The 2018 NatWest 6 Nations Championship was decided after round four, with Ireland securing the title for the third time in five years. All that remained for decision in round five was where the rest would end up and whether Ireland could ice the cake with a Grand Slam.
On a bitterly cold, snow-swept, Saturday in London, Ireland did indeed emulate that great side from 2009, with a resounding victory over England at Twickenham to claim only their third ever Grand Slam, cementing their status as legends of Irish rugby.
Theirs was a Six Nations campaign defined by possession, control and clinical execution, with opponents driven into submission by making them chase, defend and tackle to the point of exhaustion.
Having kicked off their campaign in Paris against France in round one, Joe Schmidt’s men escaped with a memorable win, sealed by a last-gasp drop 42m goal from Jonathan Sexton that broke French hearts in miserable conditions.
From there it was all Ireland. Italy, Wales, Scotland and England all encountered a side imperiously drilled, organised and disciplined, with an attacking edge that delivered 20 tries from these four fixtures.
With no answers to the questions posed by Schmidt’s men, the title, Grand Slam and plaudits are deservedly Ireland’s.
So, with the latest instalment of the Six Nations done and dusted for another year, now is a good time explore just some of the statistics that underline Ireland’s dominance of the 2018 Test series.
Ona high level, Ireland’s 160 points tally is the most they have scored since the first Six Nations back in 2000, while their 20 tries are the most scored since England’s efforts back in 2001 (29) and 2002 (23).
Digging a bit deeper, some seriously impressive numbers begin to stand out.
A major factor of Ireland’s dominance this year was in how they managed to maintain control of the ball for vast majorities of each of their Tests.
Their now famous 41 phases that led up to that Sexton drop goal against France is but the tip of the iceberg as the statistics show that in their first four Tests, Ireland averaged 65% possession, meaning opponents were forced to defend rather than employ their own gameplans.
Against England, Schmidt’s side saw less ball, 46% in total, but a first-half of imperious rugby all but ended the contest after 40 minutes and ensured England simply had to attack Ireland if they stood any chance of salvaging some semblance of pride.
Carries, Metres, Clean Breaks & Defenders Beaten
Having often been accused of lacking attacking imagination in previous Six Nations, this year Ireland terrorised opponents in each of their five Tests.
Built upon incredible discipline and passing accuracy, they amassed some 830 carries and over 2,200 metres made. Of those carries, CJ Stander had a personal total of 96, more than anyone else in the Championships.
The metres made featured 42 clean breaks and 105 beaten defenders, both statistics including Championship leading marks with 11 clean breaks from Jacob Stockdale and 18 defenders beaten by Rob Kearney.
With numbers like this, featuring massive numbers from the forwards and backs alike, it shows that Ireland were a serious handful for each of their five opponents these past few weeks.
Rucks, Passes & Tackles
The manner of Ireland’s supreme ball cycling was such that they managed to win a massive 665, with only 16 lost. Add to this the passing accuracy of Conor Murray, with a Championship leading 542, and it becomes clear that Ireland were extremely proficient in recycling and retaining the ball.
Their possession statistics were such that they were only called upon to make 734 tackles, with 661 of these being successful. When compared to the rest where Scotland made some 887 tackles, Wales (916), France (861), England (874) and Italy (991), it further emphasises just how dominant Ireland were from an attacking perspective.
As performances go, Ireland’s Test series is certainly one of the more complete displays of teamwork in recent seasons. Aside from their opening fixture against France, there was an air of dominance to each Irish effort.
Though some scorelines suggested close contests, the details and moments of the games clearly pointed to Irish superiority.
Such has been the sentiment almost universally expressed across the rugby fraternity this weekend.
The numbers do not lie, the final table nor the team and individual statistical nuggets. If ever a Six Nations Grand Slam was earned and deserved, not many could deny Joe Schmidt and Ireland this year.
All statistics from SixNationsRugby.com