There is no doubt that the 6 Nations is a great competition. It pits friends and foes alike in a tribal bloodbath over a few weeks in the darkest time of the year; it provides a lift to the supporters’ spirits during “dry” January and dismal February.
That’s the plus side. On the negative side, the stifling nature of the competition has inhibited the quality of the rugby on show and reduced northern hemisphere rugby to 2nd rate actors to the southern hemisphere Oscar winners.
In the aftermath of the 2015 Rugby World Cup where the southern hemisphere dominated the latter stages of the tournament we wrote this article, bemoaning the mediocrity of the 6 Nations.
As a means of improving the quality of the teams, and no doubt to improve the excitement levels, this year sees the introduction of a trial, awarding bonus points for being within 7 points of the winning team and also for scoring 4 or more tries.
We have looked through the last 10 years’ 6 Nations results to get a feel for how this try bonus point may change the competition.
Total tries scored over last 10 years
The first graph (below) shows the number of tries by year over the last 10 competitions.
After a steady decline to the nadir in 2013, we have seen an increase in tries over the past 3 seasons. This may though be due to the decline in the fortunes of Italy who have taken a few recent beatings, rather than an overall improvement in quality.
The second table, shows how the total tries are split per nation over the same period.
This chart is a stark visual that demonstrates Scotland’s lack of try scoring ability, a problem which has hindered their ability to convert possession in to wins.
Can teams score 4 tries in a game?
The total try tally doesn’t give the full story because a team will only be awarded a bonus point for scoring 4 or more tries in a single game.
We have looked at the try data over the period and highlighted the number of times a team has scored 4 or more tries in a single game. The results are quite surprising.
10 seasons worth of games equates to 50 matches, over which Italy and Scotland have only ever scored 4 or more tries once! Italy scored 4 tries against Scotland in 2007 while Scotland reciprocated by scoring 4 tries against Italy in 2013.
Wales have managed the task 5 times – twice against Scotland (7 tries in 2014 after Stuart Hogg was sent off and 4 tries in 2009. The other 3 occasions were against Italy in 2016 (9 tries), 2015 (8 tries) and 2008 (5 tries). Wales have failed to score 4 or more tries against England, France and Ireland.
France have scored 4 or more tries 8 times, which includes 5 tries against England in 2015 in a defeat in Twickenham 55-35. In that same game England crossed the French line 7 times.
Ireland top the table with their 10 occasions coming against Italy and Scotland, with a sole 4 try game against England in 2007.
Summarising these results we see the following pattern:
Perhaps the standout statistic there is that Wales have never conceded 4 or more tries in a game (over the last 10 competitions). Ireland are close behind with just a single game, with England and France on 2; Italy have been the whipping boys on 18 occasions.
Will the bonus point for tries work?
Based on historical data the chances of a team getting a try bonus point are pretty slim, indeed Scotland and Italy will manage it once every 10 seasons.
What this historical data doesn’t show us though, is what impact will the bonus point have on the approach the teams take in this tournament?
Will teams set out with a more expansive, high risk approach from the start in order to secure a try bonus point, or will they continue to adopt a more pragmatic “win first” mentality against the bigger teams and only focus on the 4 tries against the lesser nations?
Time will tell but this has to be a positive move for the 6 Nations.
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