New figures suggest a drop in kicking distance could work in France's favour at Murrayfield
Following les Bleus’ record 38-17 defeat to Ireland last Friday in the Six Nations, Sportable data presented by Sage suggests France are currently experiencing a drop-off in kicking – with replacement half-backs Maxime Lucu and Matthieu Jalibert not having the same effect with the boot as sevens-bound Dupont and the injured Ntamack.
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But, ahead of this weekend’s clash against Scotland, that new trend may come to help their cause at Murrayfield.
This surprising suggestion comes as a result of Gregor Townsend’s side’s tendency to perform better against teams who kick long, as they often cash in with valuable tries from deep.
A good example of this came in the win over Wales last week with Tomos Williams’ 36.1m kick. Kyle Steyn collected the ball under no pressure and found Finn Russell who offloaded it to Duhan van der Merwe, who – some 46.5m from the try-line – scored on the counter, rounding Williams to put Scotland 27-0 up in the 43rd minute.
Another memorable version of this came last year with van der Merwe’s spectacular solo try against England at Twickenham. On that occasion, Jack van Poortvliet hoofed the ball too far and the Edinburgh winger athletically broke through a dishevelled home defence from 57m out.
In France’s last game against Andy Farrell’s Ireland, Lucu’s average kicking distance stood at only 32.7m – almost five metres less than Dupont’s average during the 2023 championship.
It’s a similar situation at No 10 and Jalibert’s figures during Friday’s clash, with the fly-half averaging a slightly longer 35.2m, which is still four metres lower than Ntamack’s 2023 statistics.
France’s number of kicks is another point of reference worth analysing. According to the data shown by Sage – gathered by the Sportable Smartball used in Six Nations matches – Lucu (3) and Jalibert (2) had around five fewer kicks than Dupont and Ntamack on average last year.
Therefore, Fabien Galthie’s side may be able to avoid Scotland’s strong counter-attacking threat – especially if they continue this trend of reduced kicking rates and distance.
But there is no guarantee that this will be the case, given such figures have only been gathered from the tournament’s opening weekend and the likelihood of tactical changes by France’s coaching staff ahead of Saturday’s match.
One matter which could reassure French fans, however, is the fact France have a relatively formidable record when it comes to retaining contestable kicks. After last weekend, they possess the second-highest success rate for kick retention at 20% – pipped only by boot-friendly England who have a 26% success rate.
If these numbers are anything to go by, the visitors should hold some hope they won’t be hit on the break. Yet, as all rugby fans know, anything can happen on the field.
Data from the Gilbert x Sportable ball is presented by Sage. For more information visit sage.com/rugby