In this final instalment of the series, I am going to run through an overview of England’s box kicking strategies.
Grubber, chip, spiral
Over the past two seasons Eddie Jones has focused on developing England’s kicking game. It is becoming more and more important in the modern game. Being able to play for territory, and put up contestable kicks is key. As such, Jones has developed a depth of kickers in his starting team with different qualities.
England have Ben Youngs and Danny Care, both of whom are proficient box kickers, though Youngs is better in this regard. Both also have the ability to grubber kick into space. The grubber kick is part of a rapidly expanding repertoire in England’s attacking strategy. Why? Because of the out and out pace of their chasers. They say there is no substitute for pace. Jonny May’s try against Australia in 2017 was a prime example of this tactic.
On top of this, England’s focus on speed in their backline means in wet conditions they are better placed to take advantage of grubber kicks. Not to mention chip kicks and traditional spirals into space, as was proved with three of England’s tries in the 2017 match against Australia. It was not a day for a ball in hand all attacking game. England have developed their Plan B and used it to great effect.
A traditional strength of England is their ability to kick for territory. This was often left to one, possibly two players. Eddie Jones has built on this. England have four legitimate territory kickers in Ford, Farrell, Daly and Brown. You could argue that Watson and Joseph are also viable options.
Getting the ball downfield with accuracy and distance complements the two prong attack, where the back 3 may have been brought up. The variation and number of kickers can be of huge assistance to the team in relieving pressure. This is especially true on turnover ball. Putting the ball into space at this point allows for territorial advantage to a retreating defence.
In addition, as has been shown against Argentina in particular, England can keep the ball in hand and counter-attack. But the kicking options allow for variation. Variation is so important in modern rugby given the scrutiny each team is put under by video analysts.
Lastly, are the contestable kicks. The trick with the box kicks of Ben Youngs is that they are closely modelled on the Saracens system.
Everyone will recall the accuracy of Conor Murray’s kicks week-in week-out; it is this accuracy England are aiming for. Not only does it give you a chance to contest for the ball it also provides a key part of the defensive strategy.
Eddie Jones, like Joe Schmidt, wants the kicks from his box kicker to be contestable. But the odd thing is where the ball is kicked from. Usually, the box kick goes up from anywhere within the 15-metre line. This not only takes great skill from the kicker to ensure that the ball does not go to touch, but it keeps the ball close to the touchline.
When the kick goes up, it is chased hard by a winger and a combination of two forwards or a forward and a centre. If the ball is not captured, the wing makes the tackle on the catcher whilst the forwards come in either to slow the ball or drive the catcher into touch if he’s close enough to the line.
This either results in a lineout to England and a massive gain in metres. Or England slows the ball down. On slowing the ball down they settle into their push defence and hope to force the opposition back for a couple of phases before the clearance kick. If they’ve done a great job it should result in a gain in metres for England.
That’s it for my overview of how England are looking to play and why they are looking to play like that. I hope you’ve enjoyed the series and taken something from it.
Author: Conor Wilson
I split my social time between jumping out of planes, running, going away with the Army, and coaching and playing 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 the Samsung School of Rugby. It was truly beautiful.