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Six Nations Championship 2016 Review: The Middle Two

The Scottish Thistles begin to bloom and the Irish Shamrock seeds are laid for another day. Sport-Matters takes a look at third and fourth place and what the future holds for them both.

Ireland- 3rd– Points Difference +41- 5 points

In a similar way to their legendary captain Paul O’Connell, many thought the Shamrocks would limp their way through their first Championships without the big man. However, the new men in green impressed. Despite losses to England and France, the draw against Wales and the defeats of Italy and Scotland were well deserved. Ireland managed to move the ball with lucidity and the stats support this- 600 carries, 889 passes and 40 breaks are the best figures from the Championship and they all belong to Ireland. Joe Schmidt clearly drilled his new Shamrocks to maintain the identity of Irish rugby we love to watch- full of passing!

The Irish played well against the Scottish but there were clearly signs of inexperience at this level, mainly due to the contrasting halves. In the first half, Ireland spent 82% of the time in Scotland’s territory compared to 32% in the second half. Compare 97 1st half carries to 35 2nd half carries and 29 1st half tackles to 92 2nd half tackles- Ireland dominated with their drills at the start but lost their focus and allowed the Scottish back into the game in the second half. The game was won though and this can be contributed in part to the experience midfield pair of Connor Murray and Jonny Sexton. Murray and Sexton made 73% of Ireland’s total passes against Scotland, directing the ball to make 386 metres over the match- they ran the match for Ireland.

Third place was the best possible finish for a young Ireland side who are on the way to regaining the Irish passing way but require some more time on the training fields to make it last 80 minutes. The seeds have been sowed but will they be sprouted in time for the summer in South Africa? Most likely!

Scotland- 4th– Points Difference +7- 4 points

Two wins, three losses- any other year and the scotch whisky would be brought out above Hadrian’s Wall. But it’s not any year that Scotland become the closest northern-hemisphere team to reaching the World Cup semi-finals. The underdog tag had been ripped off as Scotland were now expected to challenge for third place.

And challenge they did! After the match in Dublin, Scotland will probably have felt a tinge of disappointment. They certainly matched the Shamrocks- even bettered them- in certain aspects of the game. Scotland made 451 metres (364 in the second half) and 123 carries (102 in the second half). On top of this, in the second half Scotland only needed to make 48 tackles as well making 3 turnovers compared to Ireland’s sole turnover. Scotland therefore not only matched Ireland but took full advantage of the room to play provided later in the match.

It makes you wonder then… how on earth did they not win? It comes down to one word: Discipline. Correction: discipline is too harsh a word here- I would prefer ‘Over eagerness’. Scotland received 4 yellow cards throughout the tournament, more than any other team, and two of them came against Ireland- the damage was then done beyond the try line in those depleted 20 minutes. However, the fact that Scotland also won 97% of their rucks and were only turned over 13 times highlight a sense of competitiveness. Scotland believed they could win it but perhaps their belief clouded their judgement in certain situations.

Stuart Hogg put in a stellar performance but this is merely one part of the Scotland wheel. Sure, Hogg made 119 metres and 10 carries, but Duncan Taylor and Greg Laidlaw laid down equally impressive attacking statistics. This is the important statistic: Hogg’s 119 metres was only 26% of Scotland’s total for the match. The whole team committed to moving the ball forwards to play Ireland at their own game- of course they would have won, yet lack of discipline will define this year’s Championships for Scotland.

The Scottish Thistles are on the rise again and I can’t wait to see what Japan will offer to them in a World Cup rematch… or should that be the Battle of the Not-So-Underdogs?

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