England playing simple rugby, executed precisely

Owen Farrell

Could England back up their dominant performance against Ireland, matching the emotional and physical intensity, take revenge on France for their 2018 defeat and lay down a marker ahead of the World Cup pool game?

Well, those questions were emphatically answered. A 44-8 victory over Les Blues threatened to rewrite record books; their biggest margin of victory over Les Blues in 108 years, and only one short of that 37-point record from 1911. This was less Le Crunch, more Le Crumble.

The manner of England’s performance was almost identical to the one against Ireland, but perhaps less impressive, a vastly inferior opposition leading to the more one-sided scoreline. But, although this was arguably a new level of mediocrity from the French, to use a well-worn cliché, you can only beat the side in front of you.

England are making a habit of storming out the blocks; with Jonny May’s opening try after 66 seconds, this was the fifth game in succession where England have scored a try in under four minutes. That took May to a century of international points, yet his 21st and 22nd tries were still to come, the hat-trick moving him above him teammate Chris Ashton into seventh on England’s all-time leading try scorer list. We know all about his out-and-out pace, but his quick shuffle to turn Damian Penaud inside out for his second was a timely reminder that he can finish as well as fly.

Just as France surely knew that England would seek to attack from the first, they also knew that a bombardment of kicks was coming. Robbie Henshaw’s experience at fullback last week showed the folly of picking an out-of-position player against England’s artillery, yet, despite all these neon-signposts, France selected a winger at fullback and two centres on the wings. Yoann Huget’s last international start at fullback came six years ago and it showed. His positioning was consistently off and he didn’t offer any guidance to his raw compatriots in the back three, as they were pulled around the pitch by the variety of England’s kickers. Little wonder he was unceremoniously withdrawn at half time – another Six Nations match to forget for the Toulouse man.

On the other hand, our own centre-turned-fullback, Elliot Daly shows there is an exception to every rule. Or perhaps just that it takes time to settle in a new role and parachuting a player in with minimal experience against a top side is not to be advised.

Daly was exceptional at the weekend. Before the Six Nations, I was among those suggesting the experiment hadn’t worked. I was wrong. Jones was happy to remind the media in the post-match press conference: ‘It was you guys, not me, that said he couldn’t be an international fullback’. My (large) order of humble pie is on its way Eddie.

England’s current game is based on kicking into space and chasing hard. Sounds simple, doesn’t it.

However, what England did was not only kick into space and chase hard, they also kicked into the ‘uncertainty areas’. The five metres before the 22, so a player cannot mark the ball or return a kick out on the full; the five-metre channel at the side of the pitch, where the defender doesn’t know whether to let the ball go and bank on it going into touch before the chasers get there, or pick it up and risk being tackled into touch and concede the lineout. In the end, France seemed so frustrated by this ploy one player just flyhacked the ball straight into touch with irritable resignation.

Then rinse and repeat. France were so loose in possession that England often reclaimed the ball quickly, kicking again before the opposition defence had time to reorganise themselves.

The variety available to England is what takes this to the next level. And not just the array of kickers, both left and right-footed, but combining it with two very good passers in Farrell and Slade, and raw pace on the wings.

It is a contrary gameplan: if the opposition back three come up, England kick into the space behind for the wingers to chase; if they hang back and shadow the kick then there is space out wide to throw the long pass into and release the wingers on the outside. If they go left, you go right. And so on.

Of course, again, this all sounds very simple, but it does take a serious measure of execution – and England are executing with a precision not seen in a long time.

That hunger to chase the ball all afternoon is a vital component. As soon as the intensity of that press drops off, the plan stops working – and it is not just about the backs. A lot was said in the build-up about France’s ‘monstrous’ pack, but England’s was actually heavier on the day (147 stone to 144). Despite that, the English forwards’ fitness and athleticism was superior.

In the build-up, Jones joked (I think) that he would like to get Billy Vunipola fit enough to play 12 – a continuation of his Jack Nowell-openside mind games perhaps, but the point is, although this is a massive English pack, it has the engine to match. To have a 17-going-on-18-stone player like Mark Wilson cannonballing about for 80 minutes and making 20 tackles is mighty impressive.

But amidst all this enthusiasm, we have to look ahead to the Wales game. Wales, particularly at home, will pose an infinitely greater threat than France. And the trouble with any effective gameplan, is that it doesn’t work indefinitely. A wily coach like Warren Gatland will have a few ideas about how to nullify it.

Wales won’t be caught cold by England’s plan like Ireland and won’t be so obstinate as to ignore it like France. England will have to adjust. Liam Williams, if he starts at fullback, has much better positional skills than the past two 15s England have faced and they will also likely face two out-and-out wingers in a potent back three. Kick to Liam Williams in space and he will return with interest. As that try he started for the Lions in 2017 proves.

And we all remember 2013 and what happens when an England side go marching down to Cardiff full of confidence. What has Jones got left up his sleeve?

By Henry Ker

28 thoughts on “England playing simple rugby, executed precisely

  1. Well, a way to defuse England’s atrial bombardment of course is to stop them @ source, in the breakdown. Whether Wales can do this sufficiently however, seems unlikely to me. OTOH, England like R1 & kicking suits their nature & game.. & so far. However, if 1/2penny, not Williams is @ f/back, England will have to be precise. 1/2p rarely misses much in the air, whereas Williams is less secure & can bumble the ball. And his Lions run in NZ was a 1 off out there. He’s unlikely to get too much space nxt up either. Nevertheless, as this article points out, Gatland will be aware of England’s threat & should have the players to cover this better than both Fr & prev Ireland with Henshaw. Additionally, England do indeed risk being even more predictable by robotically booting the lard off it. And as Gordon Teijens once said; ‘Kicking is for karate’. It could be a d/edged sword for England if the Welsh back 3 work efficiently in concert to thwart England. However, as ever, it all depends on getting quality & sufficient possession & then maximising its use. Wales may struggle here & therefore not last the game out. They’ll also need to score (a try) 1st & put England on the back foot. Make them play catch up & not vice versa. Otherwise.. a long day @ the MD?

    1. Hmmm – Gordon Tietjens is a sevens coach and they rarely encourage their players to kick, so probably slightly misleading. Kicking certainly works for the AB’s! But as they have shown accurate kicking at the correct time is what works, not aimless booting of the egg.

      Also not convinced that Liam Williams “Lions run” was a one off. He is a gifted open field runner and deceptively strong, and I have seen him make all sorts of breaks, so not convinced that you are correct on that one either.

      1. Principle still applies Staggy. If you have possession, the other side can’t score. I’ve often heard that NZ kick as much as anyone, but you’re correct to ID the accuracy, or effectiveness, of same. Presumably this includes kick passes too. Don’t think England kicked as much v NZ last Nov as v Ire or Fr recently did they? Why was this do you think? Regrds Liam Williams, I was referring to the Lions’ test matches.

        1. Don, I’m beginning to struggle to understand the point that you are making regarding kicking. Is it good or is it bad or what? Can you help me please.

          Regarding Williams, I think that it is a vey sweeping statement to use one series to define what a player can and cannot do. I might say that based on the series, SBW is a red card waiting to happen, but based on a larger sample, this wouldn’t be the case, so I stand by my comment that what you have said is not really correct.

          1. Pretty straight fwd really Staggy. Possession is king. Kick if you have to. If you do, it had better be with purpose & accurate. It also depends on the aerial ability of the opposition as to how often you kick to them. Ideally, run or pass 1st & kick last. As occasion may demand however, this order may be changed, depending on what situation is presented by the opposition. I suspect England would (& didn’t in Nov) kick less to NZ than a NH team. Yr mindset seems to demand only an either or, black or white, response. The reality is that there are shades of grey in between, but hope my 1st few sentences elucidate for you. Regrds Williams, I was responding to a comment about his test prowess in NZ. The implication being that England will also need to shut him down & which, presumably, is possible. Trust you will hope that this is so anyway. Just as I hope that SBW doesn’t attract further reds.

            1. Right so were agreed that accurate kicking at the right time is good. Just like England in the last two games and NZ for many years.

              And we’re also agreed that Wiliams is a dangerous broken field runner.

              I’m now struggling to remember why we might have been disagreeing!

              1. Staggy. Yr 1st sentence is correct. The 2nd incorrect. Yr 3rd reframes what I stated & is therefore misleading. Why do you struggle so in being unable to see why we disagree?

                1. I was using a time worn technique of simplifying the discussion to get to the nub of the matter.

                  You have agreed that England have had an accurate and timely kicking game for the last two matches and yet on another thread you call it regimented. I’m not sure that it can be both. To be regimented it means kicking without any flexibility as to what the players had in front of them. The English players were definitely playing what was in front of them and therefore it wasn’t regimented.

                  I’m glad to see that that you have confirmed that you do not regard Liam Williams as a dangerous broken field runner, which is what I suggested was your opinion at the outset. I, and I think that most pundits would, strongly disagree with you.

                  Oh I know that we disagree on many things, but thought that this might refresh your memory!

              2. Blimey Staggy. Time worms? Techniques? Silly ol’ me thought that this was just a rugby site. And you only took W & Peace to get ‘to the nub o’ the matter’.. which is now surely lost in the mists of time! To end the refrain, as we clearly have a diff take on matters & which is unlikely to change, we could just leave it @ that?

            2. Possession is no longer king.

              Sure, you need the ball to score but you don’t need the ball for the whole match.

              What you do with the ball when you have it is more important than how long you have it.

              NZ have won many games handsomely with minimal possession. England are now able to do the same.

              1. Pretty big claim Buzz. Bit simplistic too isn’t it? Especially if you’re claiming this after 2 games by England. If you’re talking NZ, then this is not nec new or news. However, to cherry pick some games when a team has less possession & yet still wins them, is not representative. And surely you’re not stating that any team would rather have LESS possession are you? Maximising possession is vital of course, but then so is defence when not in possession. Perhaps England’s ‘D’ was better than Ireland’s last up. V Fr, neither mattered as much due to the lack of opposition.

  2. To my eyes saying that Daly is now a success at 15 is a bit far fetched – he has looked good in attack but I still have next to no confidence when the ball is put in the air that he will catch it.

    Ref Wales – a seminal game for the claims of our advancement. Both teams with two games under their belt and Wales playing at home. I wonder whether Gatlands choice of giving his 1st 15 effectively 3 weeks rest will leave them a tad undercooked. Either a tactical master stroke or a bit naive or selecting with the RWC in mind or a combination of them all. I have a feeling that in the context of the game in Cardiff it will leave them undercooked and predict England to win.

    1. Daly is one of Wasp’s premier kick chasers with a high success rate chasing long kick offs and outjumping the defenders.

      Sure, Brown is probably more secure defensively but offers little in attack and, despite recent improvement, rarely passes or plays someone else in but usually dies with the ball.

      Plus – he’s a knob.

      1. The person who gave you a thumbs up must also have been a knob then Buzz. Wasn’t yrself was it? This stuff about Brown is nothing new, unlike yr presence here. That’s where coaching comes in if Brown doesn’t distribute as you’d like. Besides, Daly didn’t look too clever in SA did he? He is uncertain inder the high ball, but he’s not been exposed since England’s embryonic resurgence in their last 2. Also, he’s playing out of his main posi of 13, which is nothing new either. It’s a matter of time before he’s targeted & especially if/when England are under the cosh. You had better hope that it’s not in the WC, if not in this 6N.

  3. Henry you summed up why I’m more positive about England than I have been in a long time. It’s not that the kicking game is so good, because that can be countered. The kicking game is combined with pace out wide and passing ability and brute strength on the inside. if you can get all those attributes together, there will always be a gap somewhere to exploit. in Farrell we appear to have a tactician who can make the right decision at the right time. As the way to counter that is to get at Faz when he still has the ball. To do that as Don said, you need to slow the ball down, and you need someone hitting him quickly and hard. Of course that might leave dog legs in defence.

    It does makes us highly reliant on Faz. If he goes down, I can’t imagine Ford being able to do the same job. Cipriani perhaps maybe…?

    1. Slade is another good playmaker. If they find Farrell gets put under pressure, he just needs to ship it quickly to Slade, who should have a bit more space to make a tactical decision.

  4. Re Daly he did OK last week but wasn’t truly tested by either the Irish or the French
    I’d be very surprised if the Welsh don’t view him as a potential weak point in the English defence and target him – especially if Biggar starts

    1. Makes sense to me Pablito. Not Daly’s fault fault that he hasn’t been tested, but maybe he could put in some extra catching time @ practice.

      1. I’d hope he does Don. Perhaps M Brown can give him some pointers.
        It may be the natural pessimist in me but I still see him as a potential defensive disaster. A cold, wet day, high balls raining down, a taste of England’s own medicine – how confident would we be with Daly at fullback?
        Which is why I’m absolutely at a loss to work out why Ireland kicked almost exclusively to May on the wing. God knows what they were thinking

        1. Pablito. Don’t see yr being a pessimist on the Daly defensive issue. Personally, I’d have @ least had Brown on the bench.. any day of the week. Foresight I think. Hard to argue with a team that’s winning however. Even though England have been there before. So long as they dominate, or @ least have parity up front, this will likely paper over the potential Daly crack. However, if, or when England are on the back foot, they could be exposed. The danger ? Is, will it happen in the WC? Don’t see the Welsh as having enough overall dominance for Daly to be sufficiently exposed to cause undue alarm.. but we’ll see. Also agree & surprised that, particularly Schmidt’s Ireland, continued to kick inaccurately v England.

        2. You don’t expect Wales to have the roof closed anyway? Usually do for England don’t they? I think as much for the intimidating cacophony of the crowd as any other reason.
          In any case, I don’t remember seeing Daly spill much aerial ball – everyone on here seems convinced that is the case…

  5. Mako is going to be a huge loss, in light of the way we are playing the game.
    having said that, if we play like we did for the last twenty against France we will get blown away.
    This game has come at a good time for Ed in that he can’t rely solely on plan A. No amount of coaching, walk throughs, briefings and replications can ever usurp the ability to think on your feet and outwit your opponent.
    Factor in possible injuries before next week and this will be where we find out if playing simple Rugby is turning England’s players into simpletons.

    1. MV is just 1 Man Acee. Moon, or maybe Genge, should slot in fairly seamlessly, as prev when MV was out. Besides, don’t see the Welsh fr row as being dominant.

      1. Now Vunipola is out, I have a very tasty feeling about the scrums. Francis pulls out the stops in a Wales shirt – one of the most improved players in the squad. Will be a real contest.

        1. Not sure you should feel so confident. Mako may be out but the weakest part of his game is the scrum. Presumably Moon will come in and he is a significantly better scrummager and played extremely well in the autumn against the southern hemisphere lot


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