Stuart Peel laments England’s continued problems in generating quick ball and believes the poor performance of several top goal kickers was nothing more than temporary aberrations.
Same old problems for England
At the risk of sounding like a broken record or blowing my own trumpet, I am going to reiterate in easily digestible words the gist of an article which appeared in this blog a few weeks ago. I hope Martin Johnson and his men are followers of this blog and take it on board. It is very simple. If you want to win a match and avoid getting dragged into an arm wrestle, you need to play at a high tempo. To do that you need quick ball. To turn slow ball into quick ball you need to give it to a forward moving at pace flanked by at least one, preferably two team mates who can latch on to him, bust him over the gain line and then blast the defenders out of the way with a dynamic clear out. The ball will miraculously appear on a plate for the scrum half. Meanwhile the men outside, with the fly-half at first receiver, have had time to get some depth and plan some sort of incisive play.
How quick ball is not achieved is by forwards taking the ball barely moving with none of his team mates anywhere near him, rumbling slowly into contact and going to ground. That turns the breakdown into an arm wrestle because the defenders have gained the strongest position and are more likely to win a turnover or a penalty.
What you also do not want is your fly half hitting more breakdowns than anyone else. Whether it is through his own over-exuberance or just the knowledge that others around him are not doing their jobs, Jonny Wilkinson flew in to ruck after ruck against Argentina. He could be told that that is not his job, to take care of his own game and if others don’t do their job that is their problem. But that would be asking him to be somebody he is not. The easiest thing to do is to get everybody else to do their jobs better to allow Wilkinson to do his. Next time New Zealand play, keep track of how often somebody other than Dan Carter takes the ball at first receiver other than when a forward is crashing up. You will find it a rare occurrence. Then do the same with England and Wilkinson. The answer is very different and has a huge effect on how a team can function in attack. An effective game plan revolves around having the right players in the right areas at the right time.
This is not a pop at Wilkinson (heaven forfend), just an example to illustrate the point. None of this is rocket science. In fact it is schoolboy stuff.
An extraordinary feature of the opening round of games was the number of leading kickers who had glaring off days. Argentina, Scotland, England and others suffered from the malaise. It may have made the Wallabies feel better as a lack of a top class goal kicker is probably the most compelling argument against them winning a third World Cup. In Grant Fox, Michael Lynagh, Joel Stransky, Matt Burke, Jonny Wilkinson and Percy Montgomerie, every team to have won a World Cup had possessed a goal kicker of the highest class.
I suspect this time will be no different and come the sharp end of the tournament we will return to the familiar sight of these guys banging it over from anywhere inside the opposing half.
One observation I would make however is that, in the England v Argentina game particularly, some of the decision-making was questionable at best. Each team only missed one sitter apiece, the rest were 7/10 kicks at best. Dan Cole was sinbinned around the halfway line not far from touch. Argentina, a man up, in the ascendancy and having already missed several kicks, pointed at the posts. It was a 50-50 kick at best and they surely would have been better putting the ball in the corner and turning the screw on a depleted pack. At the very least they could have expected another penalty in a more kickable position. It showed a lack on confidence in their attacking game and probably cost them the match. This tournament will not be won just by goal kicking but by good decision-making and sensing the moment to ram home your ascendancy. The best teams sense their moment and seize it.