PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 10: England look dejected during the NatWest Six Nations match between France and England at Stade de France on March 10, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by David Rogers - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)
England’s poor execution, and a tactical ineptitude resulted in a 22 – 16 loss at the Stade de France this weekend. And crushed any hope of retaining their 2017 Six Nations title.  

Ireland set the Bar

Many in England’s camp had earlier watched the result come in from Dublin. Not only had Ireland beaten Scotland, they had secured a coveted try bonus point heaping more pressure onto the FRAvENG match in Paris.

Perhaps they should have watched the game more closely, and picked up a few pointers. The execution of the Irish half-backs was sublime. The forwards timing at the breakdown, second to none. And when opportunity strikes, the men in green take full advantage. Theirs was a game of control and building pressure.

Over to you, England. There is the bar.

England’s poor execution of the Kicking Game

With the challenge laid down, it would need all of England rugby teams ‘famed’ game-control. Any semblance of control went out of the window within the first 10 minutes. This French team were now here to drag the game into an arm wrestle. Les Bleus knew the Six Nations standings, and they had the muscle to take much of the control away from England.

A key component to getting control in a match is kicking for territory. And England’s poor execution at the Stade de France stadium was plain to see. Bad timing, poor execution and next to no chasing up, sumed up both halfbacks’ afternoons.

At one point in the first half, England went through half a dozen phases without gaining ground and seemed to simply turn the ball over with an aimless box kick. Danny Care had put his guards in place at the breakdown, the play was called but it was woefully executed. The ball travelled less than 20 yards, was straight ahead rather than angled and no chaser put pressure on the French receiver. All the hard work of the forwards to get the ball, was wasted in one play.

Eddie Jones can still look at some passages, and say ‘we executed this set-play’ yet if England are to cause an upset and challenge the unbeaten Ireland team next week, then tactical kicking will have to be near perfect. They are coming up against [arguably] the best side in the world, at controlling field position.

Breakdown Battle and Phase Play

The breakdown is the number one area of England’s game that is never far from being centre of attention. Eddie Jones himself called the balance of England’s back-row “all wrong” during the last Rugby World Cup.

The statistics tell their own story this weekend, but more telling was the efficient manner that the French went about executing their plan. Note the tactic of Les Bleus, which was to only commit one or two players to the tackle and only leave one man on the ground. The rest of the players left the ruck and fanned out, meaning they could defend the next phase with up to 14 men standing. They made it extremely difficult for England to find gaps.

The key for Jacques Brunel’s team was to wait for when opportunity strikes just when the English overextended themselves. If the men in white didn’t support the man with the ball closely enough, the French would send in the jackals. They created turnovers, or affected penalties for players holding on.

The French had plenty of players up to the job. Yacouba Camara, Guilhem Guirado and Mathieu Bastareaud were masterful in the loose. Guirado in particular appeared to be a back row forward at the breakdown, a fly half in the backline, as well (sometimes) looking at home as the hooker – there was nothing he couldn’t do.

Old Habits Die Hard

A major England gripe is ‘standing still’ when receiving the ball. This constant bug bear of England sides of yesteryear appears to have crept back into the current side’s play. It is also not one that is easily fixed due to its numerous causes.

The timing of the scrum half and not winning the contact battle are the two main culprits. Once again, England’s poor execution let them down with poor communication and a lack of on-field leadership. It wasn’t until James Haskell and Kyle Sinkler came on in the second half, that England managed to get any kind of go-forward in the contact area.

Disappointing, as todays players are well drilled. In fact, the build-up to this match should have ironed out any past issues. However, statistics are poor reading, as was the mute ending which an England ‘firing’ could have won.

Jones appeared to have rectified the problem when he first came in. When England attacked with pace, nobody standing still and halves cleared the ruck before the opposition could reset. Too often on Saturday, the forwards were static on first and second phase play.

England’s prospects up against Ireland

Eddie Jones has a short turnaround to get his side motivated for the big clash this coming week. The championship may have gone but, England will we capable of ruining Ireland’s Grand Slam party – much like the Irish did to England last year. Motivation enough.

Jones and his coaching team desperately need to inject some positivity into a turgid looking side. They will need all the old aggression, exhibit both passion and cold-hearted execution, if they can muster a defeat of this impressive Irish side.

To achieve that, England’s poor execution of the kicking game and the breakdown/phase play dilemmas have to be a thing of the past.

Whilst this years’ championship has highlighted once again how important home-field advantage is, England will need to find more than history to be victorious on St Patrick’s day.

England v Ireland – 2:45pm, Saturday March 17. Twickerham, London

 

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