RUGBY UNION - Last week, France had a drop goal attempt which would have put them 25-24 up in the dying seconds against England in Rugby’s Six Nations Championship. A week earlier, France and Ireland drew 17-17 with each other and England were denied a last minute try which would have given them a draw against Wales in the third weekend of the competition. The question is whether the Six Nations Championship is getting tighter.
Looking at how many Six Nations era matches have been won by a converted try or less, close matches seem to have become more the norm in recent years with at least seven in each of the last three seasons, after this number was recorded only twice in the previous 10 years. Two more close matches in Saturday’s finale will break the season record of eight set two years ago.
Ireland have been involved in the most close matches with 27 of their 64 Six Nations era fixtures ending with a margin of seven points or fewer between the teams.
England have tended to come off second best in their close matches, winning less than one third of them (eight of their 25), the worst of the six so last week’s two point victory against France went against the grain as France have won nearly two thirds of their close matches in the competition (15 out of 24).
All four of England’s matches in the Six Nations Championship this year have ended with a margin of seven points of fewer between the teams. This is the sixth time that a team has had four matches in the competition which have been decided by a converted try or less and no team has ever recorded five close matches of this nature in a Six Nations season. Four of the six teams to play in four close matches in a season have done so in the last three seasons and France can also join this list on Saturday.
If the match between Italy and Scotland on Saturday ends with a converted try or less between the teams, each of the participants in the Six Nations Championship will have played at least two close matches for the third season in a row. Prior to 2010, this had only previously happened in 2006 during the Six Nations era.
However, there is also a clear split in the teams over the 13 seasons of the competition which also reflects the current standings. Five of the six fixtures between England, France, Ireland and Wales have finished within a score at least six times whereas Italy cannot say this against any opponents and Scotland have only recorded six close matches against England. Matches between Italy and Scotland have had a winning margin of seven points or less on five occasions.
So, this last weekend of fixtures can be expected to produce a close match between Italy and Scotland as their last four fixtures in Rome have ended with winning margins of 6,3,3 and 4 with Italy winning three of them. Wales against France is a similar story with four of the last five played at the Millennium Stadium ending in close finishes. Only the Grand Slam match of 2008, won 29-12 by Wales was an exception. As for England against Ireland, it could depend on who the winner is. The six close matches between them have all been won by Ireland. England’s four victories over the same period have been won by an average of 31 points.
Simon Gleave researched and wrote this article after being inspired by a Twitter question from @rhodthomas. Simon is the Head of Analysis at Infostrada Statistics, a part of the Infostrada Sports Group. He has worked at three Rugby World Cups running the statistical side of the Rugby News Service we have provided to the IRB. You can follow him on Twitter at @simongleave