The 2021 U20 Six Nations were delayed until June 2021 due to the COVID pandemic. It was played on a shortened turnaround format with all teams playing their matches at Cardiff Arms Park over five rounds with 6 days between each round.
Historically, the reduced turnaround time format has been one that Ireland have struggled with, at tournaments such as the World Rugby U20 Championship, so, despite Ireland going into the competition as defending Six Nations Champions, our expectations were reduced.
In fact, they did slightly better than I expected. My expectations were they would lose the last three games but despite losing to, “The Big Two” , England and France, they did find enough in reserve to overcome a resurgent Italy and finish in third place after beating Scotland and Wales in the opening two rounds.
|Sat 19 Jun||Scotland||7||–||38||Ireland|
|Fri 25 Jun||Wales||12||–||40||Ireland|
|Thu 1 Jul||Ireland||15||–||24||England|
|Wed 7 Jul||Italy||23||–||30||Ireland|
|Tue 13 Jul||Ireland||28||–||34||France|
Ireland’s Head Coach Richie Murphy used 33 players throughout the tournament. We’ve put some of the key statistics in the sharable web story below but for more details you can read on below the story.
Ulster representation of 10 players and 32.1% of minutes played is up from the 2020 season’s previous high of 7 players and 26.5% minutes played, however, only three games were played in 2020. Both years were generally a higher representation for Ulster than normal. With very little rugby played over the last 18 months it’s hard to say if it’s the start or end of an upward trend.
It was also an untypically high representation for Connacht and an untypically low representation for Munster, though Munster certainly brought the quality in captain Alex Kendellen who had a monster tournament.
The minutes played, and games they started, for all the players used are shown below.
|Eoin de Buitléar||CON||5||105|
Ireland scored 151 points over the tournament with the points coming from 20 tries, including a penalty try, 12 conversions, including a penalty try conversion and 9 penalties. The conversion rate for try conversions kicked was 57.9% which would be on the low side.
Nathan Doak was the main kicker and he accumulated 48 points but the main shout out goes to Kendellen who picked up 6 tries for 30 points.
|Eoin de Buitléar||2||0||0||10|
Meters and Carries
We have combined meters made and carries to show meters per carry. Meters made is still the most important with number of carries showing the amount of work done and in both cases Kendellen comes out on top.
Meters per carry is largely influenced by position played and the two wingers, Shane Jennings and Ben Moxham both covered the most ground per carry, it’s a pity Ireland’s style of play didn’t get them involved more often.
Ireland attempted 680 tackles competing 595 and missing 85 for an average tackle success of 87%. It was another area where Kendellen excelled with a 91% success rate for the 68 tackles he attempted.
Also of note are Harry Sheridan’s efforts with the Ulster player coming in 2nd in tackles and 4th in carries despite playing out of position in the second row.
|Eoin de Buitléar||22||0||100%|
We’ve devised an Oops Index to take account of some of the errors that they collect stats for. We are scoring the Oops Index as 2 points for a Turnover Conceded, 1 point for a Handling Error, 3 points for a Penalty Conceded and 5 points for a Yellow Card.
Note that it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be at the top of the Oops Index as generally the more involved a player is in the game the more mistakes are likely to occur, as can be seen by the quality of the players shown below.
Another new stat we’ll be looking at going forward is the Ulster Contribution which is a measure of the Ulster’s players’ actual stats compared to the expected statistics based on the percentage minutes played. For example if the were 100 tackles in a match and Ulster players accounted for 30% of the playing time we would expect Ulster players to complete 30 tackles. If they completed more than 30 they get a positive variance and if they completed less they get a negative variance.
Ulster did do better than average for points scored, thanks largely to Doak having the main kicking duties, but they were down on tries, meters made, carries and tackles. However, given that 7 of the 10 Ulster players were in an underutilised backline this is perhaps understandable.
Player of the Tournament
It’s quite a straightforward one as Munster’s Alex Kendellen excelled in almost every aspect of his play. Ireland did use a style of play that would put a lot of responsibility on the No 8 and the inside center and neither Kendellen or Cathal Forde were found wanting.
I’ve had a few gripes, in my match reports, about getting the ball out wide more often and a bit more variety in the back line would have been nice but given the circumstances of a disrupted season and a short turnaround for Coach Murphy, following the unexpected departure of Kieran Campbell, a fairly simple game plan was probably the right call, especially given the qualities of Kendellen.