Trial and tribulation in the south, triumph up north

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    It has been a significant week in rugby across both hemispheres. While the members of SANZAAR sat down to ponder the future of Super Rugby in the south, England finally climbed off their plateau and began the ascent from ‘base camp two’ towards the top of the mountain in the north.

    Australian teams again failed to beat their opponents from South Africa and New Zealand in Round 2, but England rediscovered their mojo in a 61-21 demolition of injury-hit Scotland, underlining their superiority in Europe with a second consecutive Six Nations win.

    Next week promises a momentous climax in both hemispheres.

    By the end of the week we will know the plans for the new format of Super Rugby, and whether the cuts to Australian and South African representation, hinted at in Spiro’s Monday article, have come to pass.

    By late on Saturday afternoon, we will know whether England has been good enough to break the All Blacks’ record of 18 consecutive international wins by beating Ireland in Dublin.

    Australian rugby is under pressure to pick the right pathway, both internally and externally. Its own structures, both domestically and within the frame provided by Super Rugby, have to be spot on. At the same time, at Wallaby level it has to be in a position to keep up with the Joneses – not just the All Blacks across the Tasman, but now with Eddie and his cohorts across the other side of the world.

    The good news is that there are some signs of life.

    The Reds flashed brief glimpses of huge potential against the Crusaders in a game they should have comfortably wrapped up by halftime. Chances are that they will put it all together and land a big right hand on an unwitting opponent sometime over the next few rounds of the competition.

    The Queenslanders remain Australia’s best hope of achieving success in the long haul, but they may also turn out to be Michael Cheika’s best hope of improving Wallaby fortunes.

    The Reds are the one team in Australia possessing a kicking game anywhere near international standard. The inside trio of Nick Frisby, Quade Cooper and Duncan Paia’aua managed to control the quality of kick-return ball available to the Crusaders for most of the first hour of the match.

    It was only in the final quarter that the kick-chase began to break down and offer the Canterbury outfit genuine returning opportunities – the lifeblood of all New Zealand teams.

    If Australia wants to keep pace with England, let alone the All Blacks, this development of their kicking game will be essential over the course of 2017.

    In their game against Scotland, the unmistakable tokens of the ‘winning mentality’ that have been built up in the Red Rose mindset were all back in place. Most impressive of all was the accuracy of the set-piece moves from the lineout, which England used to establish their unassailable halftime lead.

    Set-piece nuance and accuracy in the back-line are not qualities traditionally associated with England sides, and this is where Eddie Jones’ coaching has probably had the most positive impact of all – just as it did with the World Cup-winning Springboks of 2007.

    England is now a consistent threat to score from the first phase, and this new development has catapulted them ahead of the other Northern Hemisphere nations.

    England scored three tries directly from lineouts in between the Scotland 22 and the halfway line. It became clear that they had identified the defensive seam between the two Scottish centres, Alex Dunbar and Huw Jones, as a primary area of attack.

    Lineout attack #1 – 2:04-2:18
    The first try occurred with Scotland hooker Fraser Brown off the field, for a yellow card after a tip-tackle on Elliott Daly. As we shall see, Brown is a key component of Scotland’s lineout defence and his absence was important.

    Brown would normally be filling the space in between the Scotland No.7 Hamish Watson and scrum-half Ali Price (see the replay from behind the posts at 2:43) – a ten-metre gap which slows up the Scotland backline slide across field further out.

    England accentuate both the gap and the momentary hesitation it causes by faking a lineout drive to pull the other Scottish forwards in and shifting their own No.9, Ben Youngs, one space out so that he is on Watson’s outside shoulder at 2:42.

    With Owen Farrell’s angled run fixing the Scotland fly-half Finn Russell, England has what they really want as the second pass is made – a match-up between George Ford (with his ball-handling) and Jonathan Joseph (with his footwork in traffic) against and the two Scotland centres.

    Ford passes early and then wraps around Joseph, which pulls the eyes of Huw Jones outwards towards the far touch, leaving Joseph and Dunbar in a man-on-man contest. With Dunbar fractionally late to leave, Joseph’s feet do the rest.

    It is a moment with potential Lions’ significance, because it may have cost Dunbar his chance of a place on the plane to New Zealand, and booked Joseph a seat instead.

    Lineout attack #2 – 23:52-24:08
    The attention to detail in the set-up for England’s lineout attacks is perhaps where Jones’ influence is most apparent.

    As the set-piece forms at 23:54, England’s No.8 Nathan Hughes moves into midfield, with Hamish Watson shifting into the space between No.10 Russell and inside centre Dunbar to mark him.

    Brown, now back on the field, is held at the front of the line by Youngs’ positioning there. This means the ‘tail-gunner’ spot around the end of the lineout is now vacant.

    In American football this is called ‘formationing’ the opponent – you adopt a formation which creates a new weakness as the defence tries to adjust to it.

    With England again taking ball from the back of the lineout to accent the weakness, at 24:27 on the replay, the big gap between the main group of Scotland forwards and the first back defender, Russell, is clearly visible.

    Brown is nowhere near the play as Farrell goes to make the pass at 24:27, which means that Russell has to turn in towards him and Watson has to stop for Hughes. At 24:28, England have the same basic situation as in the first example – Ford and Joseph running at the space between two Scotland centres on the back foot.

    Joseph glides through the gap and the defender closest to him in coverage, who simply fails to get close enough to make the tackle. That defender? None other than Brown!

    Lineout attack #3 – 34:43-34:55
    In the final example, Brown is restored to his natural position as tail-gunner, which means he can easily get out on to the England first receiver, Ford, at 35:17.

    However, Russell unaccountably decides to rush straight upfield at Ford in the 10 channel rather than drifting off onto Farrell, and Watson again has to stop for Hughes.

    At 35:19, the same basic scenario we have already witnessed in the previous two examples has been repeated. The two Scotland centres are faced by an England receiver plus Joseph, with England blindside wing Anthony Watson as a bonus attacker.

    Joseph again takes the gap outside Dunbar and Brown is again a couple of strides too late in cover defence – the only difference is that Joseph decides to give Watson a flavour of the try-line on this occasion.

    The England-Scotland match will not have done the chances of the Scotland midfield being selected for the Lions tour of New Zealand any good at all. It would not be surprising to see both Alex Dunbar and Finn Russell slip out of contention as a result, with the England axis of Ford-Farrell-Joseph advancing to become automatic choices, alongside Johnny Sexton and Jonathan Davies.

    However, Scotland will in all likelihood beat Italy in the final round of the Six Nations to achieve their first winning record in the tournament since 2006, and that is a worthy achievement.

    England will seek to overtake the All Blacks’ 18-match winning streak in what promises to be an emotional cauldron in Dublin. Ireland have shown their ability to produce exceptional one-off performances recently, and they will be looking to end their season on a high in the last international showcase before Lions selection is finalised.

    Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, a significant portion of the future of Australian rugby is being decided by SANZAAR.

    Will five Super Rugby teams become four? Will the Reds emerge as the leading standard-bearers for Australian success over the coming months?

    As the old Irish proverb phrases it, with typically dark humour, “Don’t worry… it’s always darkest just before it goes pitch-black!”

    Nicholas Bishop
    Nicholas Bishop

    Nick Bishop has worked as a rugby analyst and advisor to Graham Henry (1999-2003), Mike Ruddock (2004-2005) and most recently Stuart Lancaster (2011-2015). He also worked on the 2001 British & Irish Lions tour to Australia and produced his first rugby book with Graham Henry at the end of the tour. Three more rugby books have followed, all of which of have either been nominated for or won national sports book awards. Nick's latest is a biography of Phil Larder, the first top Rugby League coach to successfully transfer over to Union, entitled The Iron Curtain. He is currently writing articles for The Roar and The Rugby Site, and working as a strategy consultant to Stuart Lancaster and the Leinster coaching staff for their European matches.

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    The Crowd Says (249)

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 5:13am
      Nobrain said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:13am | ! Report

      Sate Francaise players go into strike because of the “merger” with Racing 92. Do you think that something similar can happen in Australia if SANZAAR finally decides to cut one of the teams from SR competition?

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:17am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        Who knows NB??

        Ironic that after creating so many jobs in French rugby the wealthy benefactors are beginning to rationalize with mergers like high street banks… I’d say it was a sign of the fickleness of private ownership. but it looks like the ARU are going to do something similar!

        • March 15th 2017 @ 1:35pm
          Rugby Tragic said | March 15th 2017 @ 1:35pm | ! Report

          I think if an Aussie side it to be cut which my all accounts seems likely, then the ARU have to start pushing for a proper merger, not just one that might happen by default.

          The ARU delegates have the power to veto any changes and if they don’t it might be construed as that they are sitting on their hands doing nothing. They have the Brumbies, the most successful Aussie side in Super Rugby, they have the Rebels under private ownership which will cost heaps to unravel commitments, and they have the Force whose supporters have parted with their hard earned to maintain a side in the West.

          So I guess we will know in a few days but the response from the ARU will also be interesting.

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 5:29pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:29pm | ! Report

            Yes RT, if it does happen the ARU have to look after the needs of the players, and above all keep them in Australia. If a significant number move overseas, the aim of strengthening the remaining four teams will have been lost.

            Maybe the Paris merger offers hope on this front – if two clubs with such rich history and very wealthy benefactors have been forced to merge, it suggest that French owners may be finally coming to their senses…

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 6:09am
      Who Needs Melon said | March 15th 2017 @ 6:09am | ! Report

      Those lineout plays were absolutely sublime. Has the world gone mad? What has happened that we now turn to England for sublime and smart backline plays executed with skill and at pace?!? It is truly the end of days.

      • March 15th 2017 @ 9:34am
        Boris said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:34am | ! Report

        Ha ha yes that 3rd try where Joseph lays the try on for his outside man is exceptional.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:17am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:17am | ! Report

        Crazy ain’t it WNM?

        Those were plays even a NZ team would be proud of, bot in he planning an execution!

    • Roar Guru

      March 15th 2017 @ 6:16am
      taylorman said | March 15th 2017 @ 6:16am | ! Report

      Yes Nicholas as you know this is why I picked the second slam, the relentless pursuit to put tries on the board and with 5 and more last two matches theyve finally got there. ?

      I think theyll do similar to Ireland now the cats out of the bag and that will make three heavy scoring matches from the five.

      Now they had just better do that.??

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:18am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

        …or they’ll have you to answer to T-man. How many England players do you see starting for the Lions in the first Test btw?

        • March 15th 2017 @ 1:36pm
          taylorman said | March 15th 2017 @ 1:36pm | ! Report

          Good question Nicholas, and a much better one if England fly in on the weekend, as I and probably most will start with an England 23, and go from there, replacing only those who are not only better, but are ‘clearly’ better than their English counterpart.

          The risk being that the further the side goes numerically away from a record equalling or winning side the more its heart and engine gets tampered with.

          Will have a little ponder on that one, but it sure makes the selections interesting and how the press, social media and fans across the 4N approach the squad make up will start revving up from Sunday when the 6N winds up…all eyes will start looking at the Lions….brrrrrrrr….getting chilly?

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 5:31pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:31pm | ! Report

            Good question Nicholas, and a much better one if England fly in on the weekend, as I and probably most will start with an England 23, and go from there, replacing only those who are not only better, but are ‘clearly’ better than their English counterpart.

            A nice start point T-man, though things rarely turn out that simple – with new coaches, new gameplan, crammed tour schedule. It will be complicated!

            • Roar Guru

              March 15th 2017 @ 6:21pm
              taylorman said | March 15th 2017 @ 6:21pm | ! Report

              I know, that’s the beauty of the Lions concept. By its very design it can be self defeating.

              One could look at it this way. Would England defeat NZ in NZ over three tests?

              If the answer is a fairly confident yes, why wouldn’t you pick the entire English squad? They were close to winning tests in 2014, and are a better side than that.

              They have found ways to win 18 times in a row where if they win this weekend no other first tier side can match them in the history of the game. They are ‘in the zone’.

              Logically…why would you tamper with that? Why would you change it unless you knew 100% that any changes would make them a better side. And how would you prove that? On tour when it’s too late?

              Since then NZ has lost so much leadership and have not replaced the midfield to the same levels of consistency.

              How mamy of the non England selections will be to appease the masses, to convince people that the Lions are fully representative of the four nations?

              Think of it this way. NZ get to tour the UK and play England in a three test series. But this time they’re allowed to select players from NZ, SA or Aust.

              Sure NZ is currently considerably more able than either, but so is England over the other three, perhaps to a lesser extent.

              But it would take a lot of convincing to replace any All Black with an outsider, and not just because of the talent gap, but because of the need to bring the player so quickly up to speed with the AB way. In such a short timeframe, it couldn’t be done, and the more non ABs, the tougher if gets.

              Take the ABs intact and you know you have 100% of the culture, what makes them successful.

              Same must apply to England, and what it’s built up over the last year. Take a hybrid side…and who knows?

              This English side is better than any Lions Side I’ve seen since probably the 70’s.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 7:28pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:28pm | ! Report

                We certainly agree on this T-man. Well spoken.

              • Columnist

                March 17th 2017 @ 10:09pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 17th 2017 @ 10:09pm | ! Report

                This English side is better than any Lions Side I’ve seen since probably the 70’s.

                Spot on T-man, the main reasons for keeping the Lions going now seem to be financial – although they are never admitted.

    • March 15th 2017 @ 7:05am
      Highlander said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:05am | ! Report

      One of the most impressive things about this current England side is their ability to stay in games and win them when playing poorly.

      I think it is far to say that against Australia and the first 3 games of the 6N they had 40 minute spells where they were less than impressive but there is a new resolve in this side, as well as better execution, and they are finding ways to win, the mark of a good side.

      • March 15th 2017 @ 7:54am
        Michaelj said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:54am | ! Report

        Where were England in the World Cup? They’re due for a reality check. When are they playing in NZ next? That will answer a few questions.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 9:00am
          richard said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:00am | ! Report

          No idea when they are next playing in NZ,but they aren’t scheduled to meet NZ until late 2018…… at Twickenham.

          • Roar Guru

            March 15th 2017 @ 9:04am
            Fionn said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:04am | ! Report

            Why aren’t they playing in November this year?

            • March 15th 2017 @ 9:26am
              Highlander said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:26am | ! Report

              I would not be surprised if the continuing argument over revenue sharing is playing a role in this scheduling.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 10:11am
                taylorman said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:11am | ! Report

                Yes but pressure to have one before end 18 will supersede that.

                It’s now the biggest act in town and probably in everyone’s interest to have it later this year. Particularly if the ABs win the Lions series.

              • March 15th 2017 @ 10:18am
                Darwin Stubbie said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:18am | ! Report

                Yip and England’s position is they won’t budge … because they see there fans are happy to fill twickers and watch their team beat up the likes of fiji

              • March 15th 2017 @ 12:10pm
                Perthstayer said | March 15th 2017 @ 12:10pm | ! Report

                Darwin Stubbie – Haha! Have you seen who Wallabies have challeneged themselves to comepete against in the June tests? Fiji, Italy and Scotland

              • March 15th 2017 @ 3:04pm
                JimmyB said | March 15th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report

                Darwin, teams like England are consistently criticised for not playing teams like Fiji. England do it and instead they’re dodging the ABs. Nice one mate.
                If there are going to be 4 matches in the Autumn internationals, I hope moving forward that one of those matches is reserved for teams like Fiji, Tonga, Georgia etc.
                The whole no England v AB thing is down to money, simple as that.

              • March 15th 2017 @ 4:39pm
                Darwin Stubbie said | March 15th 2017 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

                That’s not what I’m saying … the RU have said that… they don’t need to negotiate with NZ on fee splits because they can fill twickers playing anyone … NZ have taken the attitude of that’s fine we will play elsewhere

              • March 15th 2017 @ 7:12pm
                soapit said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:12pm | ! Report

                apparently nz are likewise happy to beat up lesser teams than go for the challenge on less coin

                i wonder if the desire would be there more if they didnt have the lions this year tho

              • March 15th 2017 @ 7:23pm
                Darwin Stubbie said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:23pm | ! Report

                The problem with that theory is that England have only really improved over the last year … This fee debate stand off has been going on far longer

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 9:35pm
                Derm McCrum said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:35pm | ! Report

                The fee debate started earlier in 2016 DS – you’re right. It was for a match in Nov 2017.

                Following a deadlock between the two unions, NZRU arranged a match against the Barbarians instead.

                This is only tentative, however, and is not signed off.

                The English RFU is still open to having a 4th test against NZ this November if fair terms can be agreed.

                Perhaps it’s a watch this space.

              • March 15th 2017 @ 8:11pm
                JimmyB said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:11pm | ! Report

                The fee debate stand off is not predicated on how good or bad England are or NZ for that matter.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2017 @ 5:35am
                taylorman said | March 16th 2017 @ 5:35am | ! Report

                Looks like the pressures already going on to hold the match in 2017.

                Love a couple of comments from the English press when asked how England would fare…

                One real hang yer neck out gem…’England will acquit themselves well…’

                Whew, that covers everything from a big England win to a 15 -20 point loss depending on your interpretation of ‘well’.

                “The timing of a Nov 4 match will suit the ABs as they will have been playing together for six months’

                Odd, the Lions tour timing has them ‘tired’ where the ABs haven’t played a test since November.

                A Nov 4 match is in 8 months time, and our guys have been in tough matches for a month already.

                But anyway…at least it’s being touted…show me the Moola!?

              • Columnist

                March 16th 2017 @ 6:28pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 16th 2017 @ 6:28pm | ! Report

                Bit like a boxing contest – timing is everything. Two mostly unbeaten teams going at it… Who knows what state England will be in by late 2018 anyhow?

            • Roar Guru

              March 15th 2017 @ 10:05am
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

              Last year they could not agree on money for Test outside the regular window, so England played the Wallabies instead. This year it appears that both teams are dodging each other, they just don’t want to play each other during a Lions year.
              Personally I do hope they schedule double header next year,

              • March 15th 2017 @ 11:40am
                Samuel Honywill said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:40am | ! Report

                NZRU asking for £3million to come & play at Twickenham not exactly helping ensure it will happen mind.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 1:55pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 1:55pm | ! Report

                In all fairness Samuel, they are worth three big ones. It is the AB’s after all. I have no problem with that they command a higher fee than any other team (they are a given sell out anywhere in the world almost, they are the best team in the world and have you ever heard about a union – bar Samoa – that have lost money while hosting the AB’s?).
                RFU’s coffers are full, the stadium is free, pay up and give all English fans exactly what they want this year.

              • March 15th 2017 @ 3:24pm
                JimmyB said | March 15th 2017 @ 3:24pm | ! Report

                Hi NV, whilst I certainly can’t speak for all England fans, personally I’m happy to wait until 2018 for the next meeting with the ABs. We live in an instant gratification society these days and the value of patience seems to have gone the way of Betamax, VHS and soon enough DVDs. I remember in a pre satellite TV and pre Internet era that the ABs were like a mythical beast, you’d heard all the stories, but you weren’t sure if your Dad was just pulling your leg or actually telling the truth. Seeing your team, in my case England, play the ABs was a rare and treasured thing, witnessing the Haka, all of it, It was special.
                Now I’m not saying that it’s not special anymore, it’s just not as special and whilst I wouldn’t say that familiarity breeds contempt in this instance, you can certainly have too much of a good thing.
                I’m sure that we all have something that we worked/saved for as a kid. For me, it was a stack system HiFi. I worked for it and I saved for it and eventually I had enough money to buy it and do you know what?! I still have it, over 25 years later. It was one of the few things that came with me when I moved to Oz. My point is that it still means something to me all these years later and I reckon it’s due to the value I placed on it having worked and saved so hard for it. I like to think waiting a bit longer to see an England vs ABs match is going to be worth it too.

              • March 15th 2017 @ 3:25pm
                JimmyB said | March 15th 2017 @ 3:25pm | ! Report

                …that and the fact that Eddie has stated that he won’t play any of England’s Lions contingent in this years AIs. 😉

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2017 @ 5:35pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:35pm | ! Report

                If England players do end up dominating Lions selection, their performance this summer will have a big impact on subsequent clashes between England and the AB’s. Heavy defeats/victories may leave a lot of scar tissue, or reinforce self-belief.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 5:43pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:43pm | ! Report

                When you put it like that, how can I disagree JimmyB? I understand what you are saying completely and it is beautiful.
                Still thinking both of us would smile if we were to read news about a November Test this year 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 9:39pm
                Derm McCrum said | March 15th 2017 @ 9:39pm | ! Report

                The discussion was for a 4th test in November 2017, not last year. NZ had already arranged the Chicago match as the out of window test.

            • March 15th 2017 @ 5:02pm
              allblackfan said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:02pm | ! Report

              because of the Lions tour to NZ.

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 5:32pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:32pm | ! Report

            A lot may have changed by then 🙂

        • March 15th 2017 @ 10:44am
          adastra32 said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:44am | ! Report

          The WC is history. Where are they now? Where are the WBs now? etc. etc.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:20am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:20am | ! Report

        They’ve been struggling quite frankly H’lander, but to keep winning while you’ve temporarily lost the thread of what you’re trying to do is the sign of a very good side…

    • Columnist

      March 15th 2017 @ 7:18am
      Geoff Parkes said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:18am | ! Report

      Morning/evening Nick

      Thanks again. What I liked most about those set plays was the purpose and conviction with which they were executed. Despite a few close matches where things hadn’t quite come together, England clearly had plentiful confidence and self belief lurking just below the surface.

      Focus on these midfield moves also had the effect of straightening their attack up, whereas against Wales they directed too much play towards the sidelines.

      Despite the impressive backline finishing, I still think their best in this 6N have been Launchbury and Lawes. With Itoje and Hughes/Vunipola, that’s a really imposing physical presence, all of them with high work rates too.

      And despite Ireland being out of the 6N picture, I’m really looking forward to seeing how England handles this higher level of intensity.

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:23am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:23am | ! Report

        It will be interesting to see what they do when George Kruis gets back to fitness Geoff – cannot see how Launchbury can be dropped now so it will be between Kruis and Lawes providing they don’t shift Itoje back to second row when Chris Robshaw gets back.

        Ahhh…. problems, problems. 🙂

        • March 15th 2017 @ 10:45am
          adastra32 said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:45am | ! Report

          Many international teams would envy such problems…

          • March 15th 2017 @ 10:49am
            riddler said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:49am | ! Report

            such as us.. 🙂

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 11:10am
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:10am | ! Report

            Indeed they would Astra.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 11:30am
          Highlander said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:30am | ! Report

          Nick, I was quite a proponent of Itoje playing 6 given the surplus of quality locks England has running around, but it seems his defence off the side leaves something to be desired, your thoughts.

          • March 15th 2017 @ 11:41am
            Samuel Honywill said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:41am | ! Report

            Itoje has actually been packing down at lock since the Wales game, despite wearing 6. Lawes has effectively been playing blindside.

            • March 15th 2017 @ 1:31pm
              Highlander said | March 15th 2017 @ 1:31pm | ! Report

              yep understand ‘off the side’ was more of expression of playing 6 rather than repeating myself, but have still thought his general defence playing a little wider in general play has been less than accurate this series, certainly not up to efforts when playing a little tighter

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 3:08pm
                taylorman said | March 15th 2017 @ 3:08pm | ! Report

                Hadnt noticed that Highlander but must say youre certainly up with your loose forward game.

          • March 15th 2017 @ 12:18pm
            Perthstayer said | March 15th 2017 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

            Itoje will make Lions. He is one of the best scrummagers in NH and lineout athleticism is a thing to behold.

            2nd row is competitive but he is a starter. His speed and offloading vs ABs will be major benefit.

            (And he is yet to lose a test match!)

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 5:37pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:37pm | ! Report

            It was a move I suggested to EJ at the end of my involvement with England H’lander. England have no shortage of high quality locks, so moving Itoje to 6 gives you a very hard core of big mobile forwards in the back five. I don’t see him as a weak defender because he has such great range for a big man.

            • March 15th 2017 @ 7:06pm
              Highlander said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:06pm | ! Report

              Thanks Nick- not suggesting for a second that he is a “poor’ defender – he’s better than that, but thought his defensive lines in general play at 6 have not been that great during the 6n.

              Hopefully he will play there again vs Ireland so we get another look.

              • Roar Guru

                March 15th 2017 @ 7:41pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:41pm | ! Report

                I agree that Itoje appeared to be finding his feet at six at the first rounds of 6N. But that was in a brand new England back row. And despite all that Picamoles and Warburton threw at him he was not outperformed over 80 minutes. Against Italy he seemed to be the only England player that was not confused a bit by Italy’s tactics. Against Scotland he could easily been man of the match (if not Joseph been so freakish). I say he is doing alright at six. And I am getting more and more curious about him at seven. That kind of size, speed and athleticism combined with his competitive attitude could be the tonic for England’s seven long term.

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2017 @ 8:19pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

                Now that would really count as a reinvention of the position – 7 that is!

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2017 @ 8:17pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:17pm | ! Report

                I see what you mean H’lander… He backs his speed to run down (even) inside backs, so sometimes it can leave him out of position! He did play most of his rugby coming up at second row…

              • March 15th 2017 @ 8:19pm
                Highlander said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:19pm | ! Report

                Hi neutral, when the opposition number 8 runs for 131 metres, pretty good indication you have been outplayed. The France game is worth another look, sterling display by

              • Columnist

                March 15th 2017 @ 8:30pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 8:30pm | ! Report

                Since Picamoles actually took the trouble to lose weight and get really fit, he has been tremendous. Before that, we always used to try and catch him defending in space, because he defended like a poor tight forward in those situations.

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2017 @ 12:45am
                Harry Jones said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:45am | ! Report

                Picamoles seems to have the largest posterior in world rugby, after his teammate Basteraud….

              • Columnist

                March 16th 2017 @ 12:58am
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 16th 2017 @ 12:58am | ! Report

                Yep those are two very big butts Harry – rivals for Flippie van der Merwe, who had the biggest and whitest pair of white shorts I have ever seen on an international field 🙂

              • Roar Guru

                March 16th 2017 @ 1:02am
                Harry Jones said | March 16th 2017 @ 1:02am | ! Report

                Hahaha, NB, yes, Flip has two entire moons in his orbit.

              • Columnist

                March 16th 2017 @ 4:20am
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 16th 2017 @ 4:20am | ! Report

                He could glow in the darkness Harry, a one man roundabout…

              • March 16th 2017 @ 11:08am
                Jibba Jabba said | March 16th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

                Is that Little Flippie senior you are talking about ?

                I recall Cowboy Shaw walking around the hotel foyer in Wellington slightly inebriated after the second test in 1981, at about 3.00AM swinging his famous left hook muttering and cursing how he was going to get Little Flippie in the next test – cant say I recall him managing that 🙂 Little Flippie weighed in at around 21 stone in those days…

              • Columnist

                March 16th 2017 @ 6:30pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 16th 2017 @ 6:30pm | ! Report

                Yep even bigger Flippie senior, lineout blocker supreme. He took two steps through the lineout and no-one on the opposition could get anywhere near the ball!

    • March 15th 2017 @ 7:48am
      Lostintokyo said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:48am | ! Report

      England has a backline looking more polished as they progress. The assumption that Eddie has wished to have either Ford or Farrell at 5/8 and two rampaging centres may instead be substituted by a “slick” ball playing backline, always very dangerous even at the first phase, as you point out Nick.

      The big question is whether Farrell is good enough to transform himself into a great inside centre rather than a man playing out of position due to his goal kicking. Time will tell. It is possible that England will beat that mighty kiwi side. Who wooda thunked it?

      It is painful to even think about Aussie rugby. Last year the gap to kiwi rugby widened and this year “the creek” has become what the map tells us, the Tasman Sea. Now SA too are leaving us in their wake.

      If the ARU cut a side there will be turmoil in the player ranks, a target regional market disenfranchised and another step towards Australian rugby power being lost, maybe forever. We should not assume that it can’t happen. There is no foundation and the house of Aussie rugby is falling over. Things a dire. Just like a Sunderland supporter’s prospects.i
      I like that Irish proverb though!

      • Columnist

        March 15th 2017 @ 10:26am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:26am | ! Report

        I suspect Owen Farrell is already an excellent 12 even though 10 comes more naturally to him Lost. Will be fascinating to see how the Lions view it. WG may have to overcome a few ingrained prejudices about what a 10 should look like and select George Ford.

        Hard to know what to say about Australian rugby right now. Cutting a team is harsh medicine indeed, but the patient is dead as he is with the current structure.

        • March 15th 2017 @ 10:51am
          riddler said | March 15th 2017 @ 10:51am | ! Report

          just a season or two ago farrell was critiqued endlessly up here.. i never saw an issue other than he seemed to take an angry pill before each match..

          he was class when he started at sarries and is just getting better and better.. and that doesn’t even include his goal kicking which is impecable..

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 5:40pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:40pm | ! Report

            I remember the criticism only too well Riddler. In the UK Farrell was told he was only in the England side because of his father’s presence on the coaching staff – and other such rubbish.

            But he has paid back the critics with compound interest, and good luck to him! Where are they now? Prob moving on to pillory someone else…

        • March 15th 2017 @ 12:21pm
          Perthstayer said | March 15th 2017 @ 12:21pm | ! Report

          Nick – A measure of Farrell is I do not feel England would have achieved this run with Tuilagi. Although he would be a fantastic “finisher”!

          • Columnist

            March 15th 2017 @ 5:41pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:41pm | ! Report

            I think Manu would have been in a tussle with JJ for the 13 spot PS.

      • March 15th 2017 @ 11:21am
        Cynical Play said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:21am | ! Report

        All true. The darkest dawn I can remember.

      • Roar Guru

        March 15th 2017 @ 12:40pm
        The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 12:40pm | ! Report

        I read something about Farrell’s centre play – don’t remember where – that made a lot of sense. The writer compared him – in some ways – to Conrad Smith. With Farrell you have this brain and glue in the middle of the park that hardly ever makes mistakes.

        • Columnist

          March 15th 2017 @ 5:42pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 5:42pm | ! Report

          Good comparison NV, he is a really good glue player – brings the best out of people around him. Can you imagine George Ford being so comfortable without Farrell beside him?

          • Roar Guru

            March 15th 2017 @ 6:31pm
            The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 15th 2017 @ 6:31pm | ! Report

            And with multiple playmakers- with safe soft hands – in the backs, the odds are good that the whole back line will shine at game time, hence making other players – both playing and looking – better.
            With players like Hogg, North (if in prime), L Williams, Joseph, Henshaw, Daly, Watson is a tempting prospect. AB’s better be ready a first phase 😉

            Quite remarkable that Europe’s best ten ten also has established himself as the best number twelve also. Anyone doubting his abilities can not have seen him play the last 18 months.

            So give us so inside on Owen NB 🙂 He comes through as a guy who is obsessed with rugby – in that regard is a comparison with McCaw farfetched? Almost like selling their souls to the game. Obsessed. Was Owen a keen student during your video reviews? How deep is his tactical rugby intellect? 🙂

            • Columnist

              March 15th 2017 @ 6:36pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 15th 2017 @ 6:36pm | ! Report

              He’s a quick study NV, always looking to improve his game – and a natural leader. I think the outstanding feature is that what he learns is linked to a bulletproof mentality… so what he learns tends to get on the field quickly and stay put. You can’t say that of every international player.

            • March 15th 2017 @ 7:05pm
              Short-Blind said | March 15th 2017 @ 7:05pm | ! Report

              Great article and viewpoints here but Whooa there horsey, the man love for the English backs performance is a little OTT IMHO. Yes they contstructed some nice 1st phase tries. However the Scottish centres defended like a hung over subbies pairing on a Sunday morning…the gap that Joseph strolled through for the first try you could have driven a bus through. Not saying they don’t deserve praise – they do – but let’s see how they go against the Irish defence…and AB defence before we continue the cartwheels.

              • March 15th 2017 @ 11:41pm
                JimmyB said | March 15th 2017 @ 11:41pm | ! Report

                In other words, let’s qualify any success they may have until such time as they lose, then we can bring out our ‘told you so’ card. Seems fair enough to me.

              • Columnist

                March 18th 2017 @ 7:02pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:02pm | ! Report

                Previous generations of England backs might not have had the ability or nous to exploit the opportunities so ruthlessly!

      • Roar Rookie

        March 18th 2017 @ 11:02am
        dullsdulls said | March 18th 2017 @ 11:02am | ! Report

        I was living in Australia in 2003. Rugby was on a high because of the RWC. It was the time the ARU should have put super rugby on free to air to grow the sport. Instead short term money kept it in pay to view. They failed to grow rugby at a critical time in their rugby history. It is just a minor sport on an obscure sports channel. No one watches it no kids will start playing it etc….huge opportunity lost and that is why they are in decline.

        • Columnist

          March 18th 2017 @ 7:01pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | March 18th 2017 @ 7:01pm | ! Report

          Timing the same as the opportunity England blew to grow the game after the 2003 success…

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