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TryTracker urges England to stretch Welsh defence

07 March 2014

  • Lancaster hands RFUtv an exclusive insight 
  • England Head Coach happy with back-row balance

England snatched a 13-10 victory over Ireland despite failing to hit any of the Keys to the Game that IBM TryTracker identified prior to an enthralling RBS 6 Nations clash. Cian Healy’s power ensured they lost four of their nine scrum put-ins, while their average number of metres per carry in the forwards (2.8) and tackle success-rate (86 per cent) fell short of the suggested goals – 93 per cent and 3.2 metres respectively.

Demonstrating the tense, tight nature of the contest, Ireland could only hit one of their Keys, Rory Best conducting a perfect return at the lineout. However, the hosts won out thanks to some dogged industry from the likes of Joe Launchbury and one outstanding piece of attacking opportunism – Chris Robshaw’s offload releasing Mike Brown, who in turn put Danny Care under the posts. Wales are the next visitors to Twickenham, and there is a certain 30-3 defeat to avenge. We should be in for another fantastic occasion.

IBM’s Predictive Analytics software analyses historic and current rugby data provided by Opta, the world’s leading sports data provider, to provide valuable in-game stats. It gives viewers access to insights that will heighten their understanding of what to watch for in each game and explains what needs to be done to increase the likelihood of a team win against specific opponents.

The IBM TryTracker includes the ‘Keys to the Game’, which predict three crucial areas of performance specific to each team ahead of match day. If a side hits their target in these aspects of their game they will significantly increase their chances of victory. The data collected and provided by Opta for all England internationals is analysed by IBM, before being hosted on RFU.com.

England keys

  • Break the line more than five times
  • Force a penalty on 20 per cent of own scrums
  • Attempt more than 13 offloads
Luther Burrell makes a pass in training

Photo: Getty Images

During their humiliating defeat at the Millennium Stadium 12 months ago, England managed just three clean breaks. For the most part, they were engulfed by a hungry Welsh defence that harried them and caused indecision. This year, a sparky back three of Jack Nowell, Jonny May and Mike Brown – not to mention burly Luther Burrell in midfield – have shone in some enterprising attacking displays. Three matches have seen 21 line breaks, so Stuart Lancaster’s charges can be extremely confident of breaching their opponents line five more times.

Another indelible aspect of last March’s mauling was the number of times referee Steve Walsh penalised England at the scrum. Such indiscipline cannot creep in again, and TryTracker has suggested Graham Rowntree’s pack will need to force a penalty at one in every five set-pieces. Props Joe Marler and David Wilson facing off against Test centurions Gethin Jenkins and Adam Jones is a pivotal tussle.

Freeing his arms to pass out of the tackle to his Harlequins teammate Brown in the lead-up to Care’s score against Ireland, Robshaw epitomised England’s new-found attacking ambition. In Paris and Edinburgh, a desire to keep the ball alive had also been apparent – even the forwards transferring the point of contact to unbalance defenders and make their carries more effective. That approach won’t change, and with dry, warm conditions expected, there is every chance of 13 offloads going to hand.

Wales keys

  • Record a tackle success-rate of over 92 per cent
  • Beat at least 18 defenders
  • Win 89 per cent of own set-pieces
Richard Hibbard makes a tackle

Photo: Getty Images

Dan Lydiate and Sam Warburton were back to somewhere near their world-beating best last time out against France, and laid the foundations for a fantastic win with an effervescent back-row performance. Although his form was well below par in Dublin, Lydiate has made 40 tackles this tournament without missing one. Racing Metro clubmate Jamie Roberts – Warren Gatland’s defensive captain – has relocated his consistency, too. He will need to demand exacting standards at Twickenham if a tackle success-rate of 92 per cent is to be achieved.

Despite the efforts of Roberts and hooker Richard Hibbard, penetration with ball in hand has been rather tough to come by for Wales so far this season. Their well-worn gameplan based on ruck-speed and uncompromising running lines has not torn teams apart as it has in the past. However, if Leigh Halfpenny manages starts popping up in the wider channels and North - restored to the wing - can become more prominent in phase-play, England will be stretched considerably. The returning Jonathan Davies is elusive and powerful too, so a tally of 18 beaten defenders is within reach.

Though lineout lynchpin Alun-Wyn Jones was a late withdrawal prior to the defeat of France, this set-piece was another much improved area. Luke Charteris called intelligently and just two of 14 throws went awry. An even more accurate return has been set as an aim by TryTracker, but, with Courtney Lawes in exceptional touch and Charteris out through injury, that could prove difficult.