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Ireland well placed to profit from bonus points in Six Nations

We’ve run the numbers on how bonus points might have changed games in recent years.

NO MATTER HOW often players and coaches deny it, bonus points change rugby games.

The evidence is to be found on the field or television screen in front of us.

It’s easily spotted in the way teams act and the choices captains make when they have three tries already scored, trail by eight points with time running out or even earlier in the game if there’s a sense they must to add five points to their table total to pull ahead of a rival.

Sean O'Brien scores their fourth try Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

It has been pointed out already that bonus points, applied retrospectively, would change only a small minority of Six Nations Championship outcomes.

In the years we’ve looked at here — 2011 to 2016, giving teams three home and away contests against a given opponent – only Wales’ 2013 success would be altered significantly as an English bonus point against Scotland would have left them winning the Championship by one point rather than losing on points difference.

Before going through the try-scoring statistics of recent Championships, The42 had held a concern for Ireland and what we often perceive as a low try-scoring rate.

2016 Average tries scored by team in the 2016 Six Nations (including and excluding scores against Italy).

And while it’s true that a try-scoring average that excludes scores against Italy (as shown in the table above) of 1.5 over the last two years is comfortably overtaken by England’s 2.0 and 3.0, Ireland have consistently managed to put themselves in positive positions even without the incentive of bonus points.

We’ve looked to identify Potential Bonus Points (PBP) where teams have scored three tries on or before the 70-minute mark. It’s certainly possible to force a bonus point if a third try is scored after that point, but for the purposes of this analysis, that’s the cut-off point.

It’s far from a perfect metric, admittedly, and there are a few obvious exceptions: such as Ireland’s three tries in defeat against France in 2011. Scotland scored a third try against Italy on 67 minutes in 2014, but in a tight game they needed a late Duncan Weir drop-goal to win the game.

Overall though, we feel teams who have scored three tries with more than 10 minutes remaining would have, at the very least, pushed for a fourth try and a bonus point.

Sean Cronin celebrates his try with Ian Madigan, Josh van der Flier and Conor Murray Ireland celebrate one of nine tries against Italy last year. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Since 2011, Ireland put up the most (of our completely made up metric) PBPs in the Six Nations: five. Wales and France have put themselves in PBP position three times in the same timeframe while England and Scotland have done so just twice.

As for actual bonus points, Ireland have surprisingly led the way on this front too having scored four tries on six occasions since 2011, a figure matched by England, with Wales (four), France (three) and Scotland (one) bringing up the rear. Italy have neither managed a try bonus point nor PBP.

Combined, Ireland’s bonus points and PBP tally since 2011 is 11, ahead of England (eight), Wales (seven) and France (six).

try table

Ahead of the opening weekend of this year’s Six Nations and the Championship’s bonus point trial, Ireland have good reason to be bullish about the “new innovation” to the old competition.

Aside from the 2013 defeat to Scotland in Murrayfield, Ireland teams have scored four tries against Scotland on three occasions and in the remaining two matches have, with 10 minutes or more remaining, been in a position to push for a fourth.

Mindset changes everything

Historic tables may not change a great deal with the application of bonus points, but there is an unavoidable caveat there that players did not value the hypothetical bonus points.

Above, we’ve highlighted that bonus points could potentially inject life into in the last minutes of games that were otherwise over. But players’ mindsets will change well before the clock reaches the 60- or 70-minute mark. A healthy lead will remain a valuable commodity, but the value of tries is way up for 2017.

Subscribe to The42 Rugby Show podcast here:

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About the author:

Sean Farrell

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