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Smart Ball insights from Round 3 of the Summer Nations Series

Smart Ball insights from Round 3 of the Summer Nations Series

Smart Ball insights from Round 3 of the Summer Nations Series

Round 3 of the Summer Nations Series yielded some huge results, highlighting in brutal relief the relative strength of some of the Rugby World Cup’s most anticipated competitors.  Significant scorelines in favour of South Africa and Ireland only fuelled the fire of speculation surrounding the current World Champions and the World’s number one ranked team, who will face off in September’s pool stages.

Elsewhere Italy’s performance testified their progress in the last four years, and France were rewarded for squad rotation with a decisive win and impressive performances from challengers in their ranks. With the insights generated by the Smart Ball and presented by Sage, we are able to take a deeper look at exactly how Round 3 played out. Fielding a nigh-on full strength team for the first time since the Six Nations, Ireland beat England convincingly at home. Effortlessly back in their Grand Slam rhythm, the emerald-clad men delivered a familiar performance, dominating possession with intense accuracy. During the Guinness Six Nations, they made a Championship-high average of 149.8 passes per match. Indicative of their persistent quality in implementing their game plan, they made 153 to England’s 112 on Saturday.

However, a sign of their adaptability was the width they played with at the weekend. Compared to their Six Nations average of 6.3 metres per pass – six when they played Italy in Round 1 of the Summer Nations Series – Ireland’s average pass distance leapt to 7.5 metres against England.

The prime example of this was Bundee Aki’s assist of Keith Earls to score on his 100th cap. Lightning fast moving the ball through his hands, Aki released the 25.4 metre pass in 0.6 seconds at 50.8kph. Scintillatingly skilful from the midfielder, Earls’ finish was similarly impressive and was a fitting way to celebrate a significant personal milestone.

France’s victory over Fiji also bore the hallmarks of their consistently strong performances in recent years. Despite a significant rotation of their squad week-on-week during the Summer Nations Series, they’ve engineered similar tactical performances, demonstrating their impressive depth. A notable feature of the new French style is their hesitance to overplay, but their instinctive ability to attack when the opportunity arises. Despite the spectacle of a number of their tries this summer, they have made fewer passing metres than their opposition in every match, including against Fiji. The most extreme example of this came in Round 2, when they passed the ball 853 metres fewer than Scotland.

This deficiency is mitigated by the immense individual talents in the French squad. Visionary inside backs, dynamic forwards, and potent finishers on the outside, any 15 players drawn from the French squad will be able to score tries. Antoine Hastoy – competing with Mathieu Jalibert to deputise for injured Romain Ntamack – created Louis Bielle-Biarrey’s break in the build-up to Peato Mauvaka’s try with a zippy 63kph, 17.5 metre pass.

Keeping the tempo high, Maxime Lucu fed Melvyn Jaminet with a 12.4 metre pass. After just a second of reload time, another wide 13 metre pass allowed Dylan Cretin to assist Mauvaka in the wide channel after 0.9 seconds of reload time.

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Hastoy, Lucu, and Jaminet playing critical roles in this attack is a microcosm of the broader French strategy, with incumbents Ntamack, Dupont, and Ramos usually acting as this spine of Les Blues’ offensive play. Against Fiji, it was also the scrum-half and fullback who contributed most to France’s forward advance with the boot: Lucu and Jaminet made 216 and 101 metres of territory gain respectively. The performances from these players in particular will give France and their supporters huge optimism in their squad depth, especially in the absence of Ntamack.

Another team who were impressive in attack at the weekend were Italy, who underlined their improvement in this World Cup cycle and further consolidated themselves as a tier one rugby nation, scoring 57 points against Romania. This performance was of course bolstered by the try-scoring return of Ange Capuozzo, whose innate ability to beat defenders and break the line was undiminished on Saturday.

However, this was a team performance and an ode to the attacking mindset of the Azzurri. They passed the ball a total of 1,358 metres at the weekend – more than any other team. Nonetheless, this fixture was less akin to the high-pressure style we have seen in other fixtures, with neither side making more than 600 metres of territory gain during the match. Whilst this bodes well for the variety of rugby which will be on show during the World Cup, Italy – who didn’t box kick once at the weekend – may need to adjust their tactics to compete against more established national teams.

Round 4 – a five-fixture blockbuster weekend of Summer Nations Series rugby – is the final opportunity of teams to test their combinations, refine their strategies, and blood their players before the 2023 Rugby World Cup. For some, this is a case of continuing their run of form, for others, this could be the last chance to build confidence before an intensely competitive World Cup campaign.

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