A foretaste of the All Blacks? How Scotland broke down the England defence at Murrayfield

Nicholas Bishop Columnist

By Nicholas Bishop, Nicholas Bishop is a Roar Expert

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    Scotland's win against England will have attracted plenty of interest in New Zealand. (Photo by Lynne Cameron/Getty Images)

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    The eternal war between structure and chaos took another turn in the third round of the Six Nations tournament two weeks ago.

    An intensely well-drilled Ireland side just about held off deconstructed Wales in Dublin, while what captain John Barclay describes as the ‘organised chaos’ of the Scotland attack laid waste to Eddie’s England in Edinburgh. We can call it an honourable draw.

    It was a historic day at Murrayfield. It was not only the first time in ten years that Scotland had managed to win a game against England on their home ground, it was also the first time that they had even scored a try against the ‘auld enemy’ in a decade.

    During my time with Stuart Lancaster’s England, we played Scotland three times in four years at Murrayfield without conceding anything but penalties. That has all changed under the superior attack coaching of first Vern Cotter and latterly, Gregor Townsend. Scotland have now scored 33 tries in their last nine games with Townsend in charge, an All Black-like ratio of almost four tries per game.

    Scotland centre Huw Jones broke the ice in the 15th minute, and after that it became like a stream of London buses. Where one arrived, two others swiftly followed in the course of the first half.

    The Murrayfield encounter was a tantalising foretaste of what might await in the titanic Twickenham match-up between England and New Zealand later this year. The Scotland team modelled by Cotter and Townsend is a Northern Hemisphere/New Zealand hybrid with typical Kiwi attributes.

    Last month I wrote an article examining England’s chances of beating the All Blacks when they tour Europe in November. I pointed out the importance of the English kicking game in their overall game-construction, and at Murrayfield Scotland went about their business with a purpose, neutralising it completely. They won the kicking duels for territory and it was not until the 68th minute of the match that England won a high ball back.

    Add to this no fewer than eight Scotland turnovers at an under-resourced (and unsympathetically refereed) English breakdown, and Scotland were in A1 position to play their game. How they went on to exploit this foundation with their attacking play will be of particular interest to New Zealand, with the arsenal of weapons at their disposal.

    The underlying principle of the English defence is that of the ‘super-rush’. They are not afraid to fire players right up on to the opposition receivers, and frequently well past the ball, in order to create pressure on handling and decision-making. This idea would have alarmed England World Cup-winning defence coach Phil Larder – who always coached his defenders to stay in front of the ball-carrier and his options at all times – but it is a sign of changing times in the game as a whole.

    The ultimate aim of the England super-rush was seen in a couple of instances in the second half of the match (at 4:08 and 4:40 on the reel):

    In the first case, Danny Care is away for the intercept try, in the second Courtney Lawes causes a fumble which again led to a ‘try’ at the other end of the field. Fortunately for Scotland, both were called back by referee Nigel Owens for an illegality at the breakdown by Joe Launchbury and a knock-on in the tackle by Lawes.

    An excellent example of England’s policy, and Scotland’s counter-measures, occurred right at the very beginning of the game:

    Scotland have only made three short link passes, but already the highest England defender (Owen Farrell) is more then ten metres upfield from the base of the previous ruck, and five metres past the ball.

    The phase as a whole was instructive, as Scotland successfully turned the principle of the ‘super-rush’ on its head:

    Scotland use the depth of their attacking alignment to pull England’s super-rush as far upfield as possible, before matching up a forward (prop Gordon Reid) in contact against England’s smallest and least physical defensive back (George Ford). Under no pressure, Reid is able to turn and offload to a support runner who has broken underneath Farrell’s rush (Peter Horne).

    A very similar sequence occurred in the second half of the game:

    Again the rush is drawn out on to two deep-lying receivers in order to create a gap for Scotland number 12 Peter Horne to run into. There is that same ten-metre gap between the base of the previous ruck and England number eight Nathan Hughes as he goes to pressure Finn Russell at second receiver:

    There is little doubt that Scotland would have scored if Horne’s pass to the men outside him had been more accurate.

    The chance originated from a Scotland kick return, which returns us neatly back to the source of their success in ‘organised chaos’. After a Danny Care kick deep into the Scotland 22, the first thought of Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell is to launch a counter-attack from deep against an unstructured defence:

    The first three defenders have rushed on Hogg, but there is a huge gap of at least 40 metres back to Jonathan Joseph leading the outside of the line up behind them. Scotland are a side – like New Zealand – programmed to take advantage of just this kind of opportunity:

    Another bit of profitable organised chaos (a tapped penalty taken on the Scottish 22) led to a similar counter from deep, which eventually resulted in Scotland’s second try of the first half.

    Russell throws a superb delivery off his left hand over the top of the rusher (Joseph) to put Huw Jones into the gap:

    The remainder of this terrific sequence of play can be viewed on this highlight reel at 2:35 – 3:15.

    Of the five fully-competitive teams in the Six Nations, two (Wales and Scotland) have effectively become New Zealand/Northern Hemisphere hybrids geared to play their best rugby in ‘organised chaos’. The other three remain firmly on structured turf, although both Ireland and England are both set up to adapt to chaos in specific circumstances.

    The ebb and flow of power between the two philosophies has been fascinating to watch over the past few weeks. In a sense, Scotland finished the chances Wales were able to create but could not convert against England at Murrayfield.

    Wales, meanwhile, nearly upset Ireland on a meagre 30 per cent diet of possession, creating one clean break for every six rucks they built, compared to Ireland’s one in 13 ratio.

    All of which will interest the All Blacks greatly as they prepare for their showdown with England on November 10. New Zealand are the experts at both locating and playing through organised chaos, in situations where their advantage in individual skill-sets can be seen to its best effect.

    When the two teams collide in the autumn, it will not just be a battle between (at the time of speaking) the number one and number two ranked sides in the world, it will be a clash of philosophies about how to play the game of rugby and a definite clue to the future evolution of the game.

    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 (305)

    • Roar Guru

      March 7th 2018 @ 4:52am
      Nobrain said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:52am | ! Report

      Hi NB, I think that England is one team when they are ahead on the score but a very different one when they are behind.
      I the first case they use their defense and counter attack or make better use of their kicking, however they lack creativity when they have to attack with ball in hand. As you well said, they are pretty structural team that knows what to do in the field but in doing so only helped a great Scotland defense.

      • Columnist

        March 7th 2018 @ 5:05am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 5:05am | ! Report

        Well they are based on Saracens NB, who habitually prefer to establish a lead and then defend it rather than chase a game – EJ, Gustard and Borthwick all Sarries coaches.

        England likewise did not look comfortable when they were forced to chase a significant Scotland lead at the half 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        March 7th 2018 @ 6:08am
        Carlos the Argie said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:08am | ! Report

        Hola Nobrain,

        Did you read the archaic comments by Hugo Porta in Aplenorugby?

        He’s a dinosaur who is actually holding back Argentine rugby. Unbelievable!

        He thinks the biggest problem of Argie rugby is professionalism. That is should go back to being completely amateur.


        This is for those who can read Spanish. (I can translate some of it ion interested):


        • Columnist

          March 7th 2018 @ 6:58am
          Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:58am | ! Report

          What does the article say Carlos?

          • Roar Guru

            March 7th 2018 @ 7:32am
            Carlos the Argie said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:32am | ! Report

            I will translate the key phrases. The source article is from an interview in Spain, which is even worse.

            The intriguing comment in the article from Spain (the source) is that AP9 and Porta dislike each other intensely..

            • Columnist

              March 7th 2018 @ 7:56am
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:56am | ! Report

              Cheers Carlos.

              • Roar Guru

                March 10th 2018 @ 6:03am
                Carlos the Argie said | March 10th 2018 @ 6:03am | ! Report

                Nick, I published Porta’s views. For you too.

              • Columnist

                March 10th 2018 @ 6:08pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 10th 2018 @ 6:08pm | ! Report

                Thanks Carlos, I noticed your article and would have replied in due course.

                It was good to hear his thoughts, but I admire your independence in judging them. Sentimentality is rarely a good arbiter left to its own devices!

                Thank you.

              • Roar Guru

                March 14th 2018 @ 2:51am
                Carlos the Argie said | March 14th 2018 @ 2:51am | ! Report

                Thank you Nick. Your support or understanding means a lot to me.

        • Roar Guru

          March 7th 2018 @ 12:38pm
          Nobrain said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:38pm | ! Report

          I did. Nothing new. He was always against pro rugby.

          • March 7th 2018 @ 4:39pm
            Carlos the Argie said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:39pm | ! Report

            Correct! And most commentators in social media agree with him. They claim he’s untouchable or infallible. Ridiculous. He’s not a pope.

          • Roar Guru

            March 8th 2018 @ 10:37pm
            Harry Jones said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:37pm | ! Report

            Why? What does he want?

    • Roar Guru

      March 7th 2018 @ 4:56am
      The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:56am | ! Report

      Hello NB

      Back home in sunny Wales? 😉

      Great article mate. One question that pops up is, can one not say it was good for England to face a team with clear similarities to AB’s as warm-up so to speak?
      I think we can assume whatever Scotland did, the AB’s will do slightly better, but England has at least been tested and should be better prepared for what is coming?

      P.S. Just read that Pro14 have ditched BBC for more money from cable-TV. Interesting that the value of the broadcasting increases (the market believes in the product) and does it not give a little hope that the Welsh, Irish and Scottish regions might be able to compete better with English and French clubs financially?

      • Columnist

        March 7th 2018 @ 5:03am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 5:03am | ! Report

        No not yet NV – still reporting in from the Algarve!

        As said, Wales and Scotland have a lot of similarities in approach right now, and both caused England problems when they had the ball (although Wales didn’t have it very much). Yes, it will have caused Eddie and the England planners some headaches, but unfortunately they won’t be able to test their answers on a comparable team until the ABs appear themselves at Twickers!

        Pro 14 deffo on the up (hence the TV contract) and I would be surprised if NZRFU doesn’t explore the option of placing some of their top players in an exchange scheme with say, Scarlets…

        • Roar Guru

          March 7th 2018 @ 5:33am
          The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 7th 2018 @ 5:33am | ! Report

          Pro 14 deffo on the up (hence the TV contract) and I would be surprised if NZRFU doesn’t explore the option of placing some of their top players in an exchange scheme with say, Scarlets…

          Why not Leinster mate? Fill that team with a couple of AB’s and ECC finals would almost be expected? 😉

          The Pro14 upward trend is extra interesting hence the recent SA inclusion. With the mess, Super Rugby finds itself in (the upcoming broadcasting negotiations will be a thriller), I am sure that SARU takes notice. One doesn’t have to be a rocket engineer to understand that even more money will be on the table if more SA team joins the party.

          On a side note: The AB’s play Ireland in Dublin the week after England, is not that Test just as intriguing as the one at HQ?
          If Ireland gets the Slam and wins the series in against the WB’s, that Test could very well be for number one spot in the rankings.

          • Columnist

            March 7th 2018 @ 7:04am
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:04am | ! Report

            I suspect the Welsh teams (and Scarlets in particular) would be more receptive, with a Kiwi coach and playing structure.

            Also Leinster have very narrow parameters for the inclusion of extra non IQP’s which would mean a root & branch re-evaluation of the current system in relation to foreign players…

            There is no reason that the existing SA franchises in the Pro 14 cannot be boosted by extra SR talent, or indeed accept more European-based, out of contract Boks into the fold, why not? 😀

            Yes Ireland will be key too – obv England has more novelty value because Eddie’s England have yet to play the AB’s!

          • March 7th 2018 @ 11:53am
            Jacko said | March 7th 2018 @ 11:53am | ! Report

            I agree neutral, the Ireland test should be as hard to win for the ABs as the England one…I think the fact that NZ havnt played England while England has had their successful run is what is driving the interest, but I will be just as keen to see the Ireland V ABs the following week

            • Roar Guru

              March 7th 2018 @ 1:18pm
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

              The doubleheader between Ireland and the AB’s in 2016 gave us 160 minutes of brilliant rugby, and there and then, it felt like a beginning of a new rivalry. And it looks like Ireland has improved since then, so bring it on again I say.

              As tough as these two upcoming November Tests are back to back Jacko (playing the number two and three side away from home in seven days is serious business even for the most experienced AB’s campaigners), to me, it seems like perfect preparation for the business end of the World Cup. Massive games, huge crowds, pressure et al.
              Win or lose, I believe the AB’s will come out stronger and be better prepared.

              • Columnist

                March 7th 2018 @ 4:14pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

                Yep, and I would anticipate another game just as tight as those two 2016 encounters NV. They say styles make fights, and Ireland-NZ is a classic of its kind 🙂

          • Roar Rookie

            March 7th 2018 @ 1:56pm
            ChrisG said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

            Not much chance of Ireland playing for the number 1 spot against NZ. The current world rankings -https://www.worldrugby.org/rankings/mru?lang=en have NZ 4.6 points ahead of England. Scotland gained 1.5 points for beating England and England lost 1.5 points, so there would need to be a few other results in Ireland’s favour for that to happen

            • Roar Guru

              March 7th 2018 @ 2:05pm
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 7th 2018 @ 2:05pm | ! Report

              Well, I wrote if Ireland wins the Slam and the series in Australia.
              The AB’s pretty much have to go unbeaten before they meet to avoid a clash for the top dog status in the rankings?

              I am no ranking expert, but will not Ireland be the new number two is they beat Scotland and England?

              • March 7th 2018 @ 10:31pm
                HenryHoneyBalls said | March 7th 2018 @ 10:31pm | ! Report

                I’m an Ireland fan and as much as I hate to admit it, it is fairly unlikely that Ireland will go unbeaten between now and November.

                The slam would be amazing but wins are hard to come by in Twickers and in Australia regardless of how good or bad these teams are right now.

                We certainly could do it but Ireland are already on a 10 match win streak matching their best run of all time already (could break our record v Scotland) each additional win kinda pushes this squad a little further into unchartered territory IMO.

              • March 7th 2018 @ 11:22pm
                Fionn said | March 7th 2018 @ 11:22pm | ! Report

                Cheika’s Wallabies have never beaten any of the home nations in Australia.

              • March 9th 2018 @ 3:22am
                ScottD said | March 9th 2018 @ 3:22am | ! Report

                I think they are likely to be far better team in 2018 and 2019 than the last two years

              • Roar Rookie

                March 8th 2018 @ 12:06pm
                ChrisG said | March 8th 2018 @ 12:06pm | ! Report

                Ireland are currently 3rd, however I believe that England would need to lose both of their remaining 6N games for Ireland to finish second.

              • Roar Rookie

                March 8th 2018 @ 12:08pm
                ChrisG said | March 8th 2018 @ 12:08pm | ! Report

              • Roar Guru

                March 8th 2018 @ 1:20pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 8th 2018 @ 1:20pm | ! Report


                I understand that this is new territory for the Irish, but your boys’ performances on the pitch (and the depth and the strong regions) tell me that the Irish are very capable of going places.


                That is a brutal stat for Chieka.


                I am sorry, but you are wrong. If Ireland beat Scotland and England, they are the new number two.
                And if the Irish Clean sweep the Wallabies in June and the AB’s just drop one Test before they meet in Dublin, that Test will indeed be for the top dog spot.

                Here is a fun link to play around with if one wants to predict future rankings:


              • Roar Guru

                March 8th 2018 @ 1:43pm
                The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 8th 2018 @ 1:43pm | ! Report


                This link is even better, less work with this one.

            • Columnist

              March 8th 2018 @ 5:57pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 8th 2018 @ 5:57pm | ! Report

              England have a lot of credit in the bank don’t they? 🙂

        • March 7th 2018 @ 9:44am
          Peter Kelly said | March 7th 2018 @ 9:44am | ! Report

          • Columnist

            March 7th 2018 @ 4:16pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

            Yes – it will be interesting to see just how many NH links/exchange schemes NZ seek out, and whether they will go for one in the Pro 14, and even the Top 14 too Peter…

      • March 7th 2018 @ 12:52pm
        taylorman said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

        ‘whatever Scotland did, the AB’s will do slightly better, ‘

        loving it….sorry…carry on…

        • Roar Guru

          March 7th 2018 @ 1:23pm
          The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:23pm | ! Report

          Sorry for not writing: “whatever Scotland did, the AB’s will do a billion times better”

          Sloppy little me. Can you forgive me T-man?


          • Columnist

            March 7th 2018 @ 4:16pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

            Steady you two 😀

          • March 7th 2018 @ 5:48pm
            Raumanga said | March 7th 2018 @ 5:48pm | ! Report

            Great come back NVFS.
            Loved it. Glad I wasn’t drinking at the same time.

          • March 8th 2018 @ 4:47pm
            Jacko said | March 8th 2018 @ 4:47pm | ! Report

            Sloppy little neutral…LOL

    • Roar Guru

      March 7th 2018 @ 5:23am
      Corne Van Vuuren said | March 7th 2018 @ 5:23am | ! Report

      Hi nicholas, interesting article. I think two issues are pertinent here. One you pointed out the coaching of Cotter and Townsend, but I think even the best coaches need personnel.

      The Scottish Pro14 teams are doing better than I can remember ever currently.

      Which I think would suggest that even though Scotland only have Edinburgh and Glasgow in the Pro14 their talent within those two squads have improved significantly?

      • Columnist

        March 7th 2018 @ 7:07am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:07am | ! Report

        There is prob a little more depth in the two Scottish squads at present BB, which is why Scotland have been able to overcome the absence of their top five or six props in the first few rounds of the 6N – but the coaching has had far more direction with Cotter and Townsend than it had before that, particularly in terms of attacking pattern with ball in hand…

        Ofc having some South Africans of fringe Bokke quality like Nel, Strauss and du Preez also helps!

        • Roar Guru

          March 7th 2018 @ 10:50am
          Harry Jones said | March 7th 2018 @ 10:50am | ! Report

          It’s all about having players named H Jones.

          • March 7th 2018 @ 12:45pm
            Phil said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:45pm | ! Report

            HJ,he is as talented a rugby player as you are a writer!And I mean that as a compliment to both.

          • March 7th 2018 @ 2:50pm
            cinque said | March 7th 2018 @ 2:50pm | ! Report

            How is it legal for somebody called Huw Jones not to play for Wales?

            • Columnist

              March 7th 2018 @ 4:18pm
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:18pm | ! Report

              Good Q Cinque, you don’t see too many Huws appearing outside Wales…

          • March 7th 2018 @ 3:42pm
            ThugbyFan said | March 7th 2018 @ 3:42pm | ! Report

            G’day Harry, its not just the Scoootish Hew boy that carries the H.Jones moniker in Rugby. There is a Harry Jones playing winger who is a fringe player for the Tahs. Is big, fast, thinks with the ball and reminds me a little of Luke Morahan of the Force now with Bristol. Big Harry starred when his team Warringah won the Shute Shield last year but for some reasons the Tahs cut the bloke (like they reckon they have heaps of fast outside backs with the X factor. LoL). H.Jones (Oz style) is currently playing in Japan.

            He is on the rugby players website as here: https://www.rugbyprofiles.com/harry-jones

            There is also a Harry Jones playing test matches for Canada but I know nothing of the bloke. Would appear the H.Jones gene line has spread worldwide. 🙂

            • Roar Guru

              March 8th 2018 @ 10:39pm
              Harry Jones said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:39pm | ! Report

              I spread my seed far and wide

              • Columnist

                March 8th 2018 @ 10:43pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:43pm | ! Report

                Steady H, we don’t want little French hybrid Hazzas springing up all over the Auvergne! 😀

          • Columnist

            March 7th 2018 @ 4:17pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

            I did wonder about the connection Hazza. Nom de plume and all that…. or maybe nom de guerre

    • March 7th 2018 @ 6:45am
      GALATZO said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:45am | ! Report

      Gregor Townsend got a good feel for SH rugby when he played for the Green Rats. I saw him a number of times make a break and zoom. Maybe a little of that SH run-the-ball experience is rubbing off on the Scots. As for the months-away Eng/AB clash, it’s like waiting for Wilder and Ortiz to finally get into the same ring. I’m wondering if Eddie Jones will drop the super rush fearing that the AB runners, all seven of which, whoever starts at Twickers, will be exceedingly dangerous. Miss a carrier and you’re scrambling back, as your excellent analysis points out. And you’re right – there’s no proxy for the ABs, and no trial against them, so if Eddie doesn’t get his pre-match tactics right on paper, there will go the ballgame.

      • Columnist

        March 7th 2018 @ 7:10am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

        One of the problems Eddie has is that Paul Gustard doesn’t have Andy Farrell’s experience at running the same basic kind of system on D, or his experience of the ABs. That’s an issue.

        Townsend has picked up the reins at very much the right time, with law-making bending towards the attacking side of the ball. Good man for this moment with Scotland and the number 10 they have!

        • Roar Guru

          March 7th 2018 @ 1:44pm
          The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 7th 2018 @ 1:44pm | ! Report

          One of the problems Eddie has is that Paul Gustard doesn’t have Andy Farrell’s experience at running the same basic kind of system on D, or his experience of the ABs. That’s an issue.

          I have a sneaky little feeling that Daddy Faz is the only born and bread NH coach that is on NZR radar. Not as the AB’s head coach of course, but he has proved himself enough times for them to take notice.

          • Columnist

            March 7th 2018 @ 4:20pm
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

            Yes I’d agree, though there are prob three or four NH coaches on the Kiwi radar altogether NV…

            • Roar Guru

              March 8th 2018 @ 1:50pm
              The Neutral View From Sweden said | March 8th 2018 @ 1:50pm | ! Report

              Maybe he wants to ruin his reputation in the future with a stint as head coach at the Auckland Blues? 😉

              On a serious note, having a complete outsider coaching the Blues might be a good thing I reckon.

              • Roar Guru

                March 8th 2018 @ 4:41pm
                rebel said | March 8th 2018 @ 4:41pm | ! Report

                Could be, but they had David Nucifora as a head coach with no success. Don’t feel it’s necessarily where they are from, but how everything gells. Dave Wessells is doing well as an outsider.

      • March 7th 2018 @ 5:13pm
        Malo said | March 7th 2018 @ 5:13pm | ! Report

        Yeah Townsend was great at the rats, like Rib Andrew at Gordon

      • Columnist

        March 7th 2018 @ 7:11am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:11am | ! Report

        Indeed Cookie, all adds a great deal of grist to the mill 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        March 7th 2018 @ 8:23am
        Sam Taulelei said | March 7th 2018 @ 8:23am | ! Report

        Just need the other SANZAAR teams to show the same rapid improvement as Scotland, then NZ’s chances of a third straight World Cup becomes more challenging.

        • Columnist

          March 7th 2018 @ 8:46am
          Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 8:46am | ! Report

          Yes and that affects NZ’s own improvement too… they need the challenge from SA and Aus to truly know where their strengths and weaknesses lie. As we saw in the space between the Lions series (tight and tense) and the Rugby Championship (the opposite) last season. The loss of Wayne Smith will sharpen that need.

    • Roar Guru

      March 7th 2018 @ 6:56am
      Kia Kaha said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:56am | ! Report

      Thanks, NB.

      As someone with Scottish roots, I was hoping you’d analyze this game.

      I wonder, though, the effect of ‘unsympathetic refereeing at the breakdown’.

      Personally I liked the contest at the breakdown and that England fanning out and not committing numbers to the breakdown meant there was an opportunity to get in there and disrupt.

      I’m not so sure the Scottish forwards would’ve been given such license with other refs. I hope so.

      Each to one’s own but the structured approach used to be the way Wales and Scotland played. I remember watching that dour victory a decade ago in Madrid – my Scottish friend and I adorned in kilts – and thinking the rugby was absolute pish but the taste of victory was sweeter than the mojitos we were throwing back.

      The way both teams are playing now is really pleasing but most importantly, and particularly in the case of Scotland, it’s proving to be successful.

      Which is not to say England or Ireland don’t play good footy or are somehow undeserving of their recent success. But I too sense there’s more at stake than ranking points for this match at Twickenham. The rest of the world are looking on with interest.

      • Columnist

        March 7th 2018 @ 7:15am
        Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:15am | ! Report

        Personally I liked the contest at the breakdown and that England fanning out and not committing numbers to the breakdown meant there was an opportunity to get in there and disrupt.

        This is something England do on the defensive side KK…

        But you are right that Nigel O has always been his own man in regards to breakdown law and England did not look well-prepared for the extended contests he allowed.

        The destructured approach is natural to both Wales and Scotland given their rugby history, but in diff ways. Wales have always thrived with broken field runners of great skill, Scotland in periods when their back five could rampage with lots of loose ball – remember when they used to pick five number 8 forwards back in the 1980’s??

        • Roar Guru

          March 7th 2018 @ 7:58am
          Kia Kaha said | March 7th 2018 @ 7:58am | ! Report

          Yes, right you are! Meant they didn’t commit many to the attacking rucks and Owens adjudicated Scotland had dominance. Commit more numbers there and you’re more inclined to see penalties like coming in around the side. But then again, Owens has been known to blow up for sealing off at the ruck…

          • Columnist

            March 7th 2018 @ 8:10am
            Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 8:10am | ! Report

            England like to use power runners and hedge their bets with the cleanout – if the runner makes it over the gain-line, they’ll keep the second cleaner out for next phase. But it’s a delicate operation which can go wrong if the defence attacks the breakdown and the ref gives them some latitude to do it! Which Nigel did.

            • Roar Guru

              March 7th 2018 @ 12:30pm
              Carlos the Argie said | March 7th 2018 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

              Maybe Nigel really IS Welsh…..

              • Columnist

                March 7th 2018 @ 4:20pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:20pm | ! Report

                Nigel is one of Wales’ premier exports Carlos, and not subject to EU regulation!

              • Roar Rookie

                March 8th 2018 @ 12:12pm
                ChrisG said | March 8th 2018 @ 12:12pm | ! Report

                Does he get paid in pounds or euros?

      • March 7th 2018 @ 2:23pm
        Crash Ball2 said | March 7th 2018 @ 2:23pm | ! Report

        Another excellent article. Nick could easily have penned a sister article titled “How Scotland broke down the England attack at Murrayfield.”

        Still early days, but across both the 6 Nations and Super Rugby in 2018, we’re not seeing the purported seismic shift in ruck contest previously mooted in reaction to the amended breakdown laws or any subsequent de-valuing of the breakdown expert role that was supposed to accompany it (of course, the notion that change of possession stats alone adequately encompass the broad portfolio of a flanker’s overall ruck and maul influence is in itself categorically incorrect).

        A fatal flaw in England’s chosen Calcutta Cup attack strategy was surgically laid bare by Scotland’s dedicated breakdown focus and particularly the hard on-balling efforts of their resident ground game combatants – Hamish Watson and John Barclay. The most notable feature of Scotland’s numerous pilfers and forced turnovers this match was the referee’s allowance for the defender with first hands on the ball to complete the contest for possession even after the first attacking cleaner had subsequently arrived (assuming they had successfully survived the cleanout).

        Equally, England’s chosen prop and fan defence and subsequent neglect of the ruck contest (particularly with selection of ageless utility / 6.5 Chris Robshaw) ensured swift Scotland ball presentation prefaced front foot ensemble backline play. Jones may regret entering the game armed with only one genuine openside flanker and Sam Underhill’s mid-match inclusion (pre-yellow card) briefly stemmed the overwhelming breakdown advantage Scotland enjoyed for most of the match.

        I’m not convinced this was the singular quirk of Nigel Owens, probably the most senior referee in world rugby. Across numerous games and multiple referees so far, Super Rugby is returning a healthy 4+ pilfers or forced turnovers every match even in the absence of some of its best breakdown experts (Pocock, G Smith et al). To this point, the breakdown remains a fertile, genuine contest for possession and patented ruck exponents are still a premium on any team.

        • Columnist

          March 7th 2018 @ 4:26pm
          Nicholas Bishop said | March 7th 2018 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

          Still early days, but across both the 6 Nations and Super Rugby in 2018, we’re not seeing the purported seismic shift in ruck contest previously mooted in reaction to the amended breakdown laws or any subsequent de-valuing of the breakdown expert role that was supposed to accompany it

          Heavily dependent on the refereeing CB. Nigel is very idiosyncratic about breakdown and England’s cleanout setup enlarged the opportunities for the likes of Watson and Barclay. On the other side of the Irish Sea, there were only about five lost rucks in about 230 during the Ireland-Wales match, with a top NZ ref.

          Also noticed that ruck contest has not been a huge feature of games between Kiwi sides in SR, as it usually is. Paradoxically, it may place a higher premium on breakdown specialists now they’re getting fewer opportunities!

          Meanwhile Ireland’s last two games in the 6N will tell us a lot more.

          • March 7th 2018 @ 6:03pm
            Crash Ball2 said | March 7th 2018 @ 6:03pm | ! Report

            Thanks Nick.

            There is too much attribution of teams’ chosen defensive strategies being linked directly, often incorrectly, to the amended laws. The prop and fan is a valid, viable system that a number of teams consciously employ – often for very good results. But when I think of the kerfuffle made of the 41 phases in the recent Ireland/France match for example, it was clear that France had made the decision not to contest the breakdown and rather handcuff a tedious, unextravagant Ireland attack. And it was working – Ireland had made scant headway across those inordinate phases (save a breakout) as evidenced by Sexton having to kick a drop goal near the halfway after more than 3 dozen attacking rucks).

            Similarly, despite their endless resource pool, Jones’ England doesn’t possess the depth or quality of breakdown athlete commensurate with a heavy on-ball focused ruck contest so, stylistically, choose a more aligned defensive policy. Jones has made zero query of Nigel Owens’ breakdown interpretation in the Calcutta Cup match (and there doesn’t appear to be much being made of it by sports pundits in Fleet Street either): https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2018/feb/28/eddie-jones-england-style-shortfall-scotland-robert-kitson

            Whilst Dan Leavy is a phenomenal talent, he’s no Sean O’Brien, and even then, Ireland over recent years have tended to reap far greater benefits from abrasive, collaborative front on collisions and holding up the ball runner than the second man in jackal. I’m not convinced Ireland are the canary in the coal mine. Meanwhile, pilfers and forced turnovers in Super Rugby are clipping along at traditional rates and even just a casual glance at games shows the breakdown contest is rife and, importantly, defenders who beat the first cleaner are being allowed the right to contest after the collision.

            • Columnist

              March 8th 2018 @ 3:07am
              Nicholas Bishop said | March 8th 2018 @ 3:07am | ! Report

              I missed the last round of SR games while on holiday so it will very interesting to see which way the wind is blowing at the breakdown – both in SR and the 6N…

              I know you’re a dyed-in-the-wool protectionist as far as ‘traditional number 7 play’ goes – but hey, traditions are there to be changed! Let’s see what the remainder of the season brings – I know it’s being coached differently in certain influential quarters 🙂

              • March 8th 2018 @ 12:31pm
                Crash Ball2 said | March 8th 2018 @ 12:31pm | ! Report

                Thanks Nick. I’d like to believe that I embrace tangible change when it is positive and evident. I hope any labels I’m ascribed are offset by the currency and content of the propositions platformed and the respectfulness in which they are intended. And I agree, the remainder of the international and provincial seasons will be further enlightening. As always, I’m enjoying the journey.

              • Columnist

                March 8th 2018 @ 5:53pm
                Nicholas Bishop said | March 8th 2018 @ 5:53pm | ! Report

                It often takes these changes a while to fully unravel, and for teams and refs to adapt to workable version of them CB – but I do see a philosophy change in the England back five – ever since they started picking Lawes at 6 instead of Haskell there has been a distinct shift towards above the ground work rather than scrapping on the deck (despite Joe Launchbury’s excellence at the latter).

          • Roar Guru

            March 8th 2018 @ 10:42pm
            Harry Jones said | March 8th 2018 @ 10:42pm | ! Report

            I agree that the Pilfer (and slowed ball) is even more vital for counter-attack-dependent teams, now …

            Matt Todd with a broken thumb!!

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