Power, pace and precision. When looking at England’s new attacking ethos, we must look at what England now have, that they didn’t in the past two years. The kicking attack…
It does not take a rugby savant, to realise that since the Autumn Internationals, England have demoted the subtlety and finesse of the past 3 years. Instead, focusing on brutal, relentless power, combined with with speed of the back 3, and an emphasis on smart tactical kicking.
As we saw against Wales, it doesn’t always work out. I maybe a romantic, but feel there is always a place for the attacking fly-half, hence why against Wales, Ford for me needed to come on to generate more width.
Today, we’re going to look at the dynamics of the new England Attack, its strengths, and its inherent weaknesses as well.
Kicking Attack | The Kicking Game
England are blessed, with arguably one of the best and fastest back 3’s in the world when fully fit.
Just look at the players England can choose from; Elliot Daly, Jack Nowell, Anthony Watson, Joe Cokanasinga, and of course, Jonny May. There is not one player in that list that will not trouble opposition defences. Jones understandably, wants to use them. Kicking ahead, well, we’ve seen how the pressure from Englands back 3 has caused problems here.
There are two key ways that England have implemented their kicking game to their advantage.
Kicking Attack | The Trapper Exit
England have implemented the “Trapper Kick”. A Box kick exit strategy from Youngs that starts on the 15m line, and always lands around the 5m line. England do not like playing in their own half, hence this is used often.
This is designed for two possible outcomes.
- To regain possession, drawing the opposition winger up and kicking to space on the follow up.We can see here, how England’s speed at the ruck enabled England to regather and kick on the follow up before Ireland had reset.
2. To force the opposition into touch by use of England’s fastest winger. Jonny May.
England’s detail into this exit strategy, is really a testament to their organisation. In all of these kicks, Jonny May is up flat, meaning he has the best chance of reclaiming the ball. On top of this, if we look at all the rucks formed on the 15m line, the second the ball is kicked, a minimum of 2 players in the ruck break out as chasers. Immediately forming a line with an outside runner just outside the 15m channel. Every time, they combine to form an “Umbrella” on the inside of Jonny May to prevent the ball being passed out wide before the defence can realign.
Kicking Attack | The Umbrellas
The Umbrella is a reinforcement option, to ensure the ball is taken out of play as shown by Itoje assisting May. Simultaneously, if the ball is tapped back by the winger, they can take it to reset the ruck, and action their follow up kick, or implement their next kicking strategy.
Kicking Attack | The 10 Kick
This leads us onto the 10 kick.
Owen Farrell has to a certain degree, proved me wrong. I still would have George Ford at 10 in my opinion, as we can vary our game dramatically with him at 10, however, Farrell’s game management in particular has been exemplary of late. The details of the new ball in hand attack is discussed in Part 3.
However, Farrell, as improved as he is, is not the same sort of attacking fly half.
This is not a criticism. There are many different fly-halves out there, the Dan Carter we know and love today is not the rapid attacking threat that tore apart the Lions in 2005, however, he is still one of the best in the World. I feel Ford could’ve made a difference if he’d come on in the Wales game, and this is due to Farrell’s deference to the kicking game.
We have seen Farrell make some exceptional passes, but they are often sequence based, rather than chosen on the fly. A lot of the time, the kick is made.
Why is this a Problem?
The problem, is that a team should always attack space. Jones himself has preached this when questioned about England’s kicking game over the first 2 rounds.
Sometimes you can attack the wings, other times around the fringes as Wales showed a clear indication on against England in Brumby Mode, other times the back field. All are linked. Once you’ve attacked one of them and made ground, there will be space to take in one of the two. This is where you need the ability to recognise when to switch between Plan A to C or B to A. So that you’re constantly attacking weaknesses. Opportunities multiply as they are seized.
The problem is that England are not exploring all options in taking the space, and a key is that too many kicks, are coming off Owen Farrell.
This seems to be programmed into us, when we haven’t bought the Winger up. France and Ireland both had elements of inexperience in their back 3. Wales did not, and this told accordingly.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are times this is the right option. The above being a key example. But as we can see, Sinckler knows it’s a kick, and it immediately goes to Farrell. However, it seems pre-programmed.
Ultimately this is something Eddie Jones may be insisting England master, as to be ready as a style of play by the World Cup. It wouldn’t surprise me.
What we can see here, is textbook Brumby Mode to start with. With England keen to target the inside of the first defender. Even using footwork to step inside to target here. As we will see in article 3, England have been doing targeting the fringes a lot in this new system.
However, we also see Ford receive the ball, and dance his way across the field, bringing up the Winger to give May a better shot at the chase. The first instinct isn’t to kick, but to find and create space, and we can see the effect. It’s decision making, but wide plays haven’t been the default forté under the new England. There is still a place for them.
Henry Slade, is an accomplished kicker. A pass to him is far more likely to draw the opposition Winger up, allowing any kick made by him to have a higher chance of recollection and exploiting via the chase.
For me, this needs to become more prevalent. By kicking off 10, we are relying on a bounce of the ball or poor positioning by the back 3 in order to recollect. Unless of course we have engineered a substantial overlap. Off 13, we are drawing the winger up, thinning the backfield, and pitting speedy wingers against opposition wingers. These opposition wingers need to turn. And in turn, hand the initiative to England.
By allowing the pass to 13, we expand our options. We not only draw the man up, we retain the catch and pass option for the overlap if it’s on. If the kick is then made, it’s made with a higher chance of regaining possession, similar to the Scotland way.
Catch and Pass still has a place in the modern game. In the drive to perfect a new style of play, we cannot forget the effect of utilising multiple skillsets, to fully play what we see in the moment.
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.