2014 - The thrills and spills of the 2014 Championship

With the 2015 RBS 6 Nations just days away, here’s a look back at the key stats behind last year’s Championship, undoubtedly one of the most closely contested tournaments on record.

A final showdown in the Stade de France saw Ireland beat France, with eventual runners-up England watching on powerless after their victory earlier that afternoon in Rome. Ten points. That was the difference. After 15 games and 1,200 minutes of rugby, that’s all that separated the two nations.

With the title decided by such fine margins, Accenture’s analysis team-- a new team developed for the 2015 games that’s comprised of Accenture data analysts and elite rugby guru Nick Mallet to analyse the Championship data -- looked back at some of the key statistics of last year’s Championship to explain where the teams won and lost.

2,623 Metres made by England
The Red Rose was in full bloom last year as England made more metres in possession than any other nation (2,623), beat more defenders (133) and made more clean breaks (41) in the process. That is more than twice as many than they had in 2013 and proves that, under Stuart Lancaster, England made big strides in their attacking game.

832 Passes completed by Ireland
With a legend in the centres like Brian O’Driscoll and a world-class fly-half in Jonathan Sexton you may expect to see Ireland topping the passing stats, but don’t underestimate the role new head coach Joe Schmidt has played. In 2013 Ireland made just 527 passes, less than Wales, England, France and Italy. A year on and a new Southern-Hemisphere inspired approach took them to their first Championship win since 2009.

722 Tackles made by Italy
It may not surprise you to know that the Italian defence was pushed harder than any other team in 2014 with the Azzurri making an astonishing 208 tackles against Ireland alone. Italian back-row forward Robert Barbieri topped the individual tackle charts, averaging a bone-shuddering 17 challenges per match.

138 Points for top-scorers England
England failed to top the table but did score more points than anyone else including six more than eventual winners Ireland. A marginally superior defence meant Ireland’s difference was ten points better off – what would have been without Leonardo Sarto’s interception try in England’s final game of the Championships in Rome? We will never know.

109 Average metres gained by Mike Brown
Seldom has there been such a standout contender for RBS Player of the Championship than England’s ever-dependable full-back no. 15. Displays of unrelenting brilliance saw him score four tries, beating more defenders (11) and gaining more metres (548) than any other player in the process.

100% Tackle Success for Dan Lydiate
What else would you expect from the Wales flanker and British & Irish Lion who is renowned for taking down some of the biggest men in world rugby?

93% Lineout success of Ireland
Rock solid foundations at the set piece are the dream of every rugby coach and Ireland - marshalled by Paul O’Connell – certainly had that. Their lineout was imperious and backed up by a devastating rolling maul; it was almost impossible to stop the men in green.

84 Offloads from France
Few surprises that France showed the greatest willingness to keep the ball alive in the tackle. In keeping with traditional Gallic flair they offloaded more than twice as many times as eventual winners Ireland – however they also had the highest number of turnovers (86).

83% Goal-kicking success rate for Leigh Halfpenny
What opposing rugby fans would do to have the ice-cool Welshman in their ranks? Another near faultless display with the boot was one of the few things that lived up to Welsh expectations in 2014.

68 Kicks from hand from Jonny Sexton
The Irish playmaker undoubtedly had his best Championship to date. Buoyed by a return to home soil he dazzled the four provinces and the five remaining Nations with an exemplary display of tactical kicking.

65 Carries for Jamie Heaslip
No team carried the ball on more occasions than Ireland (656) and no man carried the ball more times than Jamie Heaslip. The 6ft 4, 17st No. 8 battered opposition defences time and again in a tireless campaign for his country.

60 Penalties conceded by Scotland
They avoided the wooden spoon but couldn’t avoid the prize for the most penalised nation. Moray Low was on Scott Johnson’s naughty step, conceding on average two penalties a game.

28 Lineout claims for Courtney Lawes
Young, athletic, 6ft 8 and completely fearless, the Northampton lock represents rugby’s future. No man was hoisted higher or more often by his teammates, claiming 28 lineouts on his own. Let’s hope he makes it back for this year’s championship.

16 Tries scored by Ireland
England may have made more metres and beaten more defenders but it was Ireland who had the cutting edge, clinically crossing the line on 16 occasions.

9 Turnovers from Peter O’Mahony
If it wasn’t for the brilliance of Mike Brown, the Irish blindside flanker would surely have been in the running for Player of the Championship. He was simply outstanding at the breakdown, stealing opponents’ ball on nine occasions.

4 Tries conceded by Ireland
Key to Ireland winning back the RBS 6 Nations trophy on points difference was their staunch defence. Not only did they concede the least tries but they also had the highest successful tackle percentage (88.48%).

1 Drop goal kicked by Scotland
Scotland only kicked one drop goal in 2014 but what an important one it was. Duncan Weir’s last-minute strike snatched a one-point victory over Italy in Rome and ensured that it was the Italians who finished at the foot of the table.

What a Championship it was: sublime skill, thundering tackles and a fitting finale for the legend that is Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish centre bowing out of the international game on top.

Indeed, there was enough last-minute drama to last us eleven months but that time of year is rapidly approaching once more… it’s time to unravel the flag, dig out the face paint and pull on the shirt – the 2015 RBS 6 Nations has arrived.

The data insights from Accenture’s analysis team will be published via the Accenture Twitter feed @AccentureRugby

By Nick Millman, Managing Director for Big Data and Analytics, Accenture