Who will win the 2019 Six Nations?

And more importantly – what is Scotland’s most likely fate?

As a scientist, I am often asked: how does the Six Nations look this year, and can you tell me the result? Will there be another Irish grand slam? Will Scotland win…or even get the wooden spoon? Will Italy finally emerge from the doldrums?

As with modern politics, nobody can say what will actually happen once the dust settles. But unlike politics, these questions can be looked at from the viewpoint of statistical likelihood to at least give us an idea.

In a manner reminiscent of those 1980s football manager games which were largely just spreadsheets with nice interfaces, I have digitally simulated the Six Nations to estimate the results: running this a million times or so gives an indication of what is statistically probable and what is not.

The simulator works by estimating results of games based on the world ranking points difference – the likelihood of the result given by an s-shaped curve, with 50/50 for a ranking difference of 0, and essentially 100/0 for differences above 10. To these raw scores, a home advantage of 3 points is added, and a random “swing” is added to simulate variations in performance. Finally, the ranking points are updated according to the result during the tournament as they would be by World Rugby.

The Six Nations can be simulated by running the series of 15 matches, and making a virtual table, based on wins, losses and points differential. Try bonus points are not so easy, being largely related to the “character” of the match, so are not included. I have run the simulator a million times based on this model for 2017, 2018 and 2019.

For 2017 the simulator correctly predicted the results of 13 of the matches. The two upsets were Scotland vs Ireland (42% likelihood) and Ireland vs England (29%). The overall table was predicted correctly, with Scotland predicted to be the most likely in fourth or fifth (France, Scotland and Wales were fairly interchangeable in 5th , 4th and 3rd ).

For 2018, 12 matches were correctly predicted, but again England’s downfall was not, with unlikely losses to Scotland (22%), France (2%) and then Ireland (8%) not predicted. Aside from England, the overall table positions were in correct order – with Scotland’s most likely predicted spot being fourth.

And so to 2019.

The most likely prediction for an overall winner is Ireland with 63% chance of winning, as they are predicted to win all their games. Wales are the next most likely winner at 32%. The final game of Ireland against Wales is shaping to be the tournament decider according to the data.

Scotland’s outlook is not so good, with just two wins predicted against Italy (99% chance of winning) and France (61%), but also a reasonable chance of overturning Wales (29%). The Ireland (10%) and England (8%) games look highly likely to be losses.

Compared to 2017, the home games vs Wales and Ireland are seen as less likely to turn out in our favour, but we are predicted to do better in France and in England, the latter still very unlikely however.

H Win (%)A Win (%)Draw (%)Likely Winner
SCO v ITA (H)99.190.750.06Scotland
SCO v IRE (H)9.7589.710.53Ireland
FRA v SCO (A)38.0160.851.14Scotland
SCO v WAL (H)29.0369.990.99Wales
ENG v SCO (A)91.388.190.43England

All of this results in Scotland finishing in a most likely position of fourth (58%) or fifth (22%), but possibly third (12%). We won the tournament in just 1.2% of a million simulations, but in better news the wooden spoon is, at least, less likely at 0.5%. The most likely table order is Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland, France and Italy.

2019 Six Nations % likelihood of finishing position by country


It looks like we have a challenge ahead of us.

As in previous years it looks tight in the 3rd to 5th spots, and bonus points will be crucial in deciding the middle of the order, so plenty of tries please Gregor!

Editors note: this is not a sponsored gambling post so please don’t use the information in this article to gamble irresponsibly! All data is subject to author’s own interpretation.

Alanyst is from Edinburgh, although now living in Perth, Australia, and supports Scotland, Edinburgh and Glasgow in that order. He also like to play with numbers.

56 comments on “Who will win the 2019 Six Nations?

  1. Fraser on

    Very interesting.

    Stats aside, I think Wales are going to struggle this year and their current ranking is probably a bit generous to where they are. I predict we will turn them over at home.

    Knock them down to 4th and move England and Scotland up a place and I think it will be close to this.

    3 wins for Scotland would be a reasonable result and we should also be targeting try bonus points and/or losing bonus points in the majority of the games.

    • Alanyst on

      Yes, Wales are a bit of a surprise….without randomness they actually win – their draw allows them to build momentum, and their harder games are at home.

      France is the opposite, early defeats send them backwards, and they have Ireland and England away.

      That first game in Paris is key…

    • Blake Westwood on

      Fraser I doubt Wales will struggle this year. They’ve beat some decent sides in their winning run including South Africa, Australia and us and came the closest to beating Ireland last year.

      They’ve got some real quality with; Liam Williams, North, Jonathan Davies, Gareth Davies, Navidi, Tipuric, Shingler and Owens and their defence is firing at the minute and the team as a whole look determined to make Gatland’s last season a success.

      I think we have enough to beat them but saying we will turn them over is a bit of a joke and very disrespectful. I see it as a 50/50 game and can’t see us winning it by more than 7 points.

      Think Wales will beat France, England and Italy and think they will push Ireland and us all the way

      • Fraser on

        Thank you green gumbo – I did wonder when I read his comment if Blake takes a bit of a different meaning from ‘turn them over” than I do?

        Was certainly not a disrespectful comment in any way – I just think Wales aren’t as good as they have looked the last few years or for where they sit in the world rankings (just look at the provinces in Europe and the PRO14). I would certainly rank them well below Ireland and England, probably in the same area as Scotland and France, so us beating them at Murrayfield seems very feasible to me.

        May well come down to momentum and injuries by the time we get to that game.

      • Ńéíł on

        I would not listen to Blake if i were yous, talks about disrespect but when we lost to Montpellier away he was blasting a player calling them a whole bunch of horrific stuff on the edinburgh forum, truely shameful behaviour.

      • Big Al on

        Have you seen the BBC interview with the coaches where they ask who they would like from other teams. Gatland was the only one to be drawn and he went for Hoggy. You can see Liam Williams having a bit of a strop at that.

      • Blake Westwood on

        Neil, if you’re referring to the time I posted on Edinburgh’s twitter “Thanks a lot Berghan for costing us the victory. That was a dead certain try until Berghan got in the way” then yeah it was a bit reactionary, I was disappointed, but no-one has been more insulting and offensive to players on here, after a bad game than you, and you’re making out like I’ve said something abhorrent about the guy which is personally insulting. Calling my behaviour “horrific” is definitely over dramatic.

        I’ll admit I always thought the phrase “turn them over” meant thrashing a side by 50+ points but I’m guessing from what you are saying it just means beat them which is a fair enough prediction. At Murrayfield these days I’d expect us to beat most sides.

      • Ńéíł on

        It must have been another time i was referring to because you said a hell of alot worse than that, really was some of the nastiest abuse i have seen.

      • Blake Westwood on

        Neil, if you can refer me to what I said, when I said it and where I said it then fair enough. If not please stop talking porkies as you’re just making stuff up.

        It’s you who has a long history of putting down players and I could find countless amounts of evidence of you saying far more horrific things about our players.

  2. Big Al on

    Interesting analysis. No great surprise that the calculated final places match the world rankings when you take emotions out of it. We should beat Italy at home. France and England have not been happy hunting grounds for Scotland in the past. I agree that we have a decent chance against France but we will need a friendly referee, everyone fit and firing and a bit of luck to beat England at Twickenham.

    I think our championship will depend on how Ireland and Wales go at Murrayfield. We’ve a good chance against Wales. I think Ireland will depend on how many injuries they pick up in their first game, same for us. I think they will be taking us seriously though so no chance of us mugging them.

    Everyone now knows if they starve us of quick ball and press with a rush defence we’re struggling to get our backs going. Then to compound that our best fetchers are injured.

    I hope Toony has a few new tricks up his sleeve or this is going to be a frustrating tournament!

  3. Referendum on

    Scotland have the best possible lay out of fixtures in my opinion that they could have and best compared to everyone else’s too.

    England or Ireland lose grand slam in first week. Should England manage a shock (not impossible) then that throws it in the air. I don’t think England have the ability nor the psychological advantage of winning all the time to win consistently. I think winning at Twickenham is the most likely it’s been in years and the only team to be going for championship in that fixture is Scotland.

    We can’t afford to take Italy likely. Likely they’ll take somebody this year. It has to not be us. Biggest unlikely result is taking Ireland yet we’ve done it twice in recent times where we played well and managed game well. We have worst records against other teams. Best chance in whole six nations to beat France away.

    Wales will be the surprise this year. Could be grand slam decider in last fixture.

    So much to ponder. Can’t wait.

  4. Blake Westwood on

    If I had to rank the teams on teams on paper as well as how they are performing I would go; 1) Ireland 2) Wales 3) Scotland 4) England 5) France 6) Italy

    • FF on

      England beat Australia and South Africa in the autumn and only narrowly lost to NZ. Their form and quality in their squad should put them well ahead of us.

      The fixtures favour us but I’m not confident we’ve addressed our weaknesses and there are no indications we’e going to come to the boil for this championship. I expect us to finish 4/5 and be fairly disappointed.

    • greengumbo on

      I’d swap England and Wales about. Otherwise looks about right. Home advantage will be key to this 6N I reckon.

  5. Niall B. on

    Interesting article, but in view of results in recent years, surely home advantage is worth more than 3 points.

  6. Merlot on

    It is not really surprising that, based on the current world rankings to predict the outcome of games, the predicted final table is in world ranking order.
    It would be more interesting if you adjusted the World Rugby model to allow for the peculiarities of the six nations. Such as a bigger weighting for home advantage (say 5 instead of 3 ranking points), allowing up to +1/-1 ranking points for injury status of first choice squad, try bonus points for predicted wins >90%. Maybe also factor in momentum by doubling the ranking adjustment (as World Rugby does for the world cup).
    Having said all that, it’s interesting to note we should be favourites for the France game. Hahaha. OK it’s our best chance this millennium but France won’t be as bad as when they lost to Fiji and South Africa in the Autumn.
    If we beat Italy well, and put in a good performance against Ireland, then I can see us beating France and then Wales as well, and then go to Twickenham with hope (again!).
    However, if we don’t perform against Italy (even if we win) and get hammered by Ireland, I can see us losing in Paris and then beaten by Wales. Then I’ll be watching the Calcutta Cup behind the sofa like a frightened 6 year old watching Doctor Who.
    The latter scenario seems much more likely of the two.

    • Alanyst on

      Thanks for the suggestions…statistical theory says that most peculiarities even out after a million times around. So the random swing captures all the ups and downs of fate (things could be made more or less “swingy” but even that will tend to average out)…and most (probably all) possible results have occurred in the sim, even Italy winning (8 in a million).

      In reality, anything can happen, but some things are likely, others not.

      Home advantage and starting rankings are systemic factors, being the same in all runs…if not “correct” these will lead to bias.

  7. Referendum on

    Pyrgos in and Dunbar out. Pyrgos deserves his call but to go from almost certain starter to out of squad seems strange with Dunbar. Is he injured? Will Prygos get anywhere near the 23?

    • Stu2 on

      All he’s doing is rotating players in – they are going to be nowhere near the 23 – Ruck pad holders like Hughes.

      You’ve been watching a different Pyrgos to me if you think he warrants selection.

      • Referendum on

        I haven’t watched him at all recently. But just going on listening to what radio is saying and that he has been instrumental in Edinburgh wins. I think from that and the fact Glasgow have been very inconsistent he deserves to be in the squad. Probably not quite in the 23 I’d say third choice scrum half at present.

    • BigAl on

      I wonder if Dunbar has picked up a niggle (he’s a natural at that) or if his Scotland career is done. When you look at how long the list of centres in the training camp is and then add in all the injured talent we have its difficult to see a way back.

  8. Not rocket science on

    Interesting. I thought the same about building in momentum – possibly a few extra points for having won the previous game. Upsets may occur if ranking is not reflective – France, possibly Scotland; and are Ireland and Wales really good for their ranking… If England, Scotland and France win on the opening weekend we might be looking at a different tournament.

    • Alanyst on

      Ranking is “live” so updated every game as per WR method…usually a point or so…momentum is a factor.

      Current rankings of course reflect what has happened, in this case including summer and AI “experiments” (Canada anyone?)…these bugger up the rankings.

      It’ll be better for the world cup, as all major nation’s points will be largely based on their main tournament.

  9. TheSmidge on

    Another ‘X’ factor is the referees, and their different interpretations of certain rules, mainly around the breakdown and the issuing (or not) of yellow cards. While that might not change the result of a match, it could have an impact on bonus points.

    • Referendum on

      The refs will indeed change the result of many matches but we’ll rarely see it as that. But players and teams as a collective and coaches must do everything in their power to know what to expect from refs and therefore negate most of the randomness that comes with refs. Align their game plan to what that particular ref does usually and then if that doesn’t appear on the day then try to align it on the day if possible.

      Fans can complain about a ref but teams shouldn’t allow that to be an excuse unless there is a howler.

  10. Newhaven_boy on

    From a data point of view:
    It seems a little odd that every team has more the 40% for any one position and 3 have over a 50% chance. Given how positions in most seasons recently have often been decided by bonus points or points difference it seems an unusually high level of certainty, especially for the places 2-5.
    For example England being 61.8% for 3rd but only 10.6% for fourth? When those positions have been decided not just by games won several times recently?

    From a bloke on the internet point of view:
    Ireland are just so strong, have so much depth and so well coached I can only see Wales toppling them. They are able to get up for the big games under Gatland and if its winner takes all at Cardiff then they have a good chance.

    We have a good team, best in 20 years, but I fear we just don’t have the pure grunt or depth to beat enough teams to be involved at the top end. And we don’t score enough bonus points to sneak up a place mid table.

    My prediction. We beat Italy, beat one of Wales or France, get horsed at Twickers* and possibly at least one losing bonus against a team we lose to. But because we only get a single try bonus (in the Italy game) we come lower down than whomever else gets the same number of wins as us.

    * we ALWAYS get humped in London. I’ve stopped even dreaming.

    • Alanyst on

      Thanks Newhaven boy…the bonus point thing is something I can’t do right now (I have a crude “difference value” that separates teams).

      I think the high predictability thing is not unusual…in the sense that in the mid-table the head-to-heads with the two “neighbours” usually decides the order….i.e. in an entirely even scenario: 2 wins 25%; 2 losses 25%; 1 win 1 loss 50%.

      The basic 25-50-25 pattern is expected despite uncertain individual results…

      • Not rocket science on

        Ah ok, I was thinking ranking position not points. So we get a little bump from beating Italy. Separately, a few random thoughts (1) interesting Gatland picked Hogg for his one player from another team what kind of psychology is that (has he been told he has to be nice to Scots if he wants the Lions gig again?), (2) that Brown is back in squad already (time for Ireland?), and (3) if we’re so crap at line out throwing why don’t we have scrum half chucking it in every time.

  11. NickW on

    Loved the article, as a bit of a quant myself I’d thought of doing it a couple of times – from that point of view, I had a couple of observations / questions, mostly because I’m interested, I think the approach is broadly correct (and is actually quite similar to how the Mcquarie RWC predictions work, although I can’t find the link)

    1. How does it backtest for earlier years? I’d imagine pretty well. Would be most interested when the world rankings were new.

    2. It seems like with a lot of things, that a valid statistical model breaks when unlikely events occur (England 2% vs France/8% vs Ireland). Any way to highlight this/perhaps weight the games which have a higher proportion of outlier wins (I’d imagine us vs England at Murrayfield for example would have a higher proportion than home-field advantage would give us).

    Again – from my guy on the internet perspective:

    I have a bad feeling Scotland won’t perform. I think we’re missing a few key players, and our depth is struggling. Perhaps this is due to having expectations dashed for most of the time I’ve followed rugby (I’m a Scotland and Wallabies fan, who has largely followed rugby since about 2000). But I just have a bad feeling.

    I really don’t rate Wales, I know their results speak for themselves, but there’s just something about them which I don’t think is that good, and makes me think that they won’t be able to do the business in crunch games (although they’ll probably beat Scotland).

    I think France will suffer again for playing in the slow top 14, and struggling to keep up with the pace that (especially the Celtic teams) bring.

    Ireland are great, and if they win this weekend, I imagine they’ll get another GS, but more important to preserve Sexton for RWC i think.

    As much as I want England to lose all their games, they’ll probably be very much in the mix, their Sarries core is very good. I’m at Twickenham as I was 2 years ago. I just hope there isn’t a repeat.

  12. Merlot on

    This time last year I looked at the fixture list and was reasonably confident. Even thought of putting a bet on us to win the Grand Slam!! Silly me.
    Italy up first – certainty – momentum builder. Now it’s a banana skin.
    Ireland at home – close but home advantage should see us through. Now against #2 in the world, they won’t fear us at all.
    France away – a good chance to win away in Paris as they were all over the place. Still are to some extent but they’ll be targeting us as a MUST win.
    Wales at home – chance to put some ghosts to bed by hammering the Welsh on OUR turf. Oops. They have a very settled side and are #3 in the world!
    Finally travel to Twickenham with hope, and nothing to lose for a Grand Slam decider – who knows? Actually we do know – England at home will not succumb.

    The combination of our injury list and playing against numbers 2, 3 and 4 in the world has made my optimism disappear like single malt on Burns night. I’m now expecting one win, happy with two. Any more than that I’ll be ecstatic.

    • TeamCam on

      Ditto. After last season’s 6N I was feeling cautiously optimistic. Now I’m just hoping we don’t get embarrassed, which is a shame because even with injuries we’ve probably got the best team we’ve had in the 6N and some great coaches. It’s just that three of the other five teams are making up the bulk of the top 4 in the rankings and are on solid runs. If we somehow finish fourth, I’ll be delighted. But I think our players deserve better.

    • James on

      I agree; I’ve felt more optimistic going into the 6N in the early 2010’s when we had a far worse squad. Perhaps it’s too many seasons of, “this time it’ll be different” at the beginning turning into nightmares by the end of the second weekend.

      I almost feel we’d do better with scrapping past Italy and hope Ireland write us off after they had a brutal encounter with England.

      I also have a horrible feeling that ‘Gats’ will win the mental battle and we’ll have to put up with his gurning face patronising us after the game (insert own expletives here). I really hope he doesn’t get the next Lions tour but very much expect him to as you can’t really argue with his results even if you can with his methods.

      At least the time for pontificating is almost done and we can start to get excited for kickoff. This time it’ll be different…

    • JohnMc on

      Ireland and Wales endured chastening experiences at Murrayfield in 2017, so I expect both sides to take us very seriously indeed. I also expect both of these Tests to be close, even allowing for the slightly weakened, injury-influenced 23s we put out.
      If we can at least break one our hoodoos away v France or England that itself would be a step forward of sorts.
      Just hoping we can make a strong and winning start to this campaign on Saturday. If we can do that, then it will interesting to note that, assuming no draws, two of our four remaining rivals are going to begin with defeats. And it’s always a bummer to lose your opening game.

      • Referendum on

        Yes Scotland knows that only too well. The players have to be on it or they’ll get found out. This Autumn was nowhere near as convincing as 2017. I’m no expert but I don’t think we’re as strong as we were going into 2018. I hope I’m wrong. Laidlaw, Russell, Hogg, McInally, whoever is Number 7. If they play well then anything is possible.

    • Referendum on

      Merlot this is a great post. Enchoes my feelings too. However remember the win against Ireland in 2017 was in some ways fortunate in other ways brilliant and in others pretty street wise too.

      This Scottish side are fourth best of the teams on paper but they are now not anywhere near as far back mentally as they have been. Players (particularly Edinburgh at present) know how to win in many ways, they have game management and know what it’s like to win not hope to win especially at home. They do still have some things they need to get off the checklist, maybe it’ll be this championship. We can still be in this championship after three games even if the games go to form with two wins. You can’t count us out at home even against Ireland.

      It’s not about an 80 minute performance (what a stupid clique that is) it’s about making errors that aren’t punished heavily too often and not compounding an error with another. Russell has to take this into account with when he risks it and when he doesn’t. Hopefully France has helped this.

      Every team you play are human beings with frailties… it is just finding them and hiding yours well enough.

  13. Scrummo on

    There is definitely a part of me that would like to see McDowell start at 12 against Italy…a huge risk yes, but an exciting one who could be a hell of a bolter.

  14. Campbell B on

    I would not put money on Scotland to beat France in Paris even if Goron Gekko told me to do it.

    I bet of all the games that never went with the prediction, we are involved in the majority. We can lose to Italy and end England or Ireland’s grand slam hopes in the same season.

    As for Wales, I prefer not to look. We send a team of men out and watch them nagged and bitten to death by a bunch of hair pulling, bitching lassies.

  15. RuggersB on

    Can’t see past Ireland winning the comp…. however they might find themselves having peaked too early for the world cup.

    The AIs were pretty disappointing for Scotland overall. We need to be a level or 2 better than that to seriously compete in the 6N this year. Its looking like the toughest one for many a year. We’ll have to turn up taking Italy seriously or it could easily be a train wreck.

    On the plus side I can see a couple of players breaking through for us which will be a very good thing gearing up for the RWC. If we are still challenging with 2 matches left we could have a fair few 1st choice players back from injury which could be very handy considering the attrition of the 6N.

  16. FF on

    Obviously as usually the acid test will be whether the coaches have whipped out pack into some sort of shape to get parity at the breakdown and set piece. If we have, joy awaits. Most likely they haven’t and a tense underwhelming championship ensues. I think the wildcard could be Russell. His form was all over the place in 2018 but he’s top dog in Europe now. If he brings a bit more nous and game management to add to his flair we could spring a few surprises whilst struggling up front. Playing in the right places and confident exits can do a hell of a lot of good for a pack in the back foot.

    • Ben F on

      F. Russell :Assuming he is given the same freedom he enjoys with Racing. He entered last years 6N with form and optimism. Lets hope he is calling the plays himself.

      • Newhaven_Boy on

        At his best Finn is the best in the tournament I think at 10. Even better than Sexton and getting a backline going and making a difference.

        Problem is that Sexton is always a 8 out of 10. And when Finn is on a bad day….

        Still I’d rather have that than a no risk Gatland type fly half.

  17. Newhaven_Boy on

    I think next year may be a better chance for us to do something impressive. Every team peaks for the World cup and then the coaches move on and players retire. We probably are not at the same point in our cycle. Most of the side is the right side of 30 and Gregor is not going anywhere.

    Its also the year we have England at home.

    • FF on

      True – Iteland, Wales and maybe even England will have new coaches whilst we should have more continuity. Still doesn’t solve our problem that we can’t consistently win the battle up front.

  18. Jontymo on

    Seems like we are almost an irrelevance in this years championship in most people’s eyes outside of Scotland. Lots of examples of the most “daring” predictions being that we might gain a “surprise” win against either Ireland or Wales at home. I guess for that we only have ourselves to blame, with our chronic inability to perform away from home when the pressure is on, allied to a lack of pack power. It’s certainly true that each of the other home nations will believe that they can muscle us out of the contest.

    Shame that neither Pierre Schoeman and Guy Kebble are available to us right now, or that Bill Mata can’t solve our No.8 issues either. If they were, we could take Edinburgh’s confidence in being able to face down any opposing pack into our first game.

    As it is, we need to make the most of an ideal schedule (for the first time ever) and, hopefully, a returning crew of players as the tournament progresses. Here’s hoping that our lineout improves (we lost as many as Eng, Ire and Wal put together last year) and that the loss of Hamish Watson isn’t felt too keenly.

  19. CHendo on

    Great article Alanyst! I wouldn’t mind trying something similar as a scripting exercise, is there any way I could see your code?

    As said above, it’s unsurprising that the order ends up just as the world rankings say it should, but it’s nice to see the “error bars” of sorts in the numbers.

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