Scotland’s performance against France, especially in the last 20 minutes personified their fitness and edge.
They rectified a lot of problems from their run out against Wales. Their defence was better, though still not good enough. Their attack around their 3 pods was more astute. And they didn’t panic when things didn’t go their way. This is something that Greig Laidlaw has to be commended for. He added an experience and composure that was missing to the naturally excitable and high tempo Scotland attack. Something needed for any fast, adventurous attack is a cool head, and in Laidlaw, Scotland have it. However, going up against England will be another matter.
Like previous articles, we will go into three areas which Scotland need to work on if they are to have a chance of winning this game.
Area 1: Defence
Scotland’s defence was better than it was against Wales. But, it still needs rapid improvements, and need I say a change in philosophy if Scotland are to beat England. We have to remember, England have a point of difference in their carriers. Guys like Vunipola, Lawes, Itoje, George, and Marler.
The Scots conceded the gainline by losing many collisions against the French. With some even having a static start getting 2 or 3 metres over the gainline on each phase. The reason for this is that the Scottish defence spreads. And, that they often do not two-man tackle. They one man tackle.
This is to allow their would be second tackler the opportunity to jackal. The first tackler obstructing (momentarily) the would be cleaner from his position as the tackler. However, they cannot do this against England. England’s forwards, contain fast, hardened, and powerful men who will be running in Prongs so as to maintain support and avoid this.
England’s forwards are more powerful and heavier to a man than Scotland’s. They do not start static by principle, which is what the French were doing in patches. They tend to run on to the ball catching flat. This will prevent Scotland rushing up to save the line by cutting down space. If one on one tackles are made, this will give gain line all day to England, with Ford, a 10 who thrives in said conditions, playing flat, allowing England’s back-line a field day.
Stop the prong
They must stop England getting gainline at their source, which for England is the 1st Prong, and fringes with their nomads. If they don’t, Scotland will struggle. Scotland do have jackals, and it can be expected that breakdown work to slow Englands ball will be focused on as well. Scotland needs to start strong, as England won’t tire in the last 20 like France, and as such a full 80 Minute performance is needed.
Area 2: Collisions in Attack
Scotland operates a 1-3-3-1 system. The series being published this week will explain it better, however, as a brief insight… The 3 Pods of Scotland are looser, and designed for interplay and supporting the break from the carrier, whereas the Irish 3 pod (for example) is designed for gainline and ball retention. The Scottish plan revolves around speed and tempo, with gaps appearing. Then Finn Russell uses his distribution and mobile forwards to exploit the space and use their backline out the back to finish the job.
There is a problem with this though. Against Wales, they could be accused of being too lateral. I mentioned it myself in the Second Screen. Their carrier was constantly pushed back due to Welsh double tackling. The Scottish support players are stood back for interplay. And against the congested English defence, will much like the Welsh defence, not be as effective. Therefore, rather than latch on and assist in the drive, they held off, supported the breakdown, but were constantly on the back foot. Scotland needs to adjust this in order to use their up-tempo wide game against the Rush 13 D of England. They need to hit the fringes hard, scoot with the 9 and pin the pillars and 10 channel back. That means winning the collisions.
I will expect Townsend to be doing lots of 9 and 10 work with his forward pods. Ensuring they’re running onto the ball and supporting each other. If you imagine even one of their most powerful forwards, Jonny Gray running straight into a tackle of Owen Farrell and Vunipola. There’s only one winner there.
Area 3. Variety of Kicking
Scotland, often kick when they get to the wings. This is a very, very common correlation. England has some of the fastest wingers in the world, but, Scotland will still look to do this and pressure England in the Back 3.
Gareth and Steve both talked about the Pendulum Back 3 and how they cover each other. Against Wales, Scotland were able to bring up a winger and exploit Leigh Halfpenny. A fullback who is regarded as one of the best defensive fullbacks in the World.
England’s defence is part of their core. One of the rocks of the game. And they will attempt to push back, and stifle the Scots with the ball in hand. Therefore, along with this form of grubber, a way of either gaining significant territory or repossession, Scotland will vary their kicking game.
Laidlaw will be back in the side, a very effective box kicker, who will put up Garryowens for Scotland to generate front-foot ball. England and their Back 3 have done a lot of work with Neil Craig, the ex AFL coach, in fielding up-and-unders. This is a disadvantage to Scotland.
I am expecting to see variation in their kick game. Box kicks, cross-field kicks and grubbers should come to the fore in this version of the Calcutta Cup.
Author: Conor Wilson
Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast and Coach and Player of the beautiful game of Rugby.
Joe Schmidt, Will Greenwood and Rod MacQueen are my heroes, and my proudest moment was putting Jason Robinson in for a try at a promotional Rugby day. It was truly beautiful.