Very well done Scotland. You completely and utterly outplayed us, and regardless of our own performance the potency of yours cannot be denied.

You were smart, accurate, and entirely ruthless. Qualities I usually attribute to this England team. On Saturday, from the get-go, you looked like the 2nd best team in the World, or at the least you made us look very ordinary.

The two tries that were called back (rightly so), did not cost England this game. We should’ve been good enough to nullify that. What frustrated me, was the lack of tactical nous at the breakdown. There won’t be another point today. This, for me, will be Eddie’s focus leading into the must-win French match; along with reconditioning and discipline.

Two prong system

England will continue with their “Two Prong” system. That’s not in doubt. This is not a time for wholesale changes as a lot of people have wrongly called for. However, we need to realise the dangers that come with it. Every system has inherent weaknesses, so it is a matter of knowing what these are and minimising their impact.

England were too slow to the ball. Yes, the intensity was lacking as Jones said, but, the Scots got over near every contestable ball and the referee gave them the penalty the majority of the time. Scotland read the referee superbly, (who had a good game).

But the big issue was that our breakdown processes were nullified, and, helped Scotland. You saw Barclay, Gilchrist, and Watson going in, and our back row attempting Croc Rolls and clear outs. The England back row were ineffective with their jackalling, and only when we tightened up our prongs as mentioned in Daniel Pugsley’s sensational article, did we start to forge positions where we could impact the ruck.

England depends on multi-phase play to score their points. This is the primary source. Every breakdown is an opportunity to cut off points, and Scotland did this superbly. Therefore, we have to wonder, why were we not quicker? Why did we not adapt?

We’ll discuss the breakdown dynamics that Jones will be focusing on, but this more continues along the vein of Daniel Pugsley, whom can take a lot of credit for this as he identified England’s problems, in particular, the breakdown, superbly.

Breakdown Dynamics

England needs to look at developing their back row balance. Of this, there cannot be any doubt. The two teams that have beaten us since the World Cup have targeted the breakdown and put a huge target on our backs. It needs to be removed. But how?

England miss Vunipola, however, Underhill, Simmonds and the Curry twins need to get fit and in contention for the 7 shirt. At points during the Scotland game, our breakdown work was effective. When the cleaner or nomad was close, one man rucking was an effective clear out. But we had problems, both of our own design, and those that Scotland created. Robshaw for me remains on the team at 6, but we need to develop our processes and contingency plans for the breakdown. As there are moments that opposition teams are winning, and winning these moments hugely increases the chances of our team being turned over with isolated Prongs. This facet of the game is what killed England’s chances last week.

Self Inflicted Errors

Not Securing the delivery area

As Dan stated, England shortened their Prong width to allow a greater chance of support coming from the prior ruck. However, there are self-inflicted errors, that caused us issues, and whilst England must ensure they clear the jackal off the breakdown they must make sure they are able to maintain a presence in the ruck. This brings us to “Croc Rolls“.

Croc Rolls

For the uninitiated, a Croc Roll is a technique where rather than driving a jackal back off the ball, you simply roll them off the ball to the side. This takes them off their feet and legally out of the contest. All in all, it is a good technique.

However, it and the Prong system, go together like Cake and Paprika.

The problem between them is that Croc rolling within the Prong means that not only the jackal is off the ball, but our other forward is as well. Leaving a man on the floor with no support.

Example 1

This is not the first time in the game this happened. Croc rolls can no longer be an option for England in the “Prong” setup without a close nomad, as it leaves the England carrier completely and utterly unprotected. It usually means a back, most often a scrum-half needs to form the ruck.

NOTE: In the above, please keep note of Hartley’s entry position, when he finally clears McInally in the first ruck.

Example 2

Here, is where the same principle, was adhered to on the Scottish 5-metre line, and again England paid dearly.

The Prongs were closer in the second half as illustrated by Dan, and this led to far more multi-phase passages for England. In future, England needs to finish their clear out in a position on top of the ball carrier, and as such, have a ruck formed. Overcommitting here shows a lack of clear thinking in their decision making and cost England dearly in this game.

Example 3

The “Croc Roll”, cannot and will not work in England’s Prong system without a very close nomad. As it quite simply gives the opposition Jackals the ball on a plate. In this example, we see Barclay go through to rightly and legally ruck the ball, and Gray secures him in there so Launchbury as the nomad cannot influence the outcome. This earns a penalty.

Scotland’s Subtlety

Example 1

If we have a look at Robshaw, he is not, necessarily in the worst position, in the lead up to the turnover. He isn’t far from Ford, and it is quite simply lightspeed work from Barclay to get over the ball. (In a near perfect position I might add). What is disheartening, is the technique he uses to attempt the clear-out.

Barclay could be thought of like a Triangle here.

Robshaw comes in, and rather than hitting low, wrapping his arms under Barclay’s torso, and driving him up off the ball, he wraps around Barclays lower back and legs at his highest point, the tip of the triangle. Giving him significantly less leverage in the clear-out. In fact, we can see how ineffective it is, as Robshaw’s hit hardly moves Barclay at all, instead, Robshaw slips around Barclay’s body, before Barclay even starts creaking in his body position.

Look at Ryan Wilson, Scotland’s No.8 in the lead-up. As Ford goes to ground, he steps and moves to the openside, in FRONT of Robshaw in the cleaning lane. There is no impact here, but, this in another situation, will block a cleaner who is closer to Ford, and buy their own jackal a second, to latch onto to ball.

By running across this path, he momentarily can obstruct cleaners, making their job far harder, and his team’s job far easier. This is exacerbated in England’s Prong system, seeing as if the cleaner is taken out or put to the ground behind the carrier, the nomads are still a fair distance away. And a jackal can present a very favourable picture to the referee, which turns the odds in his team’s favour.

Example 2

Here, we again see the Scottish No.8 attempt to occupy the cleaning lane and give his jackal an extra half second to set himself in position. This, along with the support player being grounded or slipping, much like Courtney Lawes in the Italy game, can lead to an astonishingly easy turnover.

How will Eddie fix it?

The Scotland game has exposed England’s breakdown. So much so that you could argue that it will arguably cause an overhaul of England’s entire breakdown dynamics.

The Irish have shown the effect of precise breakdown work. England will obviously be working on this area of their game as Scotland have managed to make it a huge target for any other teams playing England.

Though the question remains, How?

Well, there are a few options, of which we saw between 3 and 4 in the second half:

  1. Stop Croc-Rolling
  2. Closer Nomads
  3. 4-8 Entry – meaning enter the ruck between the imaginary 4 and 8 “hour hands” of a clock
  4. Tighter knit prongs

The following example shows a bit of all of the first three options.

This, England did a lot towards the last 20. It allows England to target a weak side of the jackal, yet all the while presenting the cleanest picture to the referee and encouraging leniency and the flow of the game. They’re not hitting perfectly through the gate, but enough that the referee is happy. Hartley did this earlier also, as explained in the side note (above).

This is very clever. It is easier to clear the jackal out from the side, as their entire body position is set to resist force from the front. Which is one of the main reasons entering from the side is illegal.

This not only reduces the time taken to get to the hit point, as they don’t have to retreat. But it allows them to target a naturally weaker position.

Tighter Knit Prongs

As Dan mentioned in his article. Having the Prongs closer together, much like Brumby Mode, allows the previous ruck to help secure the ball. This allowed England to string their 15 phases together. Here, it is imperative. It shows the danger of the support player (Itoje) being out of the game, and without Lawes’ intervention, 15 phases of attack would very quickly be over.

If the Prongs were loose, this would be an immediate loss in possession or a penalty. This means that Point 2 (closer nomads) is significant against teams with multiple jackaling threats. On top of this, they have to be well versed in breakdown technique, enter through the 4-8 for maximum efficiency, and hit with intent in order to ensure ball retention. Greater intent and greater technique will be vital in going forward.

If they don’t raise these areas of their game, and teams station their back rowers around the ruck this will nullify England’s entire attacking plan.

If England want to continue to be successful, this cannot happen.


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 very informative article.

    I also remember seeing Itoje’s croc-roll at example 3, whilst watching the game. A poor decision to go for the roll given the Scottish player was already off his feet and out of the game. This seemed to encapsulate England’s performance at the breakdown, which was exacerbated by poor decision-making and lack of accuracy. Is there more that the ball carrier can do to help the supporting players though? i.e. driving through contact (to give time for support to arrive) and working on the floor to move the ball away from the competing player.

    One other thing, Robshaw’s work-rate in the first example is pretty impressive. He is the ball carrier in the preceding phase, gets immediately to his feet and assists Itoje with the next clear-out (though his accuracy was then a bit off).

    • Thanks very much mate. Glad you enjoyed it!

      As for your 1st point. I couldn’t agree more. Seeing as we only put one man in, we should be being far more efficient then we are. The carrier can angle his run approach or his support can alter his alignment so he doesn’t get caught inbetween him and an opposition player or taken out. Like we saw with Itoje and Lawes had to intervene.

      Theres a few. I love, the Irish precision on it. There carriers near fall, into contact, and are already protected within their pod so the opposition don’t even have a likely chance of contesting the ball.

      As for Robshaw. I fully agree on his work rate. I am a big fan, and at 6 he has the potential to be as huge as Richard Hill was for us. Though he could improve his speed, but the key there was he wasn’t smart. He allowed himself to be worked off the ball, which wasn’t any Scotland influence but all his and as such we suffered. I am 100% not doubting his commitment and dedication in an England shirt. Just working smart beats working hard for me 80% of the time. 5 metres from the line. You have to keep your head. You apply his energy, work rate and effort a little bit more efficiently, there isn’t a team on the planet who wouldn’t take him.

  2. Great article, England need to stop thinking so much and just smash the opposition off the ruck, then attack through it close to the ruck and the gaps will appear out wider. the basics still hold, go forward first and then you can get wide whichever way you wish.

  3. Brilliant article Conor, I love the way you used Gifs here as it adds a lot to the explanation. I learned some new things from reading your stuff, as always! For one thing, the penny hadn’t dropped for me on the connection between croc rolls in 2 man rucks and the scrum half getting sacked until I read this. I agree about the back row balance. I would love to see Simmonds at 6 and a Curry twin at 7 as I think it would be an exciting blend of carrying, linking and breakdown skills, while not losing out on workrate, but I fully agree Robshaw is one of our best players. Thanks for the shout out on my article too 🙂

    • Thanks mate! And no worries about the shout out. Was a brilliant article 🙂 Hoping for a reply from England in the France game. If we have any chance of winning the trophy we certainly need one!

      Simmonds is back in the training squad also. Truly hoping for him to come good over training. He really could be a potent starter or finisher. Hes so good he could do both.

  4. In the last example does Itoje clean out / block a Scots tackler before the contact?
    It looks to me that he runs between the tackler and the ball carrier and that is why he is unavailable to support. Penalty Scotland? (Yes, I’m biased I freely admit it)

  5. Hi Conner, really great article. It is a pleasure to read something that is able to explain and educate about the game, unlike so much mainstream commentary.

    Having read the above and watched the footage you presented it seems that their was actually a technical failure on England’s part, the proceeds the strategic failure of engaging in the “croc roll”
    In a lot of your footage, the Scottish jackler/defender always managed to get into the contest with their shoulders lower than the opposition.
    Effectively this left the player clearing out little option but to crick roll.
    I think that your contention that England were tactically poor at the breakdown, really doesn’t do Scotland justice, their technical superiors really dictated options to England.

    • Thanks Mark.

      I’ll agree that Scotlands positioning was good. I just felt 4-8 entry would’ve dealt with it better from my perspective. We saw England do a conscious shift to that in the second half. Which did have a big impact, but I felt came too late for England to have any impact on the game. England have to react better to that to be the best team in the world.

  6. I am not sure who should be in th third row. Hughes or Vunipolo at 8, robshaw or Simmonds at 6 possibly one at 6 one at seven, Underhill and curry brothers potentially at seven but what is obviously clear is that Jones cannot continue to take world class second rows like Lawes and itoje and make them into non world class number 6s. In addition, maybe it is time to think about adding more speed at hooker and at tighthead prop. Cole and Hartley are fantastic in the set piece still but it comes at a cost in open field play. George and Cowan dickie and Williams and Sinkler would at least make England faster in attack support and on defense.


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