Playing at pace brings players like Croft into the game
For so long, we have harped on about the importance of quick ball, and how obvious it is that attacking at pace is much harder to defend against – and finally England have cottoned on.
There was a time when we questioned ourselves – surely Martin Johnson and his coaching cohorts could spot the fact that other teams were recycling more quickly before defences could realign? We thought momentarily that the teams they were playing were slowing the ball down, or that there was some other trick that we hadn’t spotted.
But then New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Wales and France played the same teams, prioritised quick ball and demonstrated how it was done. So we came back to the sad conclusion that actually the England gameplan was to keep it tight, make no mistakes, creep forward yard after yard and then maybe the defence will get bored and concede a penalty.
The First Test against Australia plumbed new depths of attacking ineptitude, with unfeasibly slow ball whenever England approached the opposition tryline, and we were getting nowhere, literally and metaphorically.
Thankfully, the Second Test was a completely different story altogether, but things don’t change that drastically in a week – focusing on quick ball could be a relatively minor shift of strategy, but look at the effect it has on the whole game.
Tom Croft, Lewis Moody and Courtney Lawes carried the ball with determination, running at a gap and pumping the legs for as long as possible, rather than falling over at the feet of the tackler.
The supporting forwards would be there, clearing out defenders as soon as the ball hit the deck, and Ben Youngs could whip it away from the ruck keeping the Aussie line retreating quickly.
Even when the option was to kick, ensuring that the likes of James O’Connor and Digby Ioane are on the back foot is clearly preferable, and offers a greater likelihood of landing it in space and finding touch – if the ball is slow, they can get into position to field the kick so much more easily.
Indeed, the whole performance stemmed from the speed of possession, in the same way that the dire efforts of the last few years have stemmed from the lack of it.
Johnno and his coaching team must learn from this game, taking the positives out of the victory and building on them, which ought to be a refreshing change from looking for positives in defeat when there aren’t any.
There really has been very little to build on until now, and nearly every game has been a case of starting again, but back this up with strong performances in the Autumn and we might just see some progress.
There have been a few false dawns for England, but continue to cherish quick ball and try to make sure this isn’t one of them.