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RBS 6 Nations Analysis: Autumn Into Winter

RBS 6 Nations Analysis: Autumn Into Winter

With defending RBS 6 Nations champions Ireland winning all three recent November internationals against South Africa, Georgia and Australia, have you ever wondered whether how a team performs in the autumn translates into performance in the following RBS 6 Nations?


This was the third time that Ireland had a 100% winning record in November Tests: in 2002 they became runners-up to England in the 2003 RBS 6 Nations, while in 2007 after another perfect autumn they were again second place finishers – this time to France, losing out by a points difference of just four!

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Other sides to have had 100% winning records in previous autumns were England, each year from 2000-2002, winning two RBS 6 Nations titles and being runners-up in the other during that spell. France were flawless in November 2001 and then took a Grand Slam in the New Year, in 2005 France won all four autumn internationals then went on to take the RBS 6 Nations crown.

However, all was looking rosy for the French in 2012 having beaten Australia, Argentina and Samoa but they then contrived to have their worst RBS 6 Nations ever to finish in 6th and last place for the only time.

Scotland have once before won all their November Tests, in 2003 but then finished fourth in the following Championship. Two of Wales’ three Grand Slams, and one of France’s, have been won in years directly after Rugby World Cups, there being no autumn internationals played in those years.

In November 2014 the results of the nations was as follows:

England – won 2, lost 2
France – won 2 , lost 1
Ireland – won 3
Italy – won 1, lost 2
Scotland – won 2, lost 1
Wales – won 2, drawn 1, lost 1


Looking at the initial national squads announced for the 2015 RBS 6 Nations incredibly there is still one player included who appeared in the inaugural Championship way back in 2000 – none other than Italy’s ageless flanker Mauro Bergamasco, who actually played in the first ever game in the new tournament format in Rome on February 5, 2000.

Bergamasco, who already has the longest Test career of any Italian international, will take that mark beyond 16 years if he plays in this season’s tournament, having made his Test debut against the Netherlands at Huddersfield in a Rugby World Cup qualifying match on November 18, 1998.

He is NOT the oldest player to be named though…that honour goes to England’s 36 year-old Nick Easter. Conversely, the youngest named is Wales centre Tyler Morgan, who will not move out of his teens until next September, and was barely two years of age when Bergamasco made his debut in the Italian First Division!


Is there any correlation with how a country does in the RBS 6 Nations Championship and how they perform at the following Rugby World Cup?

In 2003 England took the title with a Grand Slam for the only time and then went on to lift the Webb Ellis Cup in Australia the following November, while third-placed France secured fourth place at the World Cup. Ireland were second and were knocked out by France in the quarter-finals on the world stage.

Four years later England finished third in the Championship but made it to the World Cup final only to succumb to South Africa. France claimed the Championship crown but then only finished fourth in the World Cup that was staged on their own home soil.

In 2011 it was England who were RBS 6 Nations champions but they were beaten by France, who had finished runners-up, in the quarter-finals of the Rugby World Cup. France, in turn, went on to lose to hosts New Zealand in the final itself. Ireland finished third, ahead of Wales by points difference in the RBS 6 Nations, but were beaten by the Welshmen in the RWC quarter-final in Wellington.


Dipping back into the archives of the RBS 6 Nations from the moment that Scotland’s Gregor
ushered in a new era by kicking off the inaugural game of the new tournament format in Rome on February 5, 2000 until Steve Walsh’s whistle brought down the curtain on the 2014 tournament in Paris – every pass, tackle, kick and run has now been analysed to produce a fascinating insight into the top performers in the 15-year history of the prestigious Championship.

The legendary Brian O’Driscoll has, of course, played in more matches than anyone else (65, all starts) and has almost a third as many playing minutes as any other, so you would expect him to top a few performance categories, but to say that he has probably singlehandedly rewritten most would not be an understatement.

O’Driscoll has made the most metres with ball in hand (2536), made the most clean breaks (67) and beaten the most defenders (163), he has also won the most turnovers (53) and also lost the most (87).

The former Ireland captain scored a record 26 tries himself in the RBS 6 Nations but also he is credited with a further 16 try assists, and so had a direct hand in 42 of the 154 tries Ireland scored whilst he was actually on the field.

On an individual game’s basis, it is hard to see that anyone will get close to Denis Leamy’s 30 ball carries against France in 2006 – especially when you consider that no one else has managed 29, 28 or 27 in a single game!

Also, England full-back Iain Balshaw gaining 198 metres in one match against Italy at Twickenham in 2001 looks almost insurmountable, secure in the knowledge that nobody in the intervening 14 years has gained more than 173 metres in a single game.


Scotland’s Scott Murray is the lineout king (at least stats wise), stealing 54 opponents’ throw-ins as well as winning 223 of his own in 39 games between 2000 and 2007. Only five different players in the history of the RBS 6 Nations have stolen as many as four lineouts in a game, but Murray managed to do it on five separate occasions.

Also, in 2007 against Italy at Murrayfield, he equalled the record held by Marco Bortolami and Robert Sidoli of winning 13 lineouts in a single match.


Wales’ Martyn Williams during his 48-match career has made the most tackles with 467, while perhaps a surprising stat for someone who was always renowned for his defence, is Jonny Wilkinson’s 69 missed tackles.

Welsh tighthead prop Rhys Thomas may have only played two games in the tournament, both against Italy in 2008 and 2009, but did all that was asked of him in not missing a tackle in 39 attempts. On the other side of the coin Luciano Orquera missed 14 tackles in four fewer attempts than Thomas!

It was French tyro Serge Betsen who brought down anything that moved against Wales at the Stade de France in 2007 to set a tournament high of 27 tackles, a mark that is yet to be surpassed.


Italian lynchpin Sergio Parisse is the top ball carrier in the history of the RBS 6 Nations with a whopping 524 carries during his 46 games so far, making 2393 metres for his country in the process, second only to the mighty Brian O’Driscoll.

It is three lightning quick French backs that have produced the most metres per carry on average with Pepito Elhorga (11.7 metres per carry), Emile Ntamack (9.7) and Yann Delaigue (9.6) all being in the top four in this category. They are split by England’s Ugo Monye with an 11.2 average.


It is revealed that Ireland second row Malcolm O’Kelly got on the wrong side of referees the most in conceding 54 penalties over his 37-match RBS 6 Nations career. But it is clear why he won all those caps when you see that in one game alone he stole an incredible six of Carlo Festuccia’s lineout throws at Stadio Flaminio in 2003.

O’Kelly is also the second best turnover winner with 32 along with team-mate Paul O’Connell, over 20 behind category leader and fellow Irishman Brian O’Driscoll.


On an individual basis, Thomas Castaignede’s standout performance from full-back against Italy in Paris in the final round of the 2000 campaign stands the test of time. On the scoresheet he grabbed a 33rd minute try to take France 18-17 ahead at that stage, which they would go on to win 42-31, but his attacking stats in the match are simply amazing:

– He beat an incredible 15 defenders – four better than anyone else has managed before or since
– He made eight clean breaks – only equalled by compatriot Damien Traille in the same fixture three years later
– He gained an impressive 186 metres – second only to Iain Balshaw’s one-day record set six weeks previously


In a six-team tournament where everyone only plays each other once, there is always an advantage for three countries each year by playing three of your games at home, but how much of an advantage is it?

Statistics tell us that away sides win 38% of their matches in the RBS 6 Nations – 85 away wins in 225 encounters so far, but does that also translate into title wins?

The RBS 6 Nations Championship has been won by a side playing just two home games on five of 15 occasions so far: by England in 2000, Wales (with a Grand Slam) in 2005, France in 2007, Ireland (with a Grand Slam) in 2009 and Wales in 2013. The last four of which being when England, Italy and Scotland have had three home games.

In fact, in 2013 Wales were unique in that they became the only side to lose a home game but still take the title, this was also a round 1 defeat and the only other side to be defeated in round 1 and eventually go on to lift the trophy was France in 2006.

Wales seem to make a habit of strange results: in their five matches in 2001 the home side on the day actually failed to win any of them, with Wales losing their two games in Cardiff to Ireland and England but then managing to beat France and Italy in their own backyard and drawing 28-all with Scotland at Murrayfield.

Italy have achieved their best finish (fourth) twice when they have had three home games in 2007 and 2013, while Scotland have managed their best finish (third) twice when they had three home games in 2001 and 2013, and more curiously in 2006 when they played just two matches at Murrayfield.

As a reminder, the three fixtures on the opening weekend this season are:

Friday, February 6 –

Wales v England, Millennium Stadium

Saturday, February 7 –

Italy v Ireland, Stadio Olimpico
France v Scotland, Stade de France

– Compiled for the RBS 6 Nations by Stuart Farmer