newport.
The French half-backs Morgan Parra and Frederic Michalak have the rare distinction of being the only players to have appeared in the RBS 6 Nations before making their debuts in the Under-20 Six Nations, Parra playing in the first three rounds in 2008 for the senior side before dropping down to the Under-20s for rounds four and five.
Michalak made his RBS 6 Nations debut against Italy in 2002 and then had an ‘interesting’ 2003 season, turning out for France Under-21s in the first two rounds, moving up to France ‘A’ for round three and then graduating to the first team for rounds four and five.
Six players have played in the RBS 6 Nations after making their debut in the Under-20s for a different country: Thom Evans, Jim Hamilton and Jon Dawson (England U-21s and Scotland), David Bortolussi (France U-21s and Italy), Paul Doran Jones (Ireland U-21s and England), and Tom Palmer (Scotland U-21s and England).
The RBS 6 Nations now has a unique archive in world rugby which contains the complete performance analysis for every player and team in the 210-match history of the Championship since it was first introduced in 2000.
Every kick, pass, run, tackle, scrum and lineout has been recorded, as well as a myriad of other performance stats, and we can now reveal the following facts:
– Peter Stringer made a record 99 passes against France in 2006
– Players have combined to run for 1,706km with ball in hand since 2000
– Serge Betsen made an incredible 27 tackles against Wales in 2002
– There have been 4,161 penalties awarded, from which there have been 1,517 kicks at goal, of which 1,126 have tallied three points for their country
– Denis Leamy carried the ball an amazing 30 times against France in 2006
– There have been 48,174 attempts at a tackle, of which 5,623 were missed for a combined success rate of 88%
– Italy missed 54 tackles against France in 2000, while Ireland made 200 tackles against Wales in 2013
– Compiled by SFMS Limited (Stuart Farmer Media Services)