“We Go Again”

Since 2016, these three simple words, screamed by players and captain alike, symbolise The England Way.

Hartley repeated it in the changing rooms after the Australia tour. Billy Vunipola screamed this to his players before their final first half scrum against Ireland. It has become something of a motto, a War Cry to drive the players to a higher mindset.

The drive to become relentless.

Ireland are an incredibly efficient, technically superior team. They do the basics and fine details to a level far beyond any other Rugby team.

But England came to play, under their arm they brought a fury for the fight and their new philosophy to launch against Ireland. The result, being in this writers opinion, one of the finest performances by an England team since November 2012.

This performance, was built on the England defence, as such, we’ll investigate the dynamics of the new England Way in defence, and why Eddie Jones has now fallen back to this as the cornerstone of the game.

The England Way – England in Defence

John Mitchell can be very proud. His defence, was sensational.

England made an unprecedented number of dominant tackles, and with the power of the defensive line England brought to bear, there was little that could be done about it. Their desire to get off the line, to get back in, to make bone crunching tackles, was relentless.

The John Mitchell Defence, is remarkably similar to the AB “Whip” defence, the dynamics of which are shown in the 5th article of the All Blacks series.

Hopefully, we can see the similarities.

There is a higher onus on physicality, but what I really have to admire, is the street smarts enlightened on the players by Mr Mitchell in their technical skills.

The Make Up

England, are happy to give the opposition the overlap in their new system. Generally, their tight 5 and pack are stationed closer to the ruck, with their back line players further out to act as the speed-men in case they are outflanked. The tight 5, as we will see, get through so much work in defence it’s scary.

What England are counting on however, is limiting the opposition’s earning the right to go wide. This means the priority for England are opposition “one out” pods.

England station their heaviest players here. The principle being if you target hard here, you will cut off near all wide attacks, before they can be launched.

As we saw ALL day against Ireland, if wide plays are launched off back foot ball, the defensive line has had time to reset. They’ll be on you before the ball can get past the 13 channel. Meaning not only do the attacks not achieve their aim, but you’re far further back than you were before. England were outflanked on occasions, and the gainline was broken, but the instances were few and far between. The majority of the time they had time to reset, realign and go again.

The whole game, they were assisted by some of the dynamics built into the defence. Let’s take a look at them.

The Double Hit

Englands defence is based on dominant tackles. They will constrict their line and happily give the overlap, if it means making dominant tackles. This is their defensive foundation.

This means they hunt in twos. Everything the tacklers do is meant to destabilise and delay the opposition ruck speed. Ireland’s breakdown is the best in the world. This is mainly due to their carriers falling in a position where they can immediately present the ball, with no adjustment. England’s double hit dynamic, didn’t allow this.

The England Way – Ireland 2019

England retain their chop tackle options but an extra addition we’ve seen, is the use of higher tackles. In a lot of one out tackles, the first hit from the 1st tackler is designed, to direct the tackler “up”. This is especially prevalent against upright runners. Straight from England’s Judo seminars, an opponent is always weaker with a higher centre of gravity, this first hit, lengthens the carrier.

This hit means they’re contained, latched onto, and stops momentum. The second tackler then cradles the arms and either holds up for the maul, or drives hard, taking advantage of their unstable position, grounding the carrier on their terms, as we can see clearly in the 2nd double hits. Their arms are still around the ball, slowing delivery and the ruck, allowing the defence to reset.

This is not the first game we’ve seen this.

The England Way – New Zealand 2018

The All Blacks were introduced to the double hit as well, and as can be seen, the lessons learnt can be seen against Ireland.

Itoje directs Savea up, allowing Farrell to come in for the rip.

Not happy with Jonny May’s intervention, Sinckler makes sure the tackle fast becomes dominant.

New Zealand are so sick of double hits by this point, that McKenzie clears Farrell out before he can affect it.

How Steve Hansen used 3 Gameplans during All Blacks v England

Plaudits must go to Mark Wilson, who over the Autumn Internationals, came in as the second tackler so many times to such destructive effect, that for me he has played himself into the starting 15.

The Result

This new defensive system is susceptible to quick ball, but England’s defence near squashes any chance of it. The urge England now have to double hit also results in mauls, which Ireland conceded against. Due to their accuracy at the breakdown, this hardly ever happens, yet England did it. If they keep slowing the ball down at source, they can realign in time, and go again.

The effects of slowing the ball down can be seen here, England reset, and gain near 20 metres, and a penalty.

Lawes here targets Ringrose, not buying the Outside Post Set Up. England have done their homework.

Yet again, we see Lawes make the tackle, as it isn’t dominant enough, another man comes in to hit. Who else, but the Indomitable Mark Wilson.

With one out runners contained with dominant hits, the opposition can only kick.

With players like May, Daly and Cokanasinga too in the back field. England will go again.

Opposition teams, will not like that.

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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.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Great article again Conor. I think relentless is the best word to use for what Eddie has wanted in his time with England. There were signs of it in 2016/17 in patches and definitely in part on the tour to SA and in the autumn. They seem now to have decided to use relentless defence as a means of attack to pressure opponents. With the ball they seem to start with the “brumby mode” you highlighted in earlier articles but have added some heads up play to turn teams with kicks and then hit them with a swarm.
    Exciting times for an England fan.
    Relentless

    • Thanks Rob, i fully agree with you.

      We’ve defo seen a lot of brumby mode, the tight 5 in particular have a knack of starting outside D3-D4 and then running into hit D1-D2. Something hypothetically discussed in the comments section of a Dan Pugsley article actually. Effective as it stretches the fringes before targeting them hard again. That dynamic will defo be shown in part 2. I’ll confess, i’m more excited about England now than I have been in a long time. Even on their streak.

      • Can’t wait for part 2, I wonder if being relentless is what Eddie means when he says he wants his team to play like England teams? Usually we have a big pack to dominate but he seems to be adding relentless pace and tempo too. If he gets it right and the team fully buy in then that’s a winning combo!

  2. Great, intelligent article again Conor. There are few places in the web where you get such clarity of the technical side of the game. It feels like both the games we’ve seen this sux nations have been founded in defence, so it will be interesting to see where this team takes this. As with any system there are weaknesses, and it would be interesting to know your thoughts on how you might counter this tactic?

    • Hi Oliver, Much appreciated mate!

      In regards to this, how i’d counter it and beat it is already written and ready to go in Article 5 of the All Blacks series. The principles of Englands and NZ’s defence are very similar and applies for both. Though that won’t be released until TRC times I can imagine. I won’t say anything more on that for now as i feel the article describes it best.

      The cross kick under flat circumstances are definitely good options, but i wouldn’t be a fan of such risky play when England’s back 3 are so good under the high ball, and so lethal in general. NZ will use this tactic however though. A key way of beating linespeed against the rush defence for them. The low hanging flat kick pass. Not enough air-time for the opposition back field to get across to nullify the intended catcher.

      • Great. Look forward to the NZ article. I love how Gareth calls the plays as “chess moves” on the 1014 YouTube videos, and I’ve started spotting this more and when watching the game.

        It’s a really exciting time for rugby; fantastic strength in the Northern Hemisphere and NZ and SA looking fierce.

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