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How much does #HomeAdvantage matter in the Six Nations?

After a disappointing start, Ireland target Six Nations success in Twickenham this weekend.

A view of the Ireland changing room ahead of the game Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THERE’S PLENTY ABOUT the Six Nations that makes it an unusual competition.

It has gone through two expansions and name changes over the 133 years of its existence. It has seen the addition of trophies, then new trophies, a new points structure, and this century it has stubbornly resisted the bonus point system embraced by every other professional competition.

One element, however, has remained firmly in place since the tournament kicked off in December 1882: the alternating host basis behind the match schedule.

Every team in the Six Nations is dealt an immediate inconsistency over a five-game tournament with home and away fixtures unevenly split 3:2 or vice-versa. Yet the knowledge that balance is only ever a year away is enough to keep participants relatively contented.

Odds or Evens?

In Ireland’s case, the odd years tend to instil the most optimism with France and England perennially pencilled in for a visit to Dublin and the Boys in Green visiting Wales, Scotland and Italy.

Wales don’t have a clean-cut favourite like that. Their four Championships since the Six Nations became the Six Nations in 2000 are evenly split between even and odd years. At a stretch, you could point out that their only Championship win which was not a Grand Slam came in an odd year, when Ireland won the opening match of the 2013 tournament in Cardiff.

England and France don’t seem to speak of one year being more ripe for picking than another as much as we do on these shores either. However, their victories do tend to follow a trend: even years favour France, odd years favour England, and a great big chunk of the reason for that is the home advantage one side enjoys over the other.

Home and Away

Home advantage is an oddity of sport which we may never fully get to the bottom of. It can be down to a multitude of factors, from the pressures of travel to a change in routine and less familiar surroundings.

Mostly, especially in impact and combat sports, it comes from the crowd and the influence they can have on players and officials. The logical side of the brain is attempting to shut out everything beyond the white lines of the field, but the subconscious will always enjoy the positive reinforcement that comes from the roar of a vociferous home crowd.

Before this year’s tournament started, nobody in the Six Nations coped with hostile environments better than Ireland. Between the reigns of Warren Gatland, Eddie O’Sullivan, Declan Kidney and Joe Schmidt Ireland won 23 of 40 away matches between 2000 and 2015, a return of 57.5%.

That’s impressive compared to France’s 55% (22 wins), England’s 52.5% (21 wins) and a 50-50 strike-rate from the Welsh.

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One massive reason for Ireland rising to the top of the travelling ranks was that they were able to dispel the fear around going to Twickenham nice and early in the century.

The Irish rugby public will always consider Murrayfield or Cardiff tricky places to visit no matter what the form of the opposition, but there’s no fear factor. With only two wins in the professional era in Paris, France away remains a mental block of sorts for Ireland, but that automatic sense of trepidation about going to Twickenham was banished in 2004 when the World Cup winners’ grand homecoming was hijacked.

That shock win heralded an era of rare dominance for Ireland over England as they went on a run of seven wins in eight years — including three wins in London.

While England claim the highest winning percentage of the Six Nations era (68.75%) and are by far the most dominant home team in the competition (85%), Ireland have been a big green fly in the ointment, accounting for half of the six Chariot topplings in 16 years.

More recently, Stuart Lancaster rebuilt Twickenham to fortress status. So Eddie Jones has taken over a team boasting a run of nine straight home wins in the Six Nations – a streak stretching back to 2012.

The task for Ireland this weekend is to rekindle the sort of doubt Irish jerseys put in their red-rosed counterparts when winning seven out of eight matches between 2004 and an ill-fated 2011 English Grand Slam attempt in Dublin.

Source: RBS 6 Nations/YouTube

Saturday will be exactly six years on from Ireland’s last Twickenham victory, and just as in 2010, Ireland go to London as reigning champions.

In a tournament where we all expect swings and roundabouts, Ireland must feel they’re due one.

Aer Lingus, the Official Airline of the Irish Rugby Team, backs the Boys in Green in RBS 6 Nations 2016. No matter where we play in the world, Irish fans bring the a special #HomeAdvantage with themLet’s bring it to Twickenham this weekend. 

Watch our tribute to the Irish team and unique fans who bring that little bit of Irish magic with them:

Source: Aer Lingus/YouTube

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Aer Lingus

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