After a strong 32-9 victory vs Wales on Friday night in the first round of the Autumn Nations Cup, Ireland’s attention turns to Twickenham on Saturday where they’ll face Eddie Jones’s England. Ireland’s Head Coach Andy Farrell is keen to improve on his first Six Nations campaign which only concluded a little During his first competitive competition the English man won all of his home games, but failed to get a victory on the road versus both England and France finishing 3rd in the final standings. Ciaron Noble explores this in statistics.
Ireland’s Head Coach Andy Farrell is keen to improve on his first Six Nations campaign which only concluded a little over two weeks ago. During his first competitive competition the English man won all of his home games, but failed to get a victory on the road versus both England and France finishing 3rd in the final standings. His predecessor Joe Schmidt was at the helm for Ireland for six years from 2013-19, with a 78% winning ratio. During his time in-charge he won three Six Nations championships including one Grand Slam in 2018, he led Ireland to their first victories against New Zealand in Chicago in 2016 and on home-soil in 2018, Ireland also became the top ranked team in the world for the first time in their history. However, the New Zealand born coach had a disappointing 2019 both in the SN (finishing 3rd) and the World Cup in Japan, failing to progress further than the quarter-final, a goal that continues to haunt Irish Rugby.
But how did Farrell’s first SN’s campaign as the head man compare to the previous campaign when Schmidt was the man behind the wheel. Let’s look at the stats, according to the SN official statistics and ESPN.
The fact that the stats for the last two campaigns are quite similar isn’t overly surprising as both coaches had similar fates winning three games and losing twice. Farrell was of course a part of Schmidt’s coaching ticket, being the defence coach for three years between 2016-19, involved in some of Ireland’s greatest moments, before taking over as head coach after the 2019 World Cup in Japan.
The jury is still out on whether or not Farrell is the man to lead Ireland to re-discover their brilliant form of 2018, although it’s important to remember he’s only 6 games into tenure and with three more games to come in the Autumn Nations Cup over the next few weeks. They find themselves in a group with Wales, England and Georgia. France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji make up the other pool. Ireland will play each team in their pool and their final opponents will be based on where they finish in the group and who is in the corresponding position in the other group. They’ve already beaten Wales.
Many people/pundits believe that it’s possible Schmidt’s game-plan and selections were becoming predictable towards the end of his reign, but in actual fact the old boss used a total of 36 players in his 2019 SN campaign whereas the new used two players on 34. Although Farrell introduced a lot of new blood during his first competition as manager including players like Caelan Dorris, Will Connors and Max Deegan. After a four-year World Cup cycle, it is very common for a batch of new players to become involved as the building process for the next World Cup ultimately starts. All seven debutants that made their first international cap play for Leinster, this isn’t surprising considering the province’s domestic success in recent times, making the European Cup final in two of the last three seasons. James Lowe made his international debut on Friday night on the wing versus Wales, scoring a try and putting in a great performance.
In the 2019 SN Ireland conceded the most number of turnovers more than any other team on 80 whereas under Farrell in the 2020 instalment of the tournament Ireland only conceded 56 turnovers’ the second lowest behind England. The men in green lead on the turnovers won stat for 2020, out in front with 35. Backrow CJ Stander made the most steals of any other player in the whole competition leading with 7 turnovers. Four Irish players were included in the top 10 for this particular stat. Although, Ireland’s turnover in the tackle was the lowest of the six countries, only managing to do it six times throughout the five games.
In terms of defence and tackles, last year Ireland had a successful tackle rate 86%, whereas in this year’s SN it improved slightly to an 88.5% success rate. Second-row James Ryan was the leading Irish player on the tackle count with 65, Stander in second with 61 tackles. However, Ireland did have the lowest number of dominant tackles with only 58.
It’s fair to say Ireland have been relatively below par in the last two SN campaigns, failing to reach the successful heights of 2018. Andy Farrell has three more games to finish his first year as head coach. He’ll be hoping for four victories and to finish 2020 on a high.