With the help of Oval Insights we look at how often – and where on the field – Six Nations sides fell foul of the refs in the autumn 

Ill discipline and the Six Nations worst offenders

There is the route-one, pragmatic way of cutting through talk of punishing high shots in rugby: you don’t really wanna be picking up cards. 

At least that’s how England defence coach Kevin Sinfield addressed it, during the announcement of the England squad for the Six Nations

While explaining how he has spent the better part of his time at Leicester Tigers’ trying to coach players to lower their tackle height, he said: “The safety measures are the priority, but secondly it’s about the damage it does to the team. 

“In club rugby, it’s really difficult to win with 14 men and Test rugby is a step up. We need all our players on the field at all times. So the priority is players’ safety, but No 2 is that we need 15 players on the field at all times.

“Hopefully it’s come across (the push to take matter out of refs’ hands). Both (Steve Borthwick) and I fully support the safety measures in the sport. We understand that referees have to make decisions and hopefully we’ll give them less decisions to make about players in white shirts. We’ll get bits wrong – players do, we all do, as humans – but we’ll do our very, very best to ensure that we are legal.”

Now the above is specifically about collecting cards for head contacts. However, it is also a gloriously basic point to make about stacking up penalties or collecting cards for any reason – it makes life that much harder. 

Most cards in the Autumn Nations Series

Which got us wondering, who were the Six Nations’ worst offenders during the Autumn Nations Series? And, going a layer deeper, which sides were having disciplinary lapses in the worst areas of the field.

With the help of sports data company Oval Insights, we saw where teams gave away the most penalties and picked up the most cards. Of course taking a red card is the stuff of nightmares, but let’s look at the totting up of yellows.

Six Nations worst offenders

Scotland were the Six Nations’ worst offenders in the autumn (Getty Images)

So for example, Scotland wore six yellow cards in the autumn – but also, that five of those were in either ‘red zone.’ They took two yellows in the opposition 22, but also got three in their own 22. 

Wales were next on the naughty list, with four cards, but only one of those was in their own 22, while they got none in the opposition 22.

France bottomed the list with just one card, taken in their own 22 – but you might remember it was the Antoine Dupont red card against the Springboks, a costly aerial challenge. 

But with any of them, you can imagine the one-two punch to a coach, watching a team not only give away penalties deep in their territory or your own, but seeing a card for it too.  

Most cards in the Autumn Nations Series

Just looking at penalties, Oval Insights shed a little more light. 

It will not surprise you to hear that the Scots led on penalties by the six Nations side, in their own and the opposition’s 22, during the autumn. They gave away nine in the opponents 22, and 13 in their own. 

For context, England, Ireland and Wales all gave away seven penalties in the opponent’s 22, and then there is a drop to France on four. England and Wales were also both on double figures for giving away penalties in their own 22 – the former guilty 12 times, and the latter 10. 

Scotland conceded the most penalties, total, out of the six. England and Wales joint second, then in descending order Ireland, France and then Italy (maybe they would’ve won the Fair Play award if there was one!)

Six Nations worst offenders

Italy kept their heads in the autumn (Getty Images)

But if we look at the percentage of penalties given away in the midfield – what you might crudely deem the safer area, although we concede that you can still kick for corners or just go for poles – the Scots also scraped that list, at 55% of their infringements coming between the 22s. 

Italy gave away 57% of theirs in the middle of the park, England 57.7%, and Wales and France both kept 62% of their penalties between 22s. Ireland contained things best, with 68.75% of their penalties conceded between the 22s. 

No one wants cards. You won’t want to cough up penalties when the opposition are near your line or you have designs on theirs either. Which is all so straightforward in sentiment.

But another cardinal sin at this level is not learning from your mistakes. There have been coaching changes major and minor with some of these Tests sides. Who is going to repeat the disciplinary errors of the autumn? We’ll soon see who the Six Nations worst offenders are.

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