The curse of the Millennium Stadium
April 9, 2013
Wales revel in their Six Nations triumph at the Millennium Stadium - but it has not always been a happy venue for them © PA Photos
We heard a fair amount about the Millennium Stadium factor in discussions of Wales' championship-clinching last day victory over England - the implication being that one element in the demise of Stuart Lancaster's Grand Slam-chasing team was the simple fact of where they were playing.
And certainly it added to a growing list of memorable final days at the Millennium, joining the Grand Slam-clinching wins over Ireland in 2005 and France in 2008 and 2012.
If Wales were getting an extra benefit in return for the large amounts of money pumped into the stadium, we might expect it to show up in the numbers - and after 14 Six Nations seasons we have a reasonable sample of results to go on.
Statistics show a clear advantage for home teams over the entire length of the Home/Five/Six Nations existence. An all-time record of 636 wins, 66 draws and 398 losses for home teams in a total of 1100 matches since 1882-3 - the first year in which all four British and Irish unions played each other - works out at a winning percentage of 60.81%.
That's remarkably similar to the record since 2000 - the first year both of the Six Nations and of championship matches at the Millennium. Of 210 matches played in those 14 seasons, 125 have been home wins and five draws, creating a winning percentage of 60.71 %.
And that edge has been remarkably stable over time. Getting as near as we can to dividing earlier history into 14-season slots (excluding 1998 and 1999, when Wales played at Wembley, taking 15-season snapshots for 1920-1934 and 1900-14 and lumping the 18 somewhat discontinuous 19th century seasons together as one), it is clear that three to two edge is pretty much the rule. Only in the period from 1970 to 1983 (68.11%) does home advantage rise significantly above that and only in the nineteenth century (56.17%) and 1920 to 1934 (57.24%) is it much below.
If we take this as our basis, Wales' Millennium Stadium record of 20 wins, one draw and 14 defeats (58.57%) comes out some where below the norm. If anywhere has had an effect during the Six Nations era, it has been Twickenham (82.85%) - England's consistency there being one reason why it has not fallen below mid-table even in its most mediocre campaigns.
Nor does it compare very well with Wales' home record in previous eras, peaking at 96% between 1900 and 1914 and 92.85% between 1970 and 1983, but with 1935-55 (76%) and 1956-69 (69.64%) also finding them pretty tough on home soil. The nineteenth century (50 per cent), 1920 to 1934 (56.89%) and, most conspicuously the immediate pre-Millennium era of 1984 to 1997 (37.50%) show worse outcomes.
So if there is a Millennium effect here, it is well hidden. But, of course, the major variable in all of these results is how good or bad Wales have been.
A fairer test, then, is perhaps to look at home relative to away results. A team deriving exceptional benefits from their home ground might expect to do strikingly better there than on the road. Over the last 14 years that might be argued to have applied to England (52.85% away, 30 per cent less than its Twickenham score) and Scotland (11.42% on the road, but 42.85% at Murrayfield).
Wales' away record since 2000 breaks even with 17 wins, a draw and 17 defeats. Taken at face value that is an exceptional record, better even than in the mostly Golden Age from 1970 to 1983 (46.29%) and beaten only in the uniquely dominant pre First World War era (62%). One factor, of course, is the weakness of Italy - but even if visits to Rome are excised, Wales's away score of 44.64% is above its historical average (44.14%).
And of course Italian weakness affects home results as much as away ones. Wales' gap of only 8.57% between home and away results over the 14 Six Nations seasons is by far the lowest, with only Ireland (14.28%) anywhere near.
It is also historically low. Wales has won 66.89% of its home matches (just behind England's mark of 68.83), which combined with that away score of 44.14% adds up to a home advantage of 22.75%. In the two acknowledged golden ages this rises to 46.56%(1970-83) and 34% (1900-14).
Only in one period, 1984 to 1997 is Wales's home advantage less. It won 10, drew one and lost 17 games at home, for a percentage of 37.50 and won 9 and lost 19 away, scoring 32.14%, a difference of only 5.36%.
So at last, after a fair amount of digging, we have a statistic which shows some benefit to Wales from playing at the Millennium Stadium - and one, which crucially for anyone who wishes to argue that the Stadium been a good thing for Welsh rugby, comes from the period immediately before its construction. But it is only a matter of 3.21% and loses some of even that relative shine when results against individual nations are considered.
The 1984 to 1997 results are heavily skewed by a bizarre sequence of results against Ireland, Wales's rival for the wooden spoon over most of that period. Wales won five times out of seven in Dublin, but salvaged only the 21-21 draw in 1991 from seven meetings at the National Stadium. It is one of the stranger facts in championship history that Ireland won more points in Cardiff than at Lansdowne Road during the 1990s. Against the three stronger teams Wales had a combined record of 10 wins and 11 defeats (47.62%) at home, compared to four wins and 17 defeats (19.05%) away.
At the Millennium, by contrast, Wales have been conspicuously poor against stronger teams - a sequence begun with record defeats at home to France in 2000 then Ireland and England in 2001. Those two Grand Slam-clinching victories over France are the only times Wales have beaten them in a championship match at the Millennium, and the record against Ireland is equally poor. Wales have won three times away to each over the same period and have exactly the same combined record against France, Ireland and England, eight wins and 13 defeats (38.10%) - at home and away. At the Millennium, home advantage appears only to apply against Scotland and Italy.
And if we extend historical comparisons to other teams only two - the Cardiff-loving Irish of the 84 to 97 period (minus 5%) and their compatriots between 1920 and 1934 (5.11%) have had a home edge of less than 8.57% over a 14 or 15 season period.
We have it on Scott Johnson's authority that statistics are like a bikini in that what they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital. But what these numbers suggest is that if there is anything such thing as the Millennium Stadium effect, the last people it benefits are the Welsh.
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