Throughout this Guinness Six Nations tournament, the increase in tactical kicking has been the chief talking point amongst players, media and fans alike. None of this year’s teams have executed this strategy as effectively as Eddie Jones’ new look England side.
However, if their opponents this weekend at the Principality Stadium combat this threat and shut down the kicking game, do England have a plan B?
This question is unanswered for two reasons: firstly, because the tactic worked so well in Dublin against the kings of the kicking game – Ireland. Secondly, because they were faced with such a poor challenge at the hands of France, that we learnt nothing about their ability to operate under pressure.
There is a strong chance that Wales under Warren Gatland will want to put that kicking game under greater examination. Be sure that defence coach, Sean Edwards, will have worked out a way of getting to the men in white, in particular, Owen Farrell, Henry Slade and Elliott Daly as well as the box-kicking threat of Ben Youngs.
WALvENG: Fast Start Required
As Last Word on Rugby’s David Challis has recently identified, the very first objective, has to be to prevent England getting off to a fast start. and scoring one of their now trademark early tries in the first five minutes. This England side are at their most dangerous when they are out in front. Therefore Wales need to focus on keeping them quiet early on.
Gatland’s men will need to ensure one man is not allowed to get into the game in those opening minutes – Johnny May. The winger has become England’s principle weapon in getting on the score sheet early. Indeed, it was in this fixture twelve months ago that the Leicester Tigers man got the men in white off to a flyer, a lead they never relinquished.
“It's just a brand of rugby we're trying to play: we want to put teams under pressure.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) February 10, 2019
Wales need to concentrate on getting out of the blocks first and imposing themselves on the game up front. The front row battle will be critical. Wales’ selection of Rob Evans is an astute one as Evans possesses now both the abrasiveness to meet England’s Kyle Sinckler head-on and the experience not to allow that battle to escalate to their detriment. Nicky Smith, whilst a tremendous competitor over the ball, gives way a little on the scrummaging and overall physical front.
Change of Tactics, England Rugby favour directness in 2019
If Wales manage to get the game plan right and things are still tight after 30 mins with the boot being curtailed, what will we see from England rugby? Selection suggests that they have enough potent ball carriers to play a more direct running game.
The previously mentioned Sinckler, Courtney Lawes, Billy Vunipola and of course Manu Tuilagi will need to be stopped by the men in red before gaining any momentum. Set piece will also become pivotal in securing the possession needed in order to exploit these weapons and it is the line-out where England will look to punish a poor performing Wales so far in that discipline.
— peter max (@AuthorityBrand1) February 20, 2019
England Rugby team must think under Pressure
Farrell will need to be quick in identifying if England’s kicking game is proving to be fruitful. It will be his ability to think under pressure and make the necessary adjustments to the game plan on the fly that may decide the match. This may be England’s trump card.
Under Dylan Hartley, Eddie Jones’ men were driven by that abrasiveness and confrontational side of their game. However, with Farrell in control, the England Rugby team still possess that aggressive demeanour, albeit more of a dynamic athleticism with an emphasis on winning the collision.
Yet, paradoxically, it is Farrell that could also be the architect of their downfall. His weakness is a tendency to over-commit defensively and can, if pushed, overreact to the detriment of his game.
If I were Warren Gatland, I would be sending Ross Moriarty down his channel as much as possible both with ball in hand and also to provide a few rib-ticklers once the ball has left Farrell’s boot.
Does the Principality roof being open make a difference? I don’t think so. I genuinely believe it is now just a psychological ploy by Jones every year. Whatever Wales want, England will want the opposite, nothing more.
Grand Slam Game
It is billed as the Grand Slam game, principally because these are the only two sides left in the tournament without a defeat to their name. England, I think, will be a significant step closer to achieving it should they win on Saturday then Wales.
Should Gatland’s men overcome the form team this weekend, then they still have the small matter of going to Edinburgh and hosting a little team called Ireland in Cardiff – remember them?
Guinness Six Nations – Wales v England. Principality Stadium, Cardiff
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