Damn Lies and Statistics

Andy Robinson - Courtesy of SRU/PA

The IRB has released its annual statistical review of the RBS Six Nations and whilst it might seem a little futile to continue poking the rotting carcass of Scotland’s performance with a stick, it does make for interesting reading.

The last time I posted some stats on the site someone quoted Ebbe Skovdahl who said “statistics are like miniskirts: They give you good ideas but hide the important things.” However, statistics can also challenge our perceptions, especially those that may not necessarily be a reflection of the truth.

I’m not going to comment too much on what these statistics might show. Those of us with any energy left can duke it out in the comments box. But the statistics certainly raise some interesting questions.

I’ve pulled out what I think are the most interesting points in terms of Scotland. If you want to read the full report you can find it here.

The Scrum

Scotland’s scrum was held up as a major cause for concern and has been for a while. There were calls for wholesale changes in the front row and Jon Welsh’s performance in the Italy game might make it difficult for Chunk to regain a starting position.

But the IRB report claims that the importance of the scrum is declining, pointing out that Wales won the championship despite only having possession from the scrum on 14 occasions throughout the entire tournament.

From a Scottish point of view things might not as bad as they might seem. Scotland won 89% of scrums from their own put in (3rd best in the tournament and only 1% behind France in 2nd) and managed to win 13% of scrums from an opposition feed (joint 4th with Ireland).

France and Wales are streets ahead of other teams winning around a quarter of scrums from an opposition put in.

Breakdown

Another criticism levelled at Scotland during the tournament was the loss of ball at the breakdown. Again, the IRB stats tell a different story. Scotland managed to retain possession at the breakdown (winning the ball or earning a penalty) 94% of the time; the 2nd highest performance in the tournament. 

Passing

It might not come as a surprise that Scotland passed the ball more than any other team in the tournament with 7.9 passes completed for every minute of possession. Even our Forwards were getting in on the act making almost 100 more passes that their English counterparts.

It’s also interesting to note that the back row chose to pass more than those in other teams (42% compared with Wales 27%) as did the 2nd rows (31% compared to Wales 14%).

There report also highlights noticeable differences in the number of passes by 12’s and 13’s. The Scotland centres made the most passes (67) whilst for the second year running the Welsh made the least (40).

Kicking 

In 2011 Scotland had one of the highest kicking averages in the tournament with a rate of 1.3 kicks for every minute of possession. In 2012 Scotland had the lowest kicking rate of any team with a rate of 0.8 kicks which is half England’s rate of 1.6 and below Wales’s 1.4 

Restarts

There is an interesting and marked difference in the way teams are approaching the restart. Scotland and Ireland prefer to kick short (84% & 87% of restarts) and contest the restart whereas Wales and England generally don’t bother and prefer to kick long (both 57% of restarts). In fact Wales didn’t bother to win any of their own restarts in the whole tournament, and it didn’t do them any harm.

Scoring 

Another Six Nations, and another decline in the number tries per game. In 2002 there were an average of 5 tries per game and in 2012 there were just 3.1. Overall there were 29 fewer tries scored this year compared with 10 years ago.

The IRB suggests a number of reasons for this, not least the introduction of specialised defence coaches and the increasing size of players. Despite the presence of such slender figures as Laidlaw, Jones and Hogg in our backs Scotland players are still, on average, the second heaviest team (although this might suggest that someone somewhere might be carrying a little bit too much weight).

But despite the decline in the number of tries being scored by everyone else and Scotland’s new found ability to cross the whitewash, it has not made any difference to the results. So what else might we pick up from the IRB’s report?

The Scottish defence tends to go in the 2nd half. Of the 11 tries Scotland conceded, 7 came in the 2nd half.

Scotland are more vulnerable in their own 22 than any other team in the tournament (6 tries) but conceded less from the opposition half than any other side bar Wales (1).

Scotland didn’t attempt a drop goal during the whole tournament.

Scotland were awarded (or won) fewer kickable penalties in the 2nd half than any other side (2 compared with England, France and Wales’s 8).

Discipline

Of the 13 yellow cards shown in the tournament 5 were flashed in the direction of Scottish players.

On 9 out of the 13 occasions yellow cards were shown, the opposition 15 were unable to score any points whilst players were in the sin-bin. On only one occasion (Wales v Scotland) did the points scored during the sin-binning account for the final points margin between the two sides.

Born a Souter but brought up just south of the Border in Berwick where he played for Berwick RFC as a kid any any position where cover was needed. Find him on Twitter www.twitter.com/CammyBlack

3 responses to this article

  1. Alan Dymock said:

    Nice article Cam.
    What I will say is that the scrum stats, in particular,are misleading: statistics do not tell you how long it took for the number 8 to get clean ball, whether he was tackled or whether there was a knock-on immediately after he picked. You can still hook a ball back as you are getting twisted, popped or driven towards your own line… I assume “Opp Tighthead” means that the oppo 3 got a nudge on, but ‘1’ time all tournament against Sco seems…off. Not once did Scotland’s 3 get a prominent shove on opposition put in, while Dan Cole did it three times, according to this report, and Wales didn’t do it once. All sorts of things come out in the wash when analysis happens.

    Maybe AR took these stats into the ‘informal chat’…

    • … also we conceeded 2 tries from the scrum so you’re right it doesn’t tell the full story. I couldn really make head nor tail of the Tighthead reference and it’s not really defined anywhere in the report. I think you’re probably right though.

      Thought some of the Welsh stats were interesting especially the way they seem to ignoring their Centres. Also seems to indicate that there’s no point contesting the restart. Kick it long and put the opp under pressure in their own 22 and you’ll either get turn over ball or they’ll kick it back to you. Either way you win.

  2. Grant said:

    “Opposition tighthead” I think means the scrum goes against the head – it’s a South African term.