EARLIER this week Wales coach Warren Gatland warned of the emotion that Italy will bring to the Six Nations encounter at the Millennium Stadium.

In what is becoming a statistics-obsessed sport it was nice to hear an intangible mentioned.

We are bombarded with the David Brent-like phrase of ‘key performance indicators’ while some sift through data looking for patterns and incredible acts of sporting heroism.

There’s only one problem – those stats aren’t always correct.

Newport Gwent Dragons number eight Toby Faletau was put up before the media ahead of Wales’ trip to Twickenham.

“Well done Toby, you were top tackler against Scotland,” I ventured after noticing he had snared 22 victims.

“Erm… no I wasn’t. They must be wrong,” he replied with a smirk on his face.

Now, the 21-year-old is an affable chap and often keen to avoid the plaudits, but this wasn’t one of his modest moments.

The stats packs available within minutes of the final whistle are a good general guide but aren’t totally accurate, otherwise coding the footage wouldn’t be such a thankless task for the analysts the morning after.

Not only that but the simple data that we get can be skewed and taken out of context.

You can see how many tackles a player has made but not how many effective tackles.

You can see how much lineout ball has been won but not its quality. You can see how many scrums a side has won but not if their number eight has picked up from a rapidly retreating set piece to be swarmed upon by the opposition back row.

It’s not just rugby that suffers; a football side whose holding midfield passes five yards to his centre-back, gets the ball back and then repeats the trick with the right-back can soon be labelled as Barcelona Lite.

There is no doubt that statistics are of great value to a rugby coaching team and help ensure there is no hiding place for the under-performing player, but they don’t tell the whole story.

Prime example came in that frantic finale at Twickenham as David Strettle closed in on the line for a try that would have closed England to within two points with the conversion to come.

Leigh Halfpenny raced over from a ruck over the other side of the pitch and basically tackled him with his face. Jon Davies came in to help prevent the score and the Grand Slam is still on.

It was a moment of bravery, guts, determination and heart.

Increasing Halfpenny’s tackle tally by one does not do it justice.

Last Sunday France’s Grand Slam hopes vanished when they shared the spoils with Ireland.

“Bizarrely, it was only a draw but it was our best performance since the start of the Six Nations,” said head coach Philippe Saint-Andre. “Statistics showed that we dominated but did not win.”

Those stats lie – they did not dominate – but the scoreboard didn’t.