The strangest – or possibly most telling – Scottish stat from the Six Nations is when comparing the difference between penalties won and penalties conceded for each side:

Positive (more penalties won than conceded):

  • France                +11
  • Italy                    +10
  • Wales                 +7
  • Ireland               +3

Negative (more penalties conceded than won):

  • England             -1
  • Scotland            -30

The reason for that massive disparity for the dark blues is due to them not only conceding the most penalties in the tournament but also winning the fewest:

Penalties conceded:

  1. France                37
  2. England             40
  3. Wales                 41
  4. Italy                     46
  5. Ireland               49
  6. Scotland            57

Penalties won:

  1. Italy                     56
  2. Ireland               52
  3. France                48
  4. Wales                 48
  5. England             40
  6. Scotland            27

Penalty counts

To put some context on the Scottish performance in this year’s championship it’s worth comparing with the rest of the last 10 Six Nations.

The average number of penalties conceded by Scotland 2015 – 2023 was 51 per tournament.

The average number of penalties won by Scotland/conceded by their opponents across the same period was 50.

So, the Scots’  discipline was a bit poorer than average (12% higher) although not their worst during that time with 61 penalties conceded in 2022.

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Meanwhile, their opponents’ discipline or Scotland’s ability to force offences was an all-time low, 46% below the average between 2015 and 2023.

During the current Six Nations, every country bar France had their best crime count in their fixtures against Scotland. Wales only conceded 4 penalties; England – 5; Italy – 5; and Ireland 4.

Those numbers are very low in a historical context. Across 150 Test matches prior to 2024, Scotland’s opposition only conceded 5 or fewer penalties on 6 previous occasions (4%).

Penalty differential

 The tournament got off to an incredibly shaky start when, from the 24th minute onwards Scotland conceded 14 penalties in a row without winning a single one from Wales.

That contributed to the worst penalty differential in any game the dark blues have played since at least the end of 2010. At -12 against the Scots this was considerably worse than the -9 that had been the previous record.

They rounded out the tournament by tying that previous high though, with a penalty count of 13 – 4 in their match versus Ireland.

That -9 differential was the same as matches from 2013 v South Africa (that was lost 0 – 28) and 2014 v England (that was lost 0 – 20).

Moving forward

Simple reversion to the mean suggests that it’s unlikely such a freakish difference in penalties will arise again in the near future.

That shouldn’t stop all involved in the Scottish setup from reviewing anything that could be done better. In a tournament filled with matches boasting incredibly tight winning margins, coming out on the wrong end of the penalty count is a big impediment to success.

Scotland had a mix of Southern and Northern Hemisphere referees this year. There were some in there with whom their past record was excellent (Ben O’Keeffe, Andrew Brace); some with whom it was mixed (Matthew Carley); and some with whom it was pretty poor (Nic Berry, Angus Gardner).

In the end, it was only Mr Berry in the France game that the Scottish players seemed to manage to find the right pictures when it came to areas like the breakdown and set-piece.

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It’s possible that the incredibly unusual sequence in Wales had a bit of an impact on the Scottish approach to the rest of the tournament, particularly when it came to being aggressive on attacking ball in the contact areas, meaning fewer penalties won.

For a team like Scotland, who thrive off turnover ball and who need to be the disruptors when going up against more powerful opponents, that’s not really sustainable though.

There are referees like Mike Adamson and Hollie Davidson in and out of Scotland camp providing guidance, but could a full-time coach (as seen with Jerome Garces in the France set-up and now also Jaco Peyper for South Africa) help not only with the Scots’ own discipline but also forcing offences from the opposition?

Changing the captain may have been partly influenced by looking for a better relationship with refs. Has the communication been right? Could the tone or frequency be improved to get the Scottish viewpoint across?

The numbers need to look a lot better ahead of a summer tour where conceding too many penalties could allow opponents to stay in the game. It almost certainly needs to be drastically improved if there is to be a step forward in the 2025 Six Nations.