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.
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“.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Stop Croc-Rolling
- Closer Nomads
- 4-8 Entry – meaning enter the ruck between the imaginary 4 and 8 “hour hands” of a clock
- 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.