It is a strange time to be living in the UK.
Eddie Jones will be happy with aspects of England’s performance against Wales, and regardless of public persona, furious with others.
To not score any points in 60 minutes of a game will particularly irk him, especially as he is actively trying to improve England’s attack.
The lack of Welsh penalties – an almost unbelievable two – was an enormous factor and a show of incredible discipline from the men in red, as were re-positioning quickly and inaccuracy at the breakdown, while a six-day turnaround showed in the last 15 minutes.
There are now two weeks to go to Scotland and Jones will have his team working hard. Their aerial game and attack were very good, as was the counter into space from poor Welsh kicks. Defence, at times, was good, but not good enough.
The following are areas Jones will focus on before the match with Scotland.
Jones has shown his hand for playing in the wet and the results excite. Twickenham was miserable on Saturday and Scotland in winter can easily be the same. Logically in these conditions, England not only kicked, but shortened the passes, and played smart.
As I’ve stated before, Jones has based the philosophies of his England attack on Rod Macqueen’s Brumbies. Not until Wales did I realise how much so.
The Brumbies operated a grid system, where the field was split into eight channels. On the direction of the tactical decision makers, the players would be directed to a channel with speed and intensity.
They would attack en masse over multiple phases, targeting the same channel, and taking defenders – in particular, the pillar defence – out of the game. The physicality of these runs meant the attack could recycle the ball quickly and go again within the channel, striking where defenders were now out of action.
It’s simple and efficient, and allows the attack to be on the move before the defence is ready. This was relentless and defences would draw in to stop conceding gain-line.
Using rapid re-positioning and their skill sets, they’d then exploit the space out wide.
Principles of Brumbies mode
Operate within a ten-metre channel, targetting and overwhelming the three guards of the pillar defence. The first guard protects the inside option, the second guard is responsible for the running 9, and the third is responsible for the running 10.
Players must start flat and run on to the ball with intent, as to clear out and re-attack the guards with speed.
Decisions in interplays must be made as flat as possible, then alternate between blind and open of the ruck dependent on guard integrity.
England Brumbies mode
First, we see a ‘prong’ go in off Danny Care. They cut an inside line to drag players from the open, and the ball is recycled quickly.
Care lures the first guard to tackle and passes to George Ford, who takes the ball flat and, committing the original second guard, passes inside to exploit space created from Care’s track. However Jonny May’s line is wrong, as such, he has to jump over this player and is tackled by players from the blind, who then move to open.
Because of this, the guard integrity on the blind is compromised. This is the point of this pattern: to thin the pillar defence in its organisation and numbers so the gainline can be made. Joe Launchbury exploits this with a pick and go, makes metres, and Sam Simmonds comes in to pick and go on an even more compromised guard before the ruck is formed.
It is similar to the Wallabies’ version, with the main difference being targeting individual defenders. However, they didn’t leave their ten-metre channel, but ran onto the ball hard, recycled quickly and went again.
Remember, England play to go through teams. This mode is ideal for wet-weather play, suits England’s strengths, and is played at breakneck pace.
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England will use this against Scotland. But the key reason that Jones has brought this out of retirement is because of the All Blacks.
Jones has said that “unpopular rugby” will win the World Cup. The All Blacks are especially susceptible to carries around the ruck. This stops their rush defence, and, with enough pace, will send the defence into scramble mode, opening space from the 10-13 channels.
These gaps are what Ford can exploit with his flat passing so well, and a key area where Jones will look to get his points outside of the kicking game and set piece.
Jones will encourage cleaners to take players out of the game in their cleanouts, and therefore not only thin the line, but influence ‘moving blind to open-open to blind’ guard defenders as to exploit the weak side. He will work on decision making and in particular on when to pick and go and instruct players when to alternate between blind and open, dependent on the guard.
This ties in well with the above. But England’s attacks were stymied multiple times by players either going off their feet or getting isolated.
England are improving, but expect greater urgency to be placed on supporting players, as well as players from the previous ruck being in a position to assist this. Physicality will be raised due to the Scottish jackalling threats – England cannot squander possession against the Scots when their attack is predominantly based upon it.
Wales’ impulse to offload caused England issues. Thankfully, the ‘coming through’ runners were handled with constricted defence, but the Welsh made metres here.
England will be working on their chop tackling and the choke tackle in particular. Both of these prevent offloads and, against an enterprising team like Scotland, will be key to preventing chances out wide.
Their front-up defence was good, especially on the Welsh ‘three’ pods. But Eddie will want more.