Its been regularly said that England have two of the top packs in the world and while only 8 men can be on the pitch at any one time its safe to say that they have an incredible plethora of talent to call upon. On the other side of the team sheet things are not so rosy however and despite numerous attempts Stuart Lancaster and his team are yet to really find a back combination that will win them a World Cup.
Kieran Bracken’s thoughts on last weeks “Brian Moore’s Full Contact (Radio 5 Live) that England should use this situation to their advantage and play a brand of 10 man rugby have got all of us here at “In The Loose” thinking and we couldn’t resist giving our two cents on the potential of the idea.
So what do we mean by 10 man rugby? In a nutshell its about field position and forward dominance; kick yourself to the right places, chase your heart out, grind down the opposition with the set piece and strong runners, then repeat. Boring? Perhaps but who cares about boring rugby if you’ve got your hands on the Web Ellis Cup at the end of the day and we think that England have a real chance of just that if they can nail this strategy.
We’ve identified four key areas that England need to excel if they are to succeed with this type of game plan.
Perhaps the key to this type of game plan is the quality of the kicking game. You need multiple options who are going to put you down to the right end of the pitch, at the very least a great box kick that can be well chased, an incisive and accurate fly half who can pin the opposition back into their own 22 and a full back with a howitzer who will push the opposition back again and again. There’s also merit in putting in a second kicker at 12 who can take pressure off the 10 but this can be achieved through the use of a good kicking full back.
If England can get this right they can use their forward dominance to force errors and create try scoring opportunities without ever risking kickable penalties or trying to play in positions which so often lead to turnovers and opportunities for the opposition to strike. Any kick is only as good as its kick chase however and a good counter attacking team can be a dangerous thing indeed. This brings us on to our next key area.
The Kick Chase
Kicking possession away is a complete disaster unless it is backed up by a great kick chase and tight defence. Saracens are currently the master of this part of the game and their kick chase is a key component of their strategy. Every kick from Farrell or Wigglesworth is backed up with a fast and hungry wall of defenders keen to dampen out any potential counter from the opposition.
Playing in this way against the All Blacks or Australia will require a huge effort from England in this area but with a well defined plan, strong communication and dogged defence they have the players and leadership to draw the string from any Folau or Dagg counter.
The Set Piece
And now to the real point of the matter; the scrum and lineout. The set piece is a traditional strength of the English and time and again they have been the cornerstone of important wins. Who can forget England’s manshaming of the Irish in 2012 (sorry Ireland) or Andrew Sheridan’s regular demolition of the Australian scrum over the years? England need to use this advantage as much as possible and pick their forwards based on their set piece qualities.
We all know that mobile forwards are the current plat du jour in world rugby but England are not Australia or New Zealand and should concentrate on their strengths as much as possible. Thankfully many of Englands best set piece players are also very mobile (Courtney Lawes for example) so this shouldn’t negatively affect the equally important kick chase and defense discussed above.
The “Plan B”
Rugby is not a simple game and sometimes your plan doesnt survive first contact with the enemy. The biggest risk with the “10 Man Rugby” strategy has to be what happens when you play South Africa and while we think England should have no fears with the Boks there is always a chance they could be outmuscled or even simply get on the wrong side of the referee. If this does happen we think England need a Plan B and there are more than enough exciting players in England to change the gameplan in an instant.
Fast flowing rugby is the anithesis of what we are proposing here but if things arent going to plan then England should be able to react instantly and the key to this is a well planned bench. Exciting players such as Danny Care, Cipriani and Wade can change the balance of the game in a single instant and England should hold these players in their back pocket ready for if the game isnt going to plan or to finish off a tiring side.
England also have an excellent group of forwards who can can create carnage in the loose (pun intended) and these players should also be held in the back pocket ready to be unleashed if required.There is one area which is of great importance to this strategy however; planned subsitutions. If England plan to make subsitutions after 50 or 60 minutes then they cannot go for a loaded bench in this way.
Only if England stick to their starters for the whole game can they afford to pick a bench of exciting attacking players as if these players were guaranteed to play then it would put great strain on the planned strategy. If England are concerned about fitness then they would have to pick a more concervative bench but this leave England in a very difficult position if things went wrong.
So we’ve identified the key areas in which England need to succeed, here’s the team we think will get the job done:
A great scrumiger with Lion’s pedigree, has to start if fully fit.
A debatable discinplinary record can’t hide the incredible success that the England lineout achieves with Dylan Hartley at the front.
A great scrumiger with bags of experience, also fantastic at the breakdown. Tough on Wilson who is playing great at the moment but Cole’s breakdown ability wins out.
Calls the lineouts like a man with twice his experience and a real monster in the loose.
Described by Dai Young as the “Crown Jewel” at Wasps. Unbelievable engine and an obvious pick to partner Lawes.
The leader and heartbeat of the team. We’ve moved him to six because of the next player along but undroppable in this England side.
If England are to win this World Cup then they need their best players. Steffan Armitage was European Player of the Year last year and has to start for England. A great ball carrier and supreme over the breakdown, he is without a shadow of a doubt England’s best choice at openside.
Billy’s back! A sensational performance at Munster and a serious injury for Ben Morgan puts the big Billy V in the hot seat for the no 8 shirt and we think he will be a huge presence in 2015.
An audacious choice and one which is sure to create hot debate but Wigglesworth is the best kicking 9 in the world and has to start if England chose this style of Rugby.
The incumbent 10 deserves his place and has the kicking repetoire to master this system. We are particular fans of the low trajectory “Ronan O’Gara style” kicks which are a big part of Fords game.
Lightning fast and now proven at the highest level. That try against New Zealand has cemented his place in the England set up.
Another debatable choice, Barritt is a defensive rock and puts his body on (and over) the line week after week. England need Barriit’s skills if the kick chase is to succeed.
Who else but Manu? Even a ten man team needs strike runners and Manu strikes fear into the heart of defenses world wide. It will be a key part of George Ford’s game getting the right ball to Manu in the right areas.
A perfect blend of pace and power and can cover full back. Fielding kicks is another huge area of this type of strategy and a second full back will be a great asset (particularly one this lethal with ball in hand).
But what about Brown I hear you cry? Both players have merit but Goode wins out for me in this system due to his realiability and ability to read the game. That said if Brown could find the form of last year then we would be tempted to go for him instead!
An exciting group of players who could change the face of the game in an instant.
The Final Word
World Cups are not about free flowing champagne Rugby, they are about tight, nerve shredding encounters where points are in desperately short supply. This may not be England’s most exciting game plan but we think it will be the one which hands England the glory in October. So what do you think, please give us your thoughts in the comments below.