So what on earth happened out there this weekend? Shock results? Last minute winners? Just who is in charge here? Get a grip! Everyone just keep a lid on it for Pete’s sake.
Weekend overview: how did we do?
Well, we predicted the outcomes, correctly calling Wales, Ireland and England as victors, but the matches and score outcomes were a little unexpected.
So what does this mean? Well, our model feeds in games from the previous 4 years and works out an expected score for each team based on location and current ranking. More accurately speaking, this means each score is actually a metric to describe the relative strengths of the two teams, based on their performances over the previous 4 years. However, we think it is more fun to think of them as predictions. Any significant difference to the predicted score could therefore indicate over or under performance relative to their previous matches.
Wales v Scotland
This matched bucked the expected scoreline the most, with the Welsh routing a woeful Scotland 34 – 7, 24 points more than the predicted scoreline of 23 – 20. What should be read into this?
It’s hard to say, really. There has been a lot of hyperbolic media stories about both sides after the result, stoked in part by Warren Gatland who said he ‘expected a 20 point win’. Is this right? Did he foresee this result?
Probably not. Scotland have not become a bad team overnight, and nor have Wales immediately become world beaters. We still believe Scotland legitimately travelled to Wales with a reasonable chance of victory (our model gave them a 40% of victory), although the Welsh were undoubtedly favourites. This is in stark contrast to their journey to Twickenham last year, where they travelled with similarly high hopes (or at least, were portrayed as such), but our model gave them just a 5% chance of victory, with the predicted scoreline 41 – 13 to England.
So why is so much expected of Scotland?
Unfortunately for them, they are probably unfairly hyped-up by the media. Scotland are a good rugby team, but not yet at the stage where they can legitimately challenge for the title (we gave them just a 6% chance pre-tournament). Their Autumn test performances, whilst good, was still fairly error strewn (as shown here by Simon Gleave of Gracenote Sports) – errors that were perhaps overlooked after the manner of the results. For example, the record win against Australia was largely due to the red card of Kepu, just before half time. All but one of Scotland’s eight tries came against a 14 man Australia, against which they also conceded 22 points. Scotland also very nearly lost to Samoa in their first game of the Autumn tests due, in part, to some terrible defending. It would have been a very different portrayal painted of Scotland had they lost to both Samoa and Australia.
This isn’t to say that this is another false dawn for Scottish rugby, or that they aren’t any good, merely that they are a little overrated and still have a lot of things to work on before being genuine title contenders. Everyone knows they are a capable side not to be underestimated. Over the past 2 or 3 years they have beaten Ireland, Wales, France and Australia (both home and away) and usually score 20 or more points in matches. However, they are inconsistent and make silly mistakes which lead to “shock losses”, like yesterday, when an opposition takes full advantage of all the opportunities that Scotland will offer up during a match.
Scotland should not be written off after this result, although they are now even more unlikely to challenge for the title. However, they are capable of beating anyone, especially at home, and they can still have a good tournament. We still have them beating France and Italy, and challenging England in Murrayfield, so all is not lost for the Scots.
Likewise, it would be unfair to place too much expectation on Wales. Inflicting a defeat of that manner on Scotland is impressive, and Wales took their opportunities extremely well, but it is by no means an indication that they are now world beaters. Wales are a strong side at home and rarely lose there (Ireland lost there last year, and England only just won in the dying moments), but unfortunately with two away matches to Ireland and England we still think they are unlikely the Welsh will be crowned Six Nations champions come the 17th March.
They will take confidence from the result and should go to Twickenham with nothing to lose. However, England are heavy favourites to win, having not lost at home in the Six Nations since 2012. Should Wales record a win there, then they can genuinely start being considered as Championship contenders.
Indeed, should they beat England we have their chances of finishing top 2 rising from around 15% to 55%. An enticing prospect for the Welsh.