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Six Nations 2024: Why is Ireland's attack so good and which players stood out?

The 2024 Six Nations was statistically the most competitive edition of the championship since Italy joined in 2000.

Ten of the 15 matches were decided by margins of four points or fewer. Never before had more than six matches (2021) been settled by such a close scoreline.

Using official Opta data, we pick through the six best graphics from the tournament that tell the story of how events unfolded.

Ireland's ruthless attack

Starting off with team stats and one of the best gauges of how clinical a team is in attack, points per entry into the opposition 22. Only a rejuvenated England made more forays (48) into the opposition 22 than champions Ireland (47).

Crucially, it was Andy Farrell's men who also averaged the most points per entry (2.9), making their time in the red zone count.

Conversely, England's rate of 2.1 points per entry was the lowest of any nation, suggesting they wasted opportunities.

Another great litmus test of how dominant teams are is their 'in-contact metres'. Most fans are familiar with either metres carried or metres gained, but in-contact metres is a great way to show how strong teams are with their carrying and this can have a big impact on momentum and speed of attack.

Ireland really asserted their power in this statistic and at the other end of the spectrum it reflects how an inexperienced Wales side failed to impose themselves with ball in hand.

Not only did Ireland make the most such metres, but they also averaged the most metres per carry in contact (2m), proving not just quantity of carries but quality too.

Individually, Ireland had four of the top five players for in-contact metres. Bundee Aki (144) topped the charts with James Lowe (102), Caelan Doris (99) and Robbie Henshaw (98) not far behind.

Another small footnote on this one, England conceded the fewest in-contact metres per carry of any side (1.3), maybe proving that defence coach Felix Jones' rush defence was succeeding in stifling opposition attacks.

Tackle evasion rate is another great marker for attacking style and success. How often are teams or players beating tacklers and keeping the flow of their attack going?

On a team level, England really answered some of their critics. Dodging almost a quarter of all the tackles they faced is no mean feat and testament to the progress they have made in this facet of the game.

Penaud, Sheehan and Earl on another level

On a player level, France winger Damian Penaud remains the player to catch, literally. His tackle evasion rate of 63% is on another level, in fact of players to face more than 10 tackles only two others managed a rate above 50% - Scotland winger Kyle Rowe (55%) and England scrum-half Alex Mitchell (53%).

Ireland hooker Dan Sheehan was the highest-rated player in the championship based on the Opta Index, helped no doubt by his tally of five tries, which is the most by any forward in an edition of the men's Six Nations.

Another forward, Ben Earl, also had a phenomenal tournament, continuing his form from the World Cup as one of England's key players.

Earl made the most carries (73) of any player and the most in-contact metres of any forward (127).

The number eight also beat the most defenders (24) of any forward, in fact only once before has a forward beaten more defenders in an edition of the Six Nations, Earl's predecessor Billy Vunipola (25 in 2016).

Lamaro's talismanic defence

Italy have been under pressure in recent years to start producing results and justify their inclusion in the championship, with the likes of Georgia and Portugal champing at the bit to get involved.

In 2024 the Azzurri delivered. Two wins and a draw marked their best ever campaign and one of the keys to their success was their depth of talent, not just being reliant on one or two superstars.

That being said, in captain Michele Lamaro they had a really talismanic defender. The flanker's tally of 103 tackles is the most anyone has ever made in any edition of the championship.

Pairing this defensive work-rate with the attacking flair of players like Monty Ioane, Ange Capuozzo, Tommaso Menoncello and Ignacio Brex laid the foundations for a memorable campaign.

With their under-20s also performing well and the average age of the squad at the right end of the measuring stick, the future is bright for the Azzurri.

Reffell stands out in miserable Wales campaign

Wales's Six Nations was one they'll be keen to forget. A first Wooden Spoon since 2003 and a lack of cutting edge left their fans with little to cheer.

With a number of key players retiring either before the tournament or after it, it feels very much like a transitional period for the nation.

There were some positive performances on a player level and none more so than that of Leicester Tigers flanker Tommy Reffell. Almost singlehandedly he led the charge for Wales, proving a livewire in attack but crucially a real nuisance in defence.

His tally of 11 turnovers won is the joint most any player has managed in an edition of the championship, a record shared with Scotland's John Barclay (2011).