By Graeme Acheson of Rugby4Cast
Well, that wasn’t so bad was it?
It was incredibly frustrating to not get the win in the end, but in the grand scheme of things frustration and annoyance rank far higher in the Scottish spectrum of rugby emotions than utter despair. As I wrote previously, “the best case scenario would clearly be a win in Dublin, but given the likelihood of that is low (16% according to the Algorithm), a solid performance and avoiding a hammering would be the next best thing. Something to build on heading into round 2.”
Scotland did that and more, I’d say. They arguably should have won the game. They definitely could have. And it certainly has given us something to work on going forwards into round 2.
Scotland play England in the next round at Murrayfield. This is now a huge match, for both sides. It was already big, Scotland having held the Calcutta Cup for two years – firstly through a comprehensive win in Murrayfield in 2018, and subsequently through whatever you call what happened last year in Twickenham. Regardless of any goings on in between, the English will be very keen to win back the Calcutta Cup and put Scotland back in their place.
But England have now suffered two fairly comprehensive defeats in a row – South Africa in the World Cup final and now France. Add into the mix Saracens domestic worries and England are in a tight spot. A loss to Scotland this weekend would be three in a row and the Six Nations title would effectively be beyond reach for the favourites. A critical media will be calling for heads, and the prospect of Ireland and Wales visiting Twickenham will only enhance, not ease, the worries. This is a big game for England, in lots of ways.
SIDE NOTE: I know those scores don’t match the predictions. If I’d been thinking clearly I would have entered them into the calculation. Effectively it was simulating wins for Scotland and Ireland but no 4 try bonus points, with England and Wales gaining a losing bonus point. France get the full 5 point bonus point win over Italy.
However, it’s a big game for Scotland too and England are a very good side, even with all their woes. Many are calling Scotland to win – perhaps rightfully – but being favourites has never been Scotland’s forte. The players will know they can win, and in doing so they can put their greatest rivals to the sword causing them all sorts of turmoil. But if they are not on point then England will punish them. Mentally that will create pressure and expectation. It is likely that whomever can deal with this mental pressure best will win the match.
As mentioned in the previous article, this match could really make or break Scotland’s Six Nations. Realistically, two wins would be a reasonable return for Scotland, and getting that win in early would relieve a lot of pressure on the squad and management. With the flying French visiting in round three, and a final round match in Cardiff, through a certain lense it is difficult to see where that other win might come from. That is also assuming, of course, that we win in Rome.
Should Scotland beat England at home, then I’d like to contend they would also have every chance against France. France have had a tough time in Murrayfield recently – they’ve lost the last three – and one good match, however impressive, is not indicative of a complete turnaround yet.
The Algorithm has England by 6, but gives Scotland a 1 in 3 chance of winning. The Algorithm works by calculating a bespoke set of rankings for international sides, as well as looking at scoring patterns in historic matches, to create a prediction for each game. The accuracy is relatively high (over 80% in 2019 international matches, with an average score difference of under 10 points) so England by 6 is not an unlikely prediction.
However, it is not perfect (shock admission) and when looking at the output it is best to consider it alongside the limitations. There are certain things we could take into account, but we haven’t successfully integrated yet, and there are certain things that it will never (practically speaking) be able to account for. You will have to judge the effect of these yourselves.
Player selection is a clear example of the former. It is a fairly obvious statement to make that the players selected will have an impact on the outcome of the match. However, for various reasons (and I’m happy to explain them but it might take a while…), it has proven difficult to code into The Algorithm. We’re working on it, trust me. For now though, you will have to judge how the current squads are performing compared to the average strength of the squads over the past couple of years.
It’s early days, but judging on one match, Scotland looked better than normal and England worse. England also have a raft of injuries. Tuilagi, Slade, Cokanisiga, Nowell and Watson are all regular squad members, yet all are out with injury. Scotland, unusually, have almost no injuries and barring Finn Russells omission are at full strength. And his replacement Hastings looked great. So, add a few points to the Scotland tally perhaps…
The Algorithm also cannot take into account the emotion and psychological impact of a game. The knowledge and history of Scotland v England is something that would be almost impossible to code in. How would you quantify the impact of previous games on the national psyche, and the subsequent feedback into the national side? How can you quantify the effect of Saracens domestic troubles on the England side? A near thousand year rivalry? A baying Murrayfield crowd that can sense blood in the water? Perhaps another few points to Scotland there then.
3 years in a row?
Is that enough to take the Algorithm’s prediction of England by 6 to a Scotland win? I’ll leave you to judge for yourselves, but I think it could be. Scotland will need to take their opportunities – something they didn’t do against Ireland – and stop England from scoring early. If they can keep it tight, tick the scoreboard over and get the crowd involved then they will have every chance.
It’s going to be great. I’m nervous already and I can’t wait. Good luck everyone.
Visit www.rugby4cast.com for more predictions, histories and form guides updated as the tournament progresses.