Recently there has been a lot of argument surrounding England play a ’10 man rugby’ tactic where they rely on the power of their pack and an exceptional kicking game from their half-backs to maintain constant pressure on the opposition and grind them into submission. This game plan is ideal for the skill-set of the likes of Owen Farrell and Brad Barritt, excellent defensive players. Both will miss the first game of the Six Nations and the former will miss the entire Six Nations. Two of the other three England fly-halves, George Ford and Danny Cipriani, have the capability of playing attacking rugby and the flair and spark to create scoring opportunities from nothing. With the opportunity presented to them by injury England should take it and look to unleash an array of exciting backs.
Currently England’s team are seriously depleted by injury. Key figures in the pack and backline have been ruled out of at least the first clash with Wales a week on Friday. The one area of concern is the Second-row for England. A real area of strength unfortunately without Courtney Lawes, Joe Launchbury, Geoff Parling and Ed Slater their ranks have been run a little thin. Yet, they still have Dave Attwood and George Kruis, who both enhanced their reputations in the Autumn internationals and to back them up Graham Kitchener, who undoubtedly would have been capped for any other Northern hemisphere team other than England with their riches in the second-row.
Likewise, the loss of Ben Morgan is significant as the man of the series in the Autumn, however Billy Vunipola is rekindling his form and regaining confidence, while Nick Easter has international experience and is the best No 8 in the Premiership by some way. Tom Wood is another key figure likely to miss the Wales game. In fact it means England can call upon James Haskell, who has been in Herculean form leading Wasps this season, and many would call for his selection even if Wood were fit. On top of that England have the return of Lions Tom Youngs and Alex Corbisiero in the front row. Despite injury it is quite clear England’s forwards will still be ferociously competitive and can lay the platform for a backline to attack from.
While there is merit to the 10 man rugby tactic, and it can be especially effective in wet conditions, England should not seek to limit themselves to this formula. The best teams are able to change their game to suite the opposition and context of a match, so by all means they can be prepared to use it to hold a lead or drain the energy from a team but they must also look to be able to score tries from attacking moves from at least halfway. England definitely have the back three to achieve this. Any of Jonny May, Anthony Watson, Mike Brown and Jack Nowell can create something from nothing as well as all being potent finishers. So why not utilise them? Watson and May are two of the fastest players in the premiership and by that alone they can cause serious damage if there is any hint of an overlap.
All it takes for England to unleash these back three is a competent fly-half centre axis that can create space and distribute the ball well. To create space the scrum-half, fly-half and centres all need to pose a threat to defences, who will be left second guessing and have to commit to their opposite number, not just able to drift and remove the space in the wide channels. Danny Care offers that threat at the base of the ruck, being the best sniping and attacking scrum-half England have. At fly-half George Ford, the man in possession of the shirt deserves to keep hold of it. Ford has an excellent kicking game and takes the ball to the line. While Ford may not provide the threat of Danny Cipriani he is far more consistent and so should start knowing that if he fails to spark the backline Cipriani is waiting in the wings to create a bit of magic. The greatest loss is Kyle Eastmond in the centres.
He was the natural choice, with Barritt and Farrelll also injured, as the dangerous link man with George Ford at Bath, with a cemented partnership. However, with his injury it provides an opportunity to call Henry Slade up from the Saxons squad. He has been in excellent form this season and provides the ability as a second fly-half to also make the strategy of 10 man rugby work if England need to resort to it. Another Saxon with similar skills is Ollie Devoto, who has the advantage of playing alongside Ford at Bath, but Devoto has started nowhere near as many games as Slade this season and it would be a huge call to throw him in now. Outside Slade England have two options: Luther Burrell or Jonathon Joseph. Burrell is usually a 12, but performed admirably at 13 in last year’s Six Nations.
He has been in terrific form recently and provides a powerful battering ram to fix defenders, coming from deep. However, last week against Racing he had a nightmare, missing 6 tackles alone as his opposite number, Jamie Roberts, almost certain to start for Wales, won the man of the match award. In contrast Jonathon Joseph is a much less imposing figure but he has speed, agility and a spark of magic, which he showed against Toulouse a fortnight ago. Joseph also proved his defensive abilities at the weekend with a try-saving and possibly match-winning tackle against Glasgow. The inclusion of Joseph, the man currently in form, would provide an attacking threat on his own, which frees up space for England’s wingers.
In comparison to previous England backlines this is notably smaller, without any menacing ball carrier to batter through the defensive line, but the inclusion of Haskell in the pack, as well as the return of Billy Vunipola, with his brother Mako also back, means England have the ball-carrying gusto in the pack that will free up space for their agile backline to take advantage of. If England really need a change in plan they can bring Burrell off of the bench and move Slade out to 13. Either way though unfortunate rather than make excuses with the injury crisis England have at the moment they can be bold and select a team that can not only play fast-paced attacking rugby but one that can pin back the opposition and grind them down too.
England cannot do anything about the injury crisis it is just the nature of rugby, but what they can do is take up the challenge showing their strength in depth and ability to win a game by running the opposition off the park or by grinding them into the earth.
Here is the England XV I think could be the best chance of winning the Six Nations and forming the basis for the team come the world cup:
- Joe Marler
- Dylan Hartley
- Dave Wilson
- George Kruis
- Dave Attwood
- James Haskell
- Chris Robshaw (capt.)
- Billy Vunipola
- Danny Care
- George Ford
- Jonny May
- Henry Slade
- Jonathon Joseph
- Anthony Watson
- Mike Brown
- Tom Youngs 17. Mako Vunipola 18. Kieran Brookes 19. Graham Kitchener 20. Nick Easter 21. Ben Youngs 22. Danny Cipriani 23. Luther Burrell
Who would you pick given England’s current injury crisis? Do you think they stand a chance in the Six Nations now, if they did at all?