Hi guys. After a boring January and December the 2019 rugby season is suddenly upon us quicker than a John Mitchell defence. The Six Nations tournament started with a bang this weekend and it especially was the match between Ireland and England that demand our attention.
We have all read about the tactics by England that gave them the victory, especially the defence, but I wanted to look little bit deeper to see what else was going on in terms of technique, coaching and attitude.
Below we will look at a sequence from the 68th minute, but we will start at the end and then go backwards to see how and why big moments happen in rugby…
The picture above is the end result. The Irish senter Ringrose have been caught deep without support by Lawes and he will concede three points for holding on. What we must note is that this occurred during normal phase play. In other words, it happened when Ireland had possession of the ball and was meant to be dictating. How does it happen that a defence can dictate to the attack?
Above we see the moment just before. There so many white jerseys coming that the Irish look like they caught in a snow avalanche. And if we look at Lawes we can almost see him put some braai sauce on Ringrose before he eat him up like a little snack. How does a lock get into a position to shoot up like this?
The answer is in the picture above. O’Brien play out the backdoor of the pod to Sexton, and Sexton will pass to Ringrose. But notice how quickly the English defenders is adjusting and shifting their interest away from the decoy runners and towards that deeper players already. And more important, look how far up the outside English defence already is. I have marked the offside line so we can see how much ground they already covered.
And this is why. It is like seven Usain Bolts in white jerseys coming out the blocks. We saw this England linespeed over and over again in this match and the Irish simply could not handle it. They were caught deep, they made errors, and they just could not get the ball wide. Ireland is a team who want to break you down with phase play, so this line speed was poison to them.
Let us go even a few seconds earlier to see why England was so quick from that ruck. The first thing is that England is on their feet and not contesting, so they will have numbers which will allow them linespeed (although these days the fashion is that you don’t even need to wait for numbers to rush anymore…).
The second thing is all the communication happening. Look at almost every player talking and signalling and telling the other one what to do. It is like the Thursday night sewing group at the church. With communication we get better structure and we get it faster.
England was able to take their time and organise themself like this because of a horrible pass by Sexton a few seconds earlier, as we see above. This was thanks again to pressure from the England defence. But why was Sexton under pressure? How did England get in his face here? It was because the England defence was already on the front foot from a previous ruck.
Above we see the carry that led to that ruck. Quinn Roux is taking it up but Mako Vunipola go low and hard and chop him down where he stand. We can debate merits of chop tackles or not, but I am more interested in the one dimensional nature of the Irish go-forward carries. Time and again one-off runners was stopped, and time and again that allowed the England defence on the front foot.
Here we see the moment before as Roux go into contact. Like many of the Irish attempts to play direct and start some momentum, he is on a solo mission which will not end happily. There is no latch by his supporting players. There is no option of a last moment tip pass in the face of the defence. And as is the philosophy of Schmidt, the players do not run a offload line either. For most test teams it is easy to then stand your ground and just hit these poor guys back.
In the nutshell, to a large extent the struggles of the Irish attack against the England defence was because the Irish could not make England go backwards first with power carries. If your opponent is wearing sprinting shoes, then you must knock him out of those shoes first before you try to do sexy backline moves!
What we see above is not just the Irish being naïve and trying to play rugby too early, but we also see that they need to work on specific techniques, variations and strategies of carrying to ensure that they can bend the opponent’s line when they need to.
As for England, we see how John Mitchell have very quickly unlocked the rugby intelligence of this group and drilled them into a hard working and cohesive unit.
We don’t want to say too much before a World Cup, but with this evidence the “Mitch” factor was maybe just the missing piece to take England from good to great.