For years it has been far too easy for England coaches to adapt a conservative style of play as a result of the type of rugby on offer in the Premiership.
From Leicester Tigers forward powered dominance to Saracens stifling defence, it felt like most of the sides at the top of the Premiership were more concerned with strangling the life out of games (and supporters) than providing any form of entertainment. This may not have been the case for every club, but when the top players are primarily drawn from the clubs making the playoffs, it is inevitable this style of rugby quickly finds its way into the national side.
Fortunately, this is no longer the case with English clubs taking the European Champions Cup by storm this weekend playing some fantastic rugby thanks to selecting players based on their talents rather than their weaknesses. Wasps stunning victory over holders Toulon is the one that springs immediately to mind, but other clubs performances shouldn’t be overlooked so easily.
Under the recently appointed New Zealand coaching team, Leicester have begun playing some really good heads up rugby that has been a breath of fresh air for visitors to Welford Road. Not only has it been entertaining to watch, but it’s actually yielding results for Richard Cockerill’s side who had previously been known for their effective, if unspectacular brand of 10-man rugby.
Elsewhere Exeter Chiefs have been making their presence felt playing an exciting brand of rugby, utilising a high-tempo brand of running rugby, led this weekend by the rising star that is Henry Slade. Meanwhile Bath and Harlequins have picked up exactly where they left off, making use of their talented backlines to run rings around the opposition whenever the opportunity allows.
The fantastic thing about all of this is that most of these teams playing a style of rugby more akin to that seen in the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition is the fact that it is being carried out by talented young English players who are being given the chance to shine on Europe’s biggest stage.
This trend can only be a positive for new coach Eddie Jones who will not only have a talented crop of young players to work with, but ones who have experience of playing heads up rugby against top level European clubs jampacked full of international stars. Compare this to four years ago when Stuart Lancaster took off and things are already looking up for England.
There is clearly still plenty of work to be done by Jones and his coaching team (whoever they may be), but at least the club coaches are putting in place a foundation that can be built upon. This may help reduce the pressure to bring international players under national contracts as they are being developed in a way more suited to the transition to international rugby. Either way, it looks like England could be set to play some more exciting rugby over the next few years.