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Wales can win if they play like England

By Sandra Villanueva
Senior Media Relations Manager

How do Wales beat England in Cardiff on Saturday 27 February?

So far in the two games that Wales has played and won in the Guinness Six Nations, they have adopted the same game and risk management strategy as England but even more so. To win, Wales need to hold their nerve and continue to outperform England at their own game.

The successful risk averse strategy which England employed last year, and now being practised by Wales, is paying off handsomely. This strategy is characterised by combining an effective attacking output with strong defence and conceding fewer turnovers. Teams with this strategy also bring into play more effective tactical kicking and less carries, so they play less time with the ball, thus avoiding the risk of turnovers etc. This risk averse strategy only leads to reward and success if they then put the opposition under immediate pressure in dangerous areas, forcing them into making mistakes, which they exploit to score points with greater Red Zone efficiency. In the 2021 tournament so far, teams with higher Red Zone efficiency on average per game went on to win 83% of the time, whereas in the 2020 tournament as a whole the figure was only 53%. So greater Red Zone efficiency is key to success this year compared to last.

According to the QBE Risk & Reward Index, Wales has achieved this success so far, on average per game in 2021 in comparison with England, by:

• Having the highest Red Zone efficiency, and double England’s (3.2 to 1.5), with France almost as high at 2.8 and the rest at 1.32 or 1.28
• Kicking more metres (932 to 868) with a similar number of total kicks (55 to 56) but kicking mainly for territory (41 to 29) not to compete (14 to 27)
• Conceding less turnovers (9.5 to 12)
• Having a lower number of carries (88 to 108.5) and time in possession (17.06 to 18.06), with only France averaging lower possession time
• Similar levels of tackle success with Wales at 88.9%, second only to Scotland, and England at 86.5%, with Dan Biggar at 77.2% and George Ford at 66.7%

Lawrence Dallaglio said:
“Neither England nor Wales has played their best in the Six Nations so far but there is a huge amount of respect between the two teams and, as one of the oldest fixtures and fiercest rivalries in world rugby, each side will want to get one over on the old enemy. Wales has learned how to win rugby matches this season by tight margins with ruthless efficiency and if they hold their nerve they can beat England as well by employing the same game and risk management strategy. England under Eddie Jones will not change their playbook or any of their key players so expect more of the same and thus it will be a very tight game as both teams vie for success by adopting a risk averse strategy.”

How do England beat Wales in Cardiff on Saturday 27 February?
England need to improve their set pieces as, on average per game in 2021, the original source of their tries has been a very high percentage of 83% from broken play, twice the average for the tournament so far, compared to 17% from set pieces (one lineout), less than half the tournament average.

England need to build on their superiority in attack as on average per game in 2021, they had higher running metres than Wales (633 to 479.6) and more passes (124.5 to 112).

England need to continue to kick more to compete and get the ball back as on average per game in 2021, they had 27 contestable kicks out of 56 total kicks, of which they retained possession 5 times, compared to Wales with 14 contestable kicks out of 55 total kicks, of which they retained possession 3 times. In particular, England’s no 9’s nearly always kicked to compete (80%) compared to Wales’ no 9’s who almost always kicked for territory (72%).

England need to target Wales at the lineout as Wales had the worst lineout success at 81.5%, on average per game in the tournament so far, compared to England who had the second best lineout success at 90.9%. This is even more important as the original source of Wales’ tries were four lineouts at 67% of set pieces, nearly twice the tournament average, and only 33% from broken play with two turnovers.

England need to stop Wales scoring in the third quarter of play as on average per game in 2021 Wales has relied on scoring in this quarter to win both matches with a 1 point and 5 point winning margin, with an average points difference in the third quarter of +24, compared to England at +1.

Owen Farrell needs to stop conceding turnovers as he has conceded 9 turnovers, compared to 2 by Dan Biggar of Wales, in the tournament so far, which is 20% of the time he has had the ball.

Lawrence Dallaglio will be looking forward to the third round of the Six Nations in a live webinar with the QBE Risk & Risk Index at 3pm on Thursday 25 February accessed via the free registration link below:

Sam Harrison, Managing Director of Insurance at QBE Europe, said: “As experts in managing risks for businesses, we have applied the same principles of risk management analysis to identify the key moments when risk and reward are calibrated to provide a predictable outcome. For the first time rugby fans will be able to discover and understand the data behind each team’s approach to the tournament and see how it affects their chances of success. QBE is delighted to be able to introduce these fascinating and hidden aspects of the game to rugby fans across the globe.”

The QBE Risk & Reward Index is a unique and innovative new data tool which shows how rugby teams trade off risk taking and risk mitigation in order to win games in the Guinness Six Nations tournament.

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For further information
Mike Houghton
+44 (0) 7789 167009

Ian Lindsley
+44 (0) 7887 681561

Notes to Editors

The QBE Risk & Reward Index

Developed by QBE and rugby performance analysts, the QBE Risk & Reward Index goes deeper than conventional rugby analysis by considering the role that defensive and attack risk taking has in winning the Six Nations in 2020 through a number of key performance indicators. The Index then correlates the approach of the teams, and some key playmakers, towards managing risk in the way they play and its impact on success on the pitch in winning matches.

For the first time in rugby analysis, the huge bank of available statistics and metrics are incorporated into an easy to understand measure of risk and reward which shows where and how the game has been and will be won or lost.

The QBE Risk & Reward Index shows that Scotland beat England on 6 February through:

• Better risk and game management by scoring in the opposition Red Zone, with Red Zone efficiency of 0.69 more than twice higher than England’s 0.27, with more entries (16) than England (11) and by seven times more phases (42) than England (6) in the Red Zone.
• Avoiding risk by Scotland’s Finn Russell kicking twice as much for territory with 461 metres and 17 times compared to England’s Owen Farrell kicking 265 metres and 8 times.
• Managing risk with better defence by missing more than a third less tackles (8) than England (27) and conceding more than a half less penalties (7) than England (17).

When compared with their average per game performance in the 2020 tournament, Scotland:

• Maintained their best defence record with tackle success at 92% (92.5%) and improved on their missed tackles at 8 (12)
• Improved their attack record with the best territory 58% (55.8%) and perfect lineout success at 100% compared to 76.1%, the worst performance in the tournament in 2020
• Increased the number of their Red Zone entries to 16 (12) and the most number of phases in the Red Zone to 42 (33.2) but worse Red Zone efficiency of 0.69 (0.98)

In the 2020 Six Nations England won the tournament, with the best risk and game management, by on average per game:

• Conceding the least number of turnovers
• Having the most entries into the opposition Red Zone but the fourth highest Red Zone efficiency (1.14)
• Kicking the most

By contrast, in 2020 Scotland came fourth in the tournament, with the best defence, by on average per game:

• Conceding the most turnovers
• Having the least lineout success
• Having the fifth highest Red Zone efficiency (0.98)
• Conceding the least points
• Having the highest tackle success

Only Italy had less entries into the Red Zone and worse Red Zone efficiency in the 2020 season than Scotland and less points scored in the Red Zone on average per game.

On Saturday, Scotland added three new attributes to their game, in better attack, set piece and discipline, from last year and saw the rewards.

2020 Six Nations Correlations

The QBE Risk & Reward Index provides unrivalled insight into how the upcoming Six Nations is expected to be played and which team is most likely to emerge victorious. As experts in analysing, assessing and managing risks for businesses, QBE Insurance have adapted their techniques to work with analysts in the world of rugby – forming a unique insight into the way each team plans and plays to win and then manages the uncertainty of how reality plays out in a game. The Index also brings to life the tactical nous of each team’s coach and play makers, ranking their systems and style into a digestible and easy to understand format which demonstrates how managing risk can lead to the reward of winning games.

Points scored in the Red Zone (or final quarter of the pitch between the try line and about 22m) have the highest correlation (93%) to winning matches. So how a team manages risk, not making an error and achieving a positive outcome, in the final quarter of the opponent’s half is crucial to success. A team which scored more points in the Red Zone then went on to win 93% of the time, with 73% of wins related to higher rates of entry to the Red Zone and 53% for Red Zone efficiency (a positive outcome per entry).

Total kicks in play also has the highest correlation with winning games at 93%. Playing for territory by kicking, and thus playing without the ball, was the most successful risk management strategy. There was only one game in the 2020 tournament where the team who kicked less won the match.

Positive outcomes, where the team who completed their possessions and avoided errors more than their opposition won 87% of the time.

Turnovers lost, where again a team which avoided errors with the fewest turnover won 80% of the time.

Gainline success has a very high correlation with the reward of winning matches at 80%. Getting over the gainline puts huge pressure on the opposition but the win rate is even higher at 87% for before gainline carries where a team is not stopped before the gainline and thus avoids high risk situations where errors are likely to be made.

Turnovers won and penalties conceded. Turnovers lost usually have a high risk in that the outcome is often penalties conceded. In fact taking that risk of conceding a penalty is actually worth it as turnovers won has a very high correlation at 73% with victory whereas the team that conceded more penalties than their opposition went on to win more often. Only 47% of teams that conceded the least penalties went on to win.

Playing off positions 9, 10 and 12, scrum half, fly half and inside centre respectively. Teams who played off their 9 more than their opposition, and thus which managed the risk down by keeping the ball tight, were much more likely to win matches at 67%. The respective figures for 10 at 47% and 12 at 33% demonstrates that playing wider means that teams lost more often. The wider a team plays the more chances for errors with more links to the chain and less support to resource breakdowns.

Possession time and carries. There is a low correlation between possession time and carries both at 33% in winning matches. This demonstrates that mitigating risk and reducing errors by playing without the ball was more likely to win matches.

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Sandra Villanueva

Sandra Villanueva

Head of Media Relations & Content, QBE International