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Best stats from Round 2 of the Autumn Nations Series

Best stats from Round 2 of the Autumn Nations Series

Best stats from Round 2 of the Autumn Nations Series

And then there were four – Ireland, France, New Zealand and Italy are the remaining undefeated teams in the Autumn Nations Series after a thrilling set of fixtures in Round 2.

The Azzurri got the ball rolling with an historic win over Australia – who have now played three successive encounters decided by a single point, with Ireland maintaining their current form with a comfortable win over Fiji.

Then England and Wales bounced back from opening losses by seeing off Japan and Argentina respectively and France won the clash of the titans in Marseille against South Africa.

Last, but by no means least, the All Blacks maintained their unbeaten record against Scotland on Sunday, but not without being given a real fright.

So, what do the stats and key insights from Sage tell us about what happened this weekend?

Sage

Les Bleus complete the set of victims

It has taken just 372 days for France to beat every other side in the world’s top ten – a remarkable feat for Fabien Galthié and his side.

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Since the former scrum-half took over, Les Bleus have ended a 12-year wait for a win over the All Blacks, and now a 13-year run without a win over South Africa.

You can add to that wins over every other team in the Guinness Six Nations on the way to the Grand Slam, the one-point success over Australia last week, two victories in Japan in the summer and last year’s 29-20 victory against Argentina in Round 1 of the Autumn Nations Series.

While France were not at their fluent best against South Africa, they managed to hold up against a physical onslaught and turn the game around.

Consider that they had lost skipper Antoine Dupont to a red card to leave them at 14 v 14 following Pieter-Steph du Toit’s first-half red, while Cyril Baille, Uini Atonio, Thibaud Flament and Jonathan Danty had all been forced off, with Grégory Alldritt also departing to allow a scrum-half to come on.

That meant that when South Africa opened up a four-point lead with 15 minutes left, France had two rookie props in Reda Wardi and Sipili Falatea, back-rower Sekou Macalou on the wing and most of the leadership group on the sidelines.

It says a lot about the character of the team that they were able to pull off the comeback, with Falatea scoring the crucial try, and complete the full set of scalps within the space of a year and a week.

Ange the Italian angel

Italy beat Samoa last week thanks to some brilliant play from their back three, even without rising star Ange Capuozzo.

The Toulouse full-back, already a hero of Italian rugby thanks to his part in their memorable win in Wales in the Guinness Six Nations, made his return this weekend and did so in style.

Two tries helped Italy make history as they beat Australia for the very first time, claiming a 28-27 success in Florence.

And while both tries were as much the product of brilliant build-up play as they were Capuozzo’s excellence, he was also a menace throughout the game.

His three line breaks this weekend were the most of any player (level with Mark Telea and Stuart Hogg), while only Japanese pair Tevita Tatafu and Siosaia Fifita topped his five tackle breaks – we will get to Japan later!

Capuozzo managed more line breaks than the entire Australian team he faced, and every time he got the ball, the atmosphere was electric.

For someone who only made his debut in Round 4 of the Guinness Six Nations, Capuozzo has instantly established himself as the most exciting player in Italian rugby.

He will be tested by South Africa this weekend, no doubt, but Capuozzo is a budding superstar in an Italian team that is flying.

Japanese lack of efficiency holding them back

Ok, let’s go back to that Japanese inefficiency. As well as Tatafu and Fifita, the Brave Blossoms seemed to be able to make ground and beat defenders with regularity at Twickenham.

Their 37 tackle breaks were the most of any team by a distance this weekend (Scotland were second on 28), and yet somehow, Japan managed to score just one try.

When you think back to how good they were at the 2019 World Cup on home soil, with Kenki Fukuoka causing such damage on the wing, this inability to finish off chances or convert breaks is a worry.

A fortnight ago, Japan did manage to score 31 points against New Zealand, so it is not as though their attack is always this inefficient.

And yet, with France away in Toulouse next week, Japan will need to be a lot more clinical with ball in hand if they are to have a chance of ending the French winning streak.

Do penalties mean a lot?

As discussed last week, there is a sentiment in rugby that ten is the magic number when it comes to penalties. Concede more and you are making it almost impossible to win, fewer and you should be in reasonable shape.

How then, do we explain what happened at Principality Stadium where Wales claimed a 20-13 win over Argentina despite conceding 14 penalties, exactly twice as many as their opponents.

A chargedown try made a difference, allowing Wales to pull clear in a relatively tight encounter, but still, it is perhaps an indication that raw penalty counts do not actually tell us that much.

A week ago, England conceded just ten penalties to Los Pumas, but eight were within range of Emiliano Boffelli.

This time around, the dead-eye winger had just two opportunities to knock over three points, making both.

Part of it was Wales conceding penalties once the lead had already stretched to a point where Argentina had to chase tries.

But there is also an increasing focus about where you concede penalties. France have talked about trying to limit penalties conceded between the 22s to four in a match. The logic is that those are the unnecessary penalties where a team is not desperately defending, not taking risks in attack. It will be interesting to see if other sides start to follow suit in focusing on discipline in specific areas – and some will undoubtedly already be doing so.

Taukei’aho the try-scoring machine

There was a time when hookers were not common try-scorers, but with the increased importance of the rolling maul, they are starting to take a spot just behind wingers as the most prolific position in the game.

With that in mind, the fact that Samisoni Taukei’aho has ten Test tries in just 20 caps is impressive but not quite as stunning as it would have been a decade ago.

What is unusual about Taukei’aho though, is that he is not just a maul merchant. Of his ten tries, six of them have come from general play, rather than latching onto the back of a maul and flopping over the line.

He got the first try against Scotland this weekend. The All Black drive made ground initially, but it was a pick and go close to the line that saw him crash over.

That was his second try in as many games, also getting over late on against Wales, while one of his three tries against Australia this year, and one against South Africa, were also not set-piece reliant.

With Dane Coles and Codie Taylor (20 and 18 Test tries respectively) drawing closer to the end of their illustrious careers, Taukei’aho has stepped up as the long-term option in the New Zealand No.2 jersey.

Where he sits globally is a debate, arguably no position has greater depth right now than hooker. What is sure, is that Taukei’aho has a skillset that stretches beyond the basics of scrummaging, lineouts and maul tries.

Farrell frustration understandable despite defeat

Ireland remain the world’s number one team according to the world rankings and were never in real danger of losing to Fiji, despite resting a number of front-line players.

And yet, coach Andy Farrell was not happy with the performance in a 35-17 success at the Aviva Stadium against an opponent who picked up two yellow cards and a red.

Digging into the stats, it is clear to see why Farrell might have been a little frustrated. The former defence coach in him will not have been impressed at more than 20 percent of tackles being missed, even against a team as gifted as Fiji in one-on-one attacking play.#

Ireland also conceded 13 turnovers, and even their scrum and lineout were not flawless.

For a team which is renowned for its cohesion, the fact that this was a completely new-look side should go some way to explaining those numbers.

But ahead of a clash with Australia to round off their Autumn Nations Series campaign, Farrell will be desperate to clean up those defensive errors, as well as targeting a perfect return in the set-piece battle.

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