Warren Gatland came into this game knowing he needed to prevent England from kicking his side to defeat. To do this, he came up with some genius ways to stack the backfield and unsettle the English kickers and chasers. We have already covered how Liam Williams positioning helped overcome England’s kicking. In this article, we will look at the Wales v England tactics from the perspective of his coach.
This is how Warren Gatland used unique backfield tactics to give Wales the edge and extend their winning streak.
The dual fullback system | Wales v England tactics
England thrived against Ireland and France when they could bounce the ball into the backfield, and then bring the white wall up to cut off all exits for the unlucky player who got to the ball. Gatland hedged against this by playing an extra player in the backfield. Let’s look at the positioning of Wales below.
Wales are basically playing two fullbacks, betting that England won’t try and run the ball from their own half (a pretty safe bet). Here Williams takes the ball and Anscombe comes across to cover fullback.
When Biggar (blue circle) comes on he plays the exact same role. He is now in the second fullback position below.
Wales use their two fullbacks to get the ball out to the opposite sideline as fast as possible. Unfortunately, Alun Wyn Jones makes a mistake and possession is lost in this case. A very rare occurrence.
Aside from playing two fullbacks, Wales also switched their wingers around once the teams took the field. Let’s investigate why Gatland would do this.
The winger switch | Wales v England tactics
The reason for putting North on the left wing and Adams on the right wing becomes evident when you see the following clip.
North is taller than his new opposite Nowell, and can potentially win more aerial battles on this side. On the other side, Adams is now up against Jonny May. He takes a great catch under pressure in the below clip.
The point of all this is also to unsettle the English defenders. They would have been preparing for one picture, but when they take the field they are faced with a different one. A very smart and subtle move from Gatland.
The last way Wales defended kicks wasn’t in the backfield. They instead tried to prevent England from kicking in the first place.
Targeting Owen Farrell | Wales v England tactics
Wales had their 10 defending in the backfield, meaning Owen Farrell was technically left unmarked. Gatland adjusted for this by using his no. 9 Davies to target Farrell throughout the game, especially disrupting his kicks. Let’s see if it worked.
Below a 22 dropout occurs and we can see Davies ready to charge straight at Farrell at full tilt. Wilson runs a line to block him.
As Farrell gets the kick away we can clearly see Alun Wyn Jones messing with Sinkler, a player Gatland called a ‘ticking time bomb’ prior to the game. This obviously isn’t necessary to stop the kick but is interesting to see none the less.
We have already discussed how the brilliant positioning of Liam Williams neutralised many of England’s kicks. You can read about that below.
But Wales also had a backup plan if England won the competition in the air. Watch the line taken by Navidi below along the red arrow.
He is expecting Nowell to tap the ball back and positions himself for this. Wales would do this throughout the game, wrapping up plenty of loose ball on their way to 65% possession.
We will finish on an example of Gatland’s targeted defence paying off. Davies finds his mark this time and stops the kick before it happens.
What do you make of the tactics Gatland used to stop the England kicking game in its tracks? Are England too one dimensional? Let us know your thoughts.
Author: The 1014 Rugby and Henry Stokes