The NatWest 6 Nations returns this weekend and with three sides still in the hunt for glory, Round 4 looks set to be a hugely decisive and explosive affair.
Ireland remain the only side with a chance of securing the Grand Slam following three wins from three and a victory over Scotland on Saturday will see them put one tentative hand on the trophy ahead of their trip to London for a final day showdown with England.
Scotland’s decade-in-waiting win over England saw contrasting fortunes for the two sides, with Gregor Townsend’s men boosting their own title hopes while double-defending champions England seeing their own dented.
France finally figured out how to win again in Round 3 against Italy and they will welcome England to Paris on Saturday for what is expected to be a mammoth encounter, with the home side looking to repeat the winning feeling while England seek to put right the wrongs of a disappointing day in Edinburgh two weeks ago.
Italy, despite all their attacking ambition, continue to seek their first points of the tournament and they can expect another difficult encounter in Rome on Sunday as Wales look to rebound from their defeat to Ireland last time out.
The stage is set for some springtime fireworks and following another week of rest, players will be chomping at the bit to put on a show.
With so much at stake when the six squads return to the rectangular battlefields, each country will be looking to their big guns to lead the way to victory.
Over the course of the past month, fans have been treated to the spectrum of tactics, from explosive running from the backs, to up-the-jumper grafting and mauling from the forwards, all the while, the half-back generals pushing and probing their opponents’ defences.
The results of these bruising chess games is a series of the individual statistics that make for very interesting reading.
Here are some of the highlights.
Despite Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale and Wales’ Steff Evans tearing up the wings, neither can keep up with Scotland’s Stuart Hogg, who once again is proving to be an elusive proposition for opponents.
With nearly 30% more passes than his nearest counterpart, scrum-half Conor Murray has been instrumental in Ireland’s attacking and ball recycling tactics.
Arguably the best in the business, Murray’s 337 passes also sheds light on his importance and reliance for Ireland’s penchant for the rucking game.
With England’s Owen Farrell and Ireland’s Jonathan Sexton sporadically misfiring from the kicking tee over the first three rounds, Wales’ Leigh Halfpenny leads the way with 36 points to his name.
With only seven points separating the top five set-piece maestros, who comes out on top will likely not be decided until the final whistle blows in Round five.
Leading Try Scorer
|England||2||Watson, May, Simmonds, Farrell|
England’s Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Owen Farrell and Sam Simmonds have each bagged a brace of tries so far, emphasising the attacking threat from the defending champions.
Scotland’s Huw Jones enjoyed a barnstormer against England last time out, grabbing a pair of tries to add to the one he already had. This takes him to three, matching the banished Teddy Thomas, who lit up the boards for France during the first two rounds.
All, however, still live in the wake of Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale, who leads the way with four tries and takes his international tally to an incredible eight from seven appearances.
Newly minted Irishman Bundee Aki has continued his blazing start in the green jersey since his debut last November. Leading the way with 12 defenders beaten, it is no wonder he has become a point of concern for opponents.
Most surprising, however, is the ten scalps claimed by Italy’s Sebastian Negri. While the other five nations have centres or wingers leading the way, Negri has been cutting through defences from his place in the back row.
It probably comes as little surprise that England’s Jonny May leads the way with clean break. His seven so far once again shows his ability to utterly baffle defences.
Coupled with his 180+ metres gained, expect the explosive winger to continue his reign of terror this weekend against France.
Notably, with six clean breaks each, Ireland’s Jacob Stockdale, Wales’ Steff Evans and Scotland’s Huw Jones are all proving themselves to be major problems for oppositions thus far and are hot on the heels of pace-setter May.
Reviewing the ball carrying statistics often serves as a window into a side’s tactics and such it is here. While England, Scotland and Wales have relished in expansive and fracturing running games, Ireland, France and Italy have sought to employ the muscle of their packs more readily in order to establish territorial footholds before launching their attacks.
CJ Stander has been the main workhorse for Ireland once again, with his 58 carries more than 25% more than his nearest rival in the statistical tally.
Much in the way ball carrying statistics offer a glimpse of side’s tactical approach in a game, so too do the number of tackles made suggest which sides have enjoyed more ball possession than others.
France captain Guilhem Guirado has defended from the front, offering up his body a whopping 57 times, following by Wales’ Josh Navidi on 56 and then Scotland’s Jonny Gray on 53.
Add to the mix the 40+ tackles made by Italy’s Tommaso Castello and England’s Chris Robshaw and it is clear that many a busy day has been had by all.
Most stark about the statistics, however, is the mere 24 tackles made by Ireland’s Bundee Aki. With the New Zealand born centre leading the way among his compatriots, it underscores the significant possession that Joe Schmidt’s side has enjoyed over the last three rounds.
While these numbers serve to demonstrate just some of the standout performances over the last month, they remain part of the overall efforts of their respective squads, each pushing for superiority over the other.
With two rounds remaining and much still to play for, expect more incredible numbers to emerge and accolades bestowed.
When it is all said and done, one side will sit at the top of the pile, with each personal statistic serving as the foundation for their team’s success.
It all kicks off again on Saturday at 2:15 PM, with Ireland taking on Scotland, following by France hosting England at 4:45 PM.
Italy and Wales close out the weekend in Rome at 3:00 PM on Sunday.