Ireland v England stats preview: Have Eddie Jones's men been less impressive Six Nations winners than last year?

Joe Hall
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England Six Nations Calcutta Cup Scotland Dylan Hartley
How have Hartley's performed this Six Nations compared to last year? (Source: Getty)

Eddie Jones demanded improvement from his England side ahead of this year's Six Nations — a tough ask of reigning Grand Slam champions.

Until last weekend's demolition of Scotland at Twickenham, there were few signs his calls had been heeded.

England have been accused of only playing well in spurts, of struggling to consistently match some of the buccaneering displays seen 12 months ago.

Last year England surprised observers by storming to the Six Nations only a few months after the humiliation of being dumped out of a home World Cup in the pool stage.

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Have England kicked on from last year? (Source: Getty)

There is little England could have done this time around to generate the same impact, yet there are reasons for Jones to be quietly satisfied with his team's performance ahead of their final showdown against Ireland on Saturday evening.

Better in most attacking metrics

According to a wealth of data on all areas of England's game, provided by Six Nations official technology partner Accenture, the Red Rose has been more in bloom this year than last.

Nearly all attacking metrics demonstrate an improvement. England have been more active with the ball in hand, averaging 132 carries per match compared to last year's 109.

Those carries have seen England gain average of 502.3m per match — over 80m more per match than last year.

Clean breaks per match has risen from 6.2 to 9.8, while defenders beaten per match has gone from 18.2 to 19.

In defence England are missing fewer tackles per match — 17.5 to 19.4 — making for their highest success rate for three years.

Yet perhaps most pleasing to Jones will be significant improvements in aspects of the game that can be most influenced by the number of hours put in on the training ground.

Last year Jones cited line-out consistency as an area for improvement in 2017. Four games in, his side have been near-perfect in execution, boosting their throw success from 90 per cent to 98 per cent.

Perhaps even more crucially, in light of England's tight opening encounters against Wales and France, has been the 38 per cent decrease in penalties conceded per match from 12.6 to 7.8.

Back-row struggles

However, even if England's steady improvement does culminate in a successive grand slam on Saturday night, don't expect Jones to proclaim perfection just yet.

While most metrics demonstrate improvement, England have been less effective at the breakdown.

With Billy Vunipola only starting his first match of the tournament tomorrow evening, Chris Robshaw unavailable and James Haskell often used as an impact sub, England have struggled to find a settled back row this year.

Last year that trio was crucial in England averaging 4.2 jackals per game — Haskell had the fastest average time to a ruck in the entire tournament — but that number has dropped to just 2.3 jackals per game this year.

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