England put in a dominant performance against Australia this past weekend, seeing them off 32-15.
The truth of it is England played in fits and starts, struggled on occasion at the set-piece but ultimately just had too much firepower and importantly structure for a tired and underpowered Wallabies team.
It happens, especially with so many new players entering the fray. Structure and control will seep from the game but within the game were glimpses of just how good New England can be coupled. Did they leave tries out on the pitch? Yes but they were clinical enough for a team creating genuine chances against one of the SH superpowers.
Whilst Marcus Smith’s performance will draw most of the Headlines, all of England’s younger, inexperienced players stood up well. If this Autumn is about building depth for 2023 then Jones showed his eye for talent has not diminished one iota.
Freddie Steward received a man of the match award with an assured performance topped with a brilliant try. Throughout the game, it was Steward and not Beale looking ever more the cool-calm elder statesman of the game.Embed from Getty Images
Bevan Rodd, Jamie Blamire, Alex Dombrandt and Raffi Quirke whilst by no means having it all their own way, showed more than enough to indicate that even if not first or second choices right now they will be around for a while yet.
Although Nick White may disagree, arguably the moment of the match, around the 6-minute mark, was Steward’s try. Showcasing intelligent, dynamic play from England’s young players and we’re going to look at some of the details in the try.
Penalties and Panic
Three phases prior to the try Australia had conceded a soft freekick at the scrum. 33 seconds later England tore over and never really looked back.
Jones wanted a more aggressive England and he certainly got it in those opening 20 minutes.
Australia had a torrid time at the referee’s whistle, conceding 18 penalties; those 18 penalties greatly helped England on their way providing 18 points to England’s cause but it’s important to also understand the wider impact these penalties have on the flow of the game.
Australia looked excellent when they built phases but struggled to get into that mindset and on 5 occasions finished their own possession with a penalty.
Regardless, Steward’s try comes directly from this ill-discipline when Australia pre-engaged at the scrum.
Already in formation, England reacted and went fast. Running the set play they were already set up for.
Free kicks often get overlooked in the discipline discussion but they matter. Even if you cannot play for touch, or kick for goal, it’s still a chance to play for free. It’s been a frustration for many people that most free kicks simply end with another kick high in the air whilst the team awarded it, give it a go, or we see another scrum with the team winning the Free Kick looking to win a penalty. Seldom do we now see a 9 darting off to make the extra yards for fear of becoming isolated and penalised.
So it’s interesting to see and understand why England playoff this free-kick.
The first is obviously location, they have ambitions to play more aggressive attacking rugby the second is because it completely disrupts Australia’s defence.
You have the Australian pack clustered here, and a wide defence set on England’s right.
If Youngs taps and plays through the retreating Australian pack the wide defence stays intact and England has to then break it down in subsequent phases.
By attacking the wide defence they first engage the Australians and force them to adapt. This means England can then look to disrupt the set defence and that will hopefully be enough to create space the ball just came from.
Throughout the game we saw England’s backline interchanging, Slade dropping to 15 whilst Tuilagi occupied the 13 channel. Steward to wing, and interchanging wings to keep Tuilagi on the blindside of the pitch and May on the open wing.
And we can see that is the case here, Tuilagi in the midfield, Slade at 15 and Steward on the wing.
We can also see how pre-planned this move is, with the English back-row unit already heading to the next breakdown. They almost don’t have to deviate their line once. Curry overshoots slightly but is still able to arc back and secure the ball.
Operating under Pressure
One of Owen Farrell’s biggest strengths is his ability to distribute under extreme pressure.
Here he runs a full 10m to make sure the defence is engaged and that everything they execute challenges the defenders.
That run coupled with Tuilagi’s hard-line holds Hooper, O’Conner and Pasami; it also interests Ikitau enough that even though he reads the back door play it comes so late Smith is able to use his momentum to step out of the tackle.
The attack is actually quite lateral at this stage so Smith straightens and takes it into contact.
England has immediately adopted a 3-2-2 formation with Farrell sitting in behind Sinckler to make it look like a 3-3-2.
Let us pause and consider that both Smith and Steward are in shot here on the far side of the pitch and how instrumental they are in scoring this try. Track them through if you can.
Lawes opts to keep the momentum going and plays the inside ball to Underhill, something we saw Lawes do repeatedly against Tonga and throughout the Lions tour.
That inside ball gets Underhill into Hooper’s arms and through the contact and the end result is quick ball.
The ruck speed has also beaten Smith to position so Farrell having now pushed up to 1st Receiver, plays a short pass to keep the forward momentum going. That flat pass brings two runners onto the ball and the late selection, allows Lawes to get on the outside of the defender and win the collision with his momentum.
And now two phases on we can see both Smith and Steward are in position against a drowning Australian defence.
Farrell is again at first receiver and we can see Smith in the trailer position and Rodd the outside option. Importantly again look how close to the tackle England are operating.
There is a key principle in attacking rugby and that is beating the tackle line. To win the gain line you have to beat the tackle line to it, to make a break you have to beat the tackle line into that space and this is something England do at exactly the right moment.
That late pass and the holding line from Rodd allows Smith to float off.
Breaking the Line
At which point we get a full view of why Smith is so highly rated, the hitch kick to stand the defender up, the double pump to pull the defender onto him just enough and the late pass under pressure to Steward who picks a fantastic line to split Australia defence untouched.
Something I really like about this try is how England constantly changed throughout.
Their formation, the pace of the attack and also the angle of the attack.
One of the issues with these slider plays is that the attack can become quite lateral if they aren’t holding defenders – and we saw that at times in the game Smth and Slade running a little too laterally to really stress the defence.
Steward here offers that change of angle and pace and is key to allowing Smith to play right up on the line.
England’s adaptation throughout this attack is key, no two phases are the same, they don’t simply play outside of 9 and crash it up.
The Wide ruck see’s England turn the ball back inside off Lawes, the next ruck is an outside punch off Farrell, the phase following that is the one that breaks the defence. Adaptation.
Mercurial. Is possibly the most overused word in Rugby, anyone who can do something different, anyone who might be considered to take a risk is labelled as a maverick minded loose cannon it’s already in use around Smith but clearly England have these phases mapped out and it’s the player’s ability to adapt to each situation whilst still operating in the larger framework that affords players like Smith the opportunity and chance they take eagerly with both hands.
With South Africa up next there is a lot to do.
I think we’ll see Smith revert to the bench and Farrell to 10 (if he’s fit). One of Jones’ big regret was not playing Farrell at 10 in the World Cup final and using Ford to change the game late on. He’s also incredibly protective of Smith (if you saw the pre-game interview between him and Cheika you would have seen how highly he rates him) so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him protect Smith against a powerful confrontational South Africa.
Author: The Dead Ball Area