In this year’s 6 Nations, there will be many intelligent and innovative coaches strategising on the big stage. It may be surprising to hear, however, that England’s tactics under Eddie Jones break from the norm of their 6 Nations counterparts most of all. England’s structure, passing and use of Rugby League style strike moves are a fresh take on how modern Rugby can be played. Here is how England’s tactical differences might play out in the tests to come.

How England’s tactics break the 1-3-3-1

The 1-3-3-1 is the hot attacking structure in international Rugby right now. Pods of 3 forwards grouped together are the main characteristic of this system. The backs will play around these pods, using them as a platform to structure their play. England will usually start their phase play with a pod of 3 like the other sides, but then transition to pods of 2. Here is that structure in action.

England's tactics start with a pod of 3
England’s tactics start with a pod of 3

The first stage is a pod of 3 forwards taking the carry. This is the same as many other international sides and isn’t a revolutionary concept. But now Farrell (red circle) is directing runners for stage two. In the next phase, England will transition into a pod of 2 forwards.

England now set up a pod of 2 players outside Farrell
England now set up a pod of 2 players outside Farrell

We can now see the structure that Farrell was organising a phase earlier. The pod of 2 players on his right are used as decoys to hold the Springboks defence. Stage 3 is all about stretching the opposition. As the ball goes wide we can see two English forwards near each touchline.

England use forwards on each touchline to spread the opposition defense
England use forwards on each touchline to spread the opposition defence

This part is distinctly akin to the All Blacks structure, where Dane Coles will often materialise on the wing unexpectedly. With Stage 1 and stage 3 retaining similarities to other international sides, it’s stage 2 that is the most different and intriguing. Let’s look at another example of the 2 man pods, or prongs, in action.

Setting up the prongs attacking structure

Using pods of 2 may seem like a far easier way to play Rugby, but there are some unseen intricacies happening behind the scenes to make it work. You can find a detailed article explaining how it all works to create space below, but we will look at the basic structure here.

The Eddie Jones England Attack part 1: Attack Patterns Explained

Here England does a midfield crash and sets up a clear 2 pods of 2 forwards either side of the ruck. We can call these pods prongs, due to their two points of attack. This may seem simple enough, but the players that are really making this system work are the ones circled in red.

England set up their 'prongs' attack
England set up their ‘prongs’ attack

The first player of note is Courtney Lawes, who is sitting behind the prongs. He is a roaming forward in this situation. He isn’t part of the prongs, but he is tasked with assisting whichever one gets the ball. This is critical against teams with pillaging loose forwards who will target the English rucks. With only one teammate to assist, players would often get isolated if this roaming forward wasn’t used.

The other two players of note are in back play. Wilson quickly backs up to the near touchline to spread the defence All Black’s style as we mentioned earlier. Sinckler may be on his way to the far side to do the same.

Now let’s take a look at some of the moves that can be built around this unique structure.

Eddie Jones’ Aussie-Influenced Strike Moves

Now that England has their fundamental system in place, they can start getting creative. Below we see the first two stages of the English attack all in one move. It starts with a pod of 3 forwards being used to hold up the Australian defenders, and then the prongs are used to strike at the hole that is subsequently created. It works beautifully as the big man is sent into a gaping hole.

England use the prongs off the back of a traditional pod
England use the prongs off the back of a traditional pod

We can think of this pattern as two lines of attack. In the first line, we have the pod of 3 forwards. In the second line, we have Farrell and the prongs. These lines start becoming more apparent as the moves become more advanced. The prongs are used as the first line in this example.

England setting up their two lines of attack
England sets up their two lines of attack

The second line is lead by Farrell, who is now able to exploit the space created by the first line. This isn’t far off a Rugby league attacking pattern, and has a distinctly Australian vibe to it.

England's tactics work perfectly as the second line exploits space
England’s tactics work perfectly as the second line exploits space

Farrell and the second line are now well set up after the second player in the prongs (blue circle) is used as a decoy. A nicely sold pass, and Farrell is through.

England’s tactics are also different in defence. You can read about how they used a special tackling method to shut down the All Blacks below.

How the Springboks Beating the All Blacks Impacts the World Cup

The 1014 Rugby have previewed the 6 Nations on their YouTube channel. See the following video for more information.

Do you think England’s innovative system can help them win the 6 Nations? Let us know your thoughts.

4 COMMENTS

  1. OK – that is very interesting. How does what you are saying here match with what Dan P was saying about the Scotland game England lost last season and why two man prongs could get out manoeuvred? Also the linked article to Eddie Jones attack was from before the last 6Ns where many of England’s problems were exposed.

    Also, England appear to have set up for attack differently in the 6Ns, the SA tour and the AI’s. Now as more of a connoisseur of front row play as an ex prop, I’m probably easily confused. But in 2016 when England were going so well, they had a balanced and mobile pack, vitally including Billy V, linked to a light but speedy set of backs, able to play at a high pace. After Billy was injured, England lost their way and Eddie selected three second rows, making the backs less able imo to play that quick style culminating in the 2018 6Ns

    So where are we now? Ford starting appears to have been dumped and more muscle selected in the backs (when fit) The pack is more like “its 2016” in style. Does the whole look like a team likely to move forwards after an awkward 2018?

    • This is a very fine comment Mike. Thanks for getting it through. The purpose of linking to those other articles has manifested itself in this comment. It shows there are a lot of moving parts in the England setup over the last little while. The tactics changed for the Irish match, what will we see this week and moving forward? Will it be the same tactics for each team… this is very unlikely, but the physicality will be there or thereabouts as it has been proved that that was a major part to the victory. All of these changes over the last 18 months, as you rightly point out, could be to do with Billy V. He is so important to the English gameplan.
      Time will tell, however, we do know from speaking to Warren Gatland over the summer down here that teams will definitely be playing different game plans against different teams.
      Cheers

  2. Thanks Steve – it was striking when looking at England last weekend was that the “2016-esque” forwards performance allowed the backs the time to play and for Farrell and others to bring runners into the game. The first SA Test in the summer was like a 20 minute foretaste of the Ireland game, in terms of overwhelming the opposition and scoring early (as England did in 2018, vs Italy, Wales, SA twice in the summer, NZ and Australia in the AIs) but vs SA, England then got matched upfront and it seemed like there was little ability to play some percentages.

    I’m hoping that the Ireland game wasn’t too much too soon. I guess we’ll see if anyone matches England and they have to think more!

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