Well done Ireland on your Championship. You have been by far the most consistent and relentless team in the competition and I fully congratulate you on a splendid tournament.

But now, it’s to Twickenham, where you bring your structure, your organisation and clinical efficiency to without a doubt the hardest game England will play.

Whilst the breakdown has been a problem, a lot of the issues that were addressed in the Scotland article, are identical to what we saw during the France game, the precision, and accuracy at the breakdown is a far cry from anything we can see Ireland doing.

However, what assists the opposition, is the play “Off 9”.

I cannot say how much we are missing Ben Youngs at the moment. Plus, the way we are running our options off 9 is causing a lot of the issues that we see at the breakdown as we are simply not running on with any intensity.

We will go into a little of the breakdown work, but then we will see the differences that “Brumby Mode” Philosophies and Intensity onto the ball caused to the breakdown result.

I’m going to show you two examples of England’s breakdown failings against the French, then, we are going to isolate the one killer principle that they have in common. After this, we’ll look at some of the England periods of dominance, and isolate how the play off 9 influenced them.

As always, let’s get into it.

Breakdown Failings Repeated

Example 1

As we can see here, even with a “3 Pod” to try and commit more men to the breakdown, we nearly lose our ball, within the 5-metre line.

Example 2

To note a common principle, that is KILLING England at the breakdown. Look at Haskell and Itoje in the first, and then Jamie George in the second. Neither, latch onto their man. They focus on hitting the opposition Jackals, rather than focusing on holding onto the carrier, and going into the ruck with them. This fatal flaw has led to Itoje and Haskell driving themselves entirely off their carrier, leaving Richard Wigglesworth to try and remove forwards who then flood into the ruck. The same problem happened with Itoje and Robshaw in the Scotland game with a Croc Roll, which left Lawes presenting the ball directly to a Scottish Jackal.

The Irish on the other hand, latch onto their man as they go into contact, ensuring formation of the ruck as the carrier is going down, and giving the opposition no opportunity to contest the breakdown. This ensures increased chances of ball retention and opposition influence. You also have to look at the French 6.

Using the same subtlety Scotland used, he managed to manoeuvre himself into the English “Cleaning Lane”, therefore tripping Robshaw and decreasing the chances of an effective clearout.

This wouldn’t have happened regardless, France were well set, but England must start focusing on securing their ruck, before clearing men off the ball. As this is killing them.

Play Off 9

The French D was effective, as can be seen in the second example in the breakdown portion. Whenever the French had momentum in the hit, they were able to jackal for turnovers/penalties, and at the least slow the ball down considerably. The antithesis to England’s multi-phase game. However, the way England played off 9, did not help. Launchbury and Mako, are two of England’s very powerful forwards, yet the play off 9 to them resulted in catching the ball static. The ONLY player I would say who can get away with this and making metres is Billy Vunipola. Sadly, injured.

Aside from this, passing static allowed the French D to rush England’s 1 out offence and give them the momentum they used for Jackalling. Danny Care occasionally scooted to fix the 1st Pillar. When he did this, it stopped the push, but it was few and far between.

This changed, on multiple occasions, when we went into Brumby Mode.

Sinkler and Haskell

Inspired by Sinckler and Haskell (they were the only rested players in the lineup and emphasises that England may be a little fatigued). Regardless, they came on, and went into Brumby mode, taking the ball flat and hard, attacking the same channel. It gave England the momentum they had missed all game.

We have the 2nd example above for an example of play off 9. This was the way by which France gained momentum. England were catching the ball static. It shows a lack of intensity that was changed completely when England went back into their focus on physicality. Thereby improving their quick ball, and creating momentum which made their structures and Prong attacks far more effective.

Whenever England have used Brumby mode they have been effective. And even heavyweight teams have struggled to keep with them. Why we abandoned it, I don’t know. But using static runners does not work, especially when we are as inefficient as the breakdown as we are, and the following examples, are key examples of how much better we can play.

Example 1

Here, we can see the players off Care receiving the ball unbelievably flat, and fast. This prohibits any form of rush up as the ball is not out, and with the power they bring, got us gainline. Noticeably, it prevented any contest for the ball, as the line was still moving onside when the next attack was launched. It also shows when Sinckler received the ball static, he didn’t have the impact he made on his first carry and gave the jackal a chance.

This is what England have to improve against Ireland.

Example 2

In this second example, we see how the run and alignment when Sinckler takes the ball affects the gainline from above. England commits multiple defenders, and free up space out wide, which if taken, could have won England the game. Could have. They didn’t take it.

It also shows the impact of a fast back rower. As Simmonds had separation, yet, with his speed, is able to form the ruck before turnover. Something Jones may want to think about.

Example 3

This is not as potent as Sinckler’s runs, but we see here with forward momentum, how well the England attack can work. If they play flat, and if they run with intensity, going forwards.

Jones will be keen to remind them that speed and gainline will make quick ball easier, even within the Prongs. Add in a rejig of the breakdown philosophies and considering starting a faster more mobile back row the chances for the long-term success of the England Attack will increase.


Author: Conor Wilson

Recently retired from the Military, Skydiving and rare Steak Enthusiast 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.


  1. Thank you for another great article.

    I just wanted to ask about the impact of Ben Youngs. You mention at the start how much England are missing him – is that due to his influence on the play off 9, or other tactical aspects of England’s attack?

    Also, regarding selection, could the loss of Lawes for the Ireland game (despite being, in my view, one of the pack’s best performers) be a blessing in disguise for Jones? Starting Simmonds and Haskell in the back row would add that extra pace and power, and I would also consider starting Kruis ahead of Itoje (who has lacked accuracy this tournament, as you have highlighted before). Promoting Marler, Sinckler and Wigglesworth to the starting line-up would also bring in powerful carriers and control from 9. I note that Armand has been called up – might he get a place on the bench? Added to this, perhaps a 6-2 bench split may be the best way to counter this Irish pack e.g. in light of the above changes, a bench including Vunipola, George/Hartley, Cole, Itoje, Armand, Mercer….? Mercer has been performing well of late, and his last ditch chase down on Smith two weekends ago, especially when the game was already lost, shows his desire. It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on selection.

    • I think Youngs is able to scoot, and run the play off 9 just generally better. Plus his timing of pass and knowledge with ford is a massive massive bonus for us and something we do need to maintain.

      I think Simmonds and Haskell could work very well actually. I liked Haskells impact. But to be honest I’m just waiting for the Summer tour. Hopefully we can get Underhill, the Currys, Simmonds and maybe Shields embedded in the squad. Which would be a massive, massive bonus for us. As for me, along with Billy those guys are the future. Though Mercer could also be a very good player. Though I think hes a little lightweight currently. But he certainly adds another dynamic to the way we play.

      • Well, you called it. England have no threat off 9 anymore, which was a large part of their game under Jones when Young’s was there. I really hope Robson is given a go in SA, as he has shown he can fight with Young’s for the jersey. Care and Wigglesworth make one excellent international-level scrum half between them, but unfortunately the rules don’t allow for that.

  2. Just a very simple question, are the players doing what Eddie is coaching them to do, so EJ has the tactics wrong or are the players not practising what they have been coached?

    The greatest concern was that those players with least squad exposure were looking most focused and effective, suggesting something not quite right in the camp?

    • One thing I’d also add is that, in every example posted above, the ball presentation by the carrying player (and work on the floor) is always poor. In most carries the players end up lying sideways across the pitch, making it easy to jackal. Even in Sinckler’s dominant carries, he is guilty of flopping on the ball and presenting poorly.

      Another game, similar problems. As you say, is this coaching or just the players not executing?

      • I’d say their may not be a set way of presenting the ball in the Premiership clubs, as such, they may have their own techniques that are England based. But they aren’t as accurate as those of the Irish.

        Don’t get me wrong the Irish will land sideways often. A big part of their training is landing in a position where they can immediately present the ball and don’t have to wiggle. But their carriers are immediately supported by their cleaners. As such the ball is secured. England will probably have to attempt to Crown a little bit more. So as to attempt to align the body back towards our own tryline with the body stretched to try and ensure no jackal gets a hand on it.

        They key with that is making sure our cleaner is there quickly. Which with momentum, did happen, and quick ball resulted from said Brumby mode.

        I think Jones coached it, as we did it very effectively against Wales. But against Scotland and France we just weren’t at the races. Hence i think it maybe execution from the players. But thats only a guess to be fair.

        • Thanks for the replies, I was surprised by the EJ interview which intimated the players at fault, but I was wondering what was being practised in training.

          I also really noticed how well Italy, even though being beaten, looked after the ball into contact, with a care that England didn’t and so in turn made it v hard for the follow up players

  3. Great article again Conor. I think England are just physically and mentally shattered at the moment which combined with key injuries leaves the team a bit off. I really hope Eddie takes leaves a lot of players at home this summer to give them a rest and to get some depth with other players especially half backs used to how he wants to play. When they can play brumby mode they look very effective but I think we need some younger fresher players introduced to it. Cowan-Dickie, Sinkler, Simmonds and Haskell all carried hard and well as you pointed out so it’s not all doom and gloom yet.

    • I think he will Rob. For me the summer is the rest period his players need to regenerate and, bring in the new blood so we’re prepped for next year. We gain nothing from taking our entire experienced team out to SA this summer.

      A few key stalwarts yes. But I imagine Marcus Smith, Velacott, Curry Twins, Simmonds, Underhill, Isiekwe, Earles, Mercer, Armand, Shields, Tuilagi, Lozowski, Slade and many others will get their shot. The guys that really do well. I think will then be inserted into the Autumn Internationals squad with our 1st 23 where we will finally see the large scale mixing of the Old and the new. The AI’s will be the testing ground, the 6Ns and summer games will then give them the game time to cement those combinations in fully. Ready for the World Cup.

      • I think we should replay the Argentina tour, ie don’t pick any lions and try to get some attacking ability back. If they do ok against SA, keep some of them for the November internationals, if not, bring the old squad back. I’d like robshaw and brown not to go too, but I’m not sure Jones will go that far, although I would let Woodward have a go at showing he can be an attacking full back like Watson, and robshaw just stops us finding out more about other back rows.

        • How about Woodward, Solomona, Slade, Tuilagi, May; Ford, Robson; Genge, Cowan-Dickie, Williams; Launchbury, Ewels; Armand, Underhill, Hughes? All solid candidates for the world cup squad, no development players as it’s a bit late for that. Then a bench of Taylor, Hepburn, Thomas, Isiekwe, Simmonds, Maunder, Smith, Earle?

        • Hi Mark. Agree with pretty much all of that. Today Jones has said as I hoped that he will be resting his lions and senior players over SA and this is truly essential, if England are to re-energise and refresh their men.

          I would take a few stalwarts, as well as the newbies out and give them game time in SA. Development should be the primary for this tour. And as vital as Ford is to England. Smith should be given a game. For me, it’d be a perfect time to introduce him.

  4. i understand that training guy for England thinks he can make long term gains by working the players really hard now. I have rather large doubts about that. When the same guy coached Japan to RWC 15 he had the squad for 6 months clear and when he did the same for Australia it was over 12 months with the full cooperation of the Franchises. Neither situation is happening in England, the players are just knackered for no gain IMO.

    • To be honest mate Dean Benton is probably the top S+C Conditioning coach in the World. He has 4 years to get ENG fitter than the All Blacks, whom had many, many more years under Gilly, their Coach who is a class act also. I know it seems harsh, but it wouldn’t at all surprise me if the 1st 23 players are given their rest this summer, and the newer lads come in. Therefore we hit the AI’s with a fit and refreshed side. Who already have their high level of fitness, and can then build incrementally on that towards the WC.

      I’d rather get the massive gains, and likelihood of burnout in this period rather than the Summer leading up to the WC. If we get the majority of the work done this year, rest up over summer. It means rather than having to go all guns blazing next year in our pre WC training camp, and arriving fatigued like we are now, and like we were in RWC 2015. We only have to add on the finishing touches as our fitness will already be there. Meaning we hit the WC fit and refreshed. Its a working theory admittedly. But better we go hard now and have our dip here then we will WC time.

  5. I have no doubts about his CV but in each of his last two fitness successes, the structure was in place. The Japanese players only had The rwc to concentrate on, it matter not how they were in The preceding 6 months, or frankly afterwards. The English game will still have the Prem and Euro games and all the rest. As far as I know there is no coordination between club and country, indeed there has already been one public clear the air between club and Eddie. Without a club plan, and owners will want the players at peak for the Prem etc, its sure going to be v hard to achieve a peak at the RWC?

    On a training aside, even Mo Farah aims to peak from 5 months back. I did sports science at uni a while back and reading what is publically available, its difficult to see the benefits of beasting mid season, already knackered players. Look, more than happy to be 100% wrong, but I have concerns about player welfare as well as the potential for it losing the squad.

    • Unfortunately we are years from central contracts. But the RFU has improved relationships with the clubs thank goodness. The owners generally want their players to play for them but the players want England colours. I find that pretty key. The RFU have systems in place where for every EQP on the team sheet (England qualified player). The club get six figures. Plus there was a huge amount of money given to the clubs from the RFU so they would be forced to rest players for part of the season, and have England training more time with them.

      I’m not a sports scientist so you’d know far more than me on the peaking side of things. But Eddie and Benton would’ve taken it into consideration you have to think. I’m praying the SA tour is lightly manned in terms of our nailed on experienced players. As the players are tired, of that there can be no doubt.

      • I’m hoping the SA tour is a rest phase for some senior players. In terms of judgement (and I am a biased Wasps fan) I was concerned that even with all the science, Hughes was rushed back for Scotland when he barely made it through half a Prem game for Wasps a week or so before and they selected Te’O vs Italy when clearly not fit nor match fit and Daly vs France when he hadn’t played a game in weeks and was struggling to make the 80.

        The financial incentives are there for clubs, but I think Wasps (as an example) see value in non English qualified players as they get season long control and less disruption, de Jongh and Willie le Roux have been huge for us this season. It was great that Robson didn’t get selected and I suppose I am a bit p’ed about Sam Jones injury with England too! Wasps are keen to promote England players, but there is a balance between the honour and the hassle. I’d like to know what Dai Young thinks in private!

        • like you a biased Wasps fan and i don’t understand why some of our talented players dont even get a look in, nor why Jones plays them outside of their natural positions. Daly trains as a centre for Wasps – play him there as we know thats what he’s good at, and put Wade out on the Wing – though I’m selfishly glad Wadey isn’t picked, nor Robson.
          On your fitness post, injured players should prove themselves at club level first; not doing so has now lost us Hughes for the rest of the season which Eddie Jones, I sure, doesn’t care one jot about. Rushing them back into play is as bad as playing them too much.
          finally I think a big problem for England is that there is no competition for places – once you’re in thats it. No reason to fight for your place because they coach thinks you’ll learn from your defeats. Make players hungry for the shirt and they might want it more, but currently I don’t see that hunger

  6. Fantastic observations and illustrations, again Conor.

    My major concern is that it was very reminiscent of the previous week’s shortcomings. These players know how to clean rucks, secure ball, support carriers etc, but it seems systematic in that we are actively keeping forwards away/wider. Maybe a byproduct of smaller pods is that we leave a ruck in a messy/unattended state, ripe for poaching.

    EJ will know what’s going on, just as he would have known from the Scotland game, but we didn’t address this, and continued with our seemingly deliberate neglect of support. That’s what it looks like, for me anyway. I mean it could be a result of fatigue and/or low confidence too.

    Will we see a different approach vs Ireland? Have the new laws exposed our game plan? Cheers.

    • There has to be a different approach to selection against Ireland or we will be well beaten – by 20-30 points. We cannot fix the breakdown ills in a week but we can select players that will make it more difficult for Ireland. Unfortunately, good as he has been, I believe that we need to drop Robshaw to enable a more competitive breakdown performance. Until we get the backrow balance right then we cannot afford to play a ‘bits and pieces’ player such as Robshaw. If we had Billy and a genuine openside then Robshaw would compliment that backrow but we don’t and he needs to make room for someone with more pace and heft. My backrow for this game (given Eddie’s squad selection) would be Haskell/Armand/Simmonds.
      My other change would be to start Wigglesworth and task him with getting us into the areas we want to play with control, box and line kicks, utilising forward runners etc. Then we could bring on Danny Care against a tiring Ireland. He is far more effective as a ‘finisher’.

  7. As a progressing referee im confused, you cant play the ball in a ruck unless you have hands on the ball before the ruck is formed England rucked players out only to find french players not driving over the unprotected ball but bending down and picking it up. The referees have either changed the laws without telling everyone else or i have missed a page out the law book

    • You’re right as hands in ruck aren’t allowed. But I think the reason behind it was because if the cleaners actually go off the ruck, as they did in the gif, I think they’ve taken themselves out of the ruck and therefore the Jackals are entitled to the ball. France didn’t make Englands cleaners move off the ruck. They did it of their own whim and therefore France are entitled to the ball as the ruck isn’t formed anymore. Thats why I think penalties have been so easily given.

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