Without doubt one of the stand out moments in Englands defeat to Scotland was Stuart Hogg’s booming right footer in the 54 minute.
As a moment that encapsulates everything in the game it’s perfect. It’s basically England’s own approach returning to haunt them.
It is a brilliant kick by Hogg and no amount of spin can detract from his vision and execution when England kicked long after a Russell Chip in the 5m channel. As Hogg gathers, travelling from Right to Left, he puts the ball a good 70m into England’s corner.
The ball’s flight alone was magnificent to see, pinning England back into the most difficult of areas to exit. It’s inch perfect.
With the back field so system based it’s an interesting situation that England find themselves in. Allowing Hogg to capitalise on a breakdown in their organisation, conceding this position.
After Russell puts a kick at goal wide England would have been keen to apply pressure and restart the game with a 22 Drop out that falls on Jonny Gray on the English 10m line.
Immediately this seems at odds with England’s general approach to the game, which is to play it deep in the opposition’s half by way of kicking long, chasing hard and forcing them to kick back to you.
Instead they look to create an error with a kick aimed for Watson to compete in the air against one of the Scot’s best ball in flight specialists.
At a time in the game, trailing 11-6, where they would have been looking to push Scotland into playing the game they wanted to in the areas they wanted it allowed Scotland to regain possession and continue to apply pressure.
English Lack of Structure
Throughout the game England had swapped between a 13+2 and a 14+1 defensive structure. When operating in the middle of the pitch or in opposition territory they looked to get into a 13+2, and realistically this is what they should have operated immediately from this kick but the short restart seems to have got them caught between the two systems unclear of who is filling which role.
We can see from the restart both Farrell and Daly are in a position to hold back and immediately create that 13+2.
Ideally post kick Farrell would have dropped to this near side, allowing Daly to stay middle and protect far side incase of Scotland regaining possession and box kicking into that very same corner.
We can see Farrell initially drops right but then for some reason pushes up to defend on the edge:
Leaving May stuck in no man’s land when Russell chips to the corner (below):
This means Daly has had to push across to follow the flow of the ball leaving a huge space in behind Watson on the far side.
With Youngs also following the ball as sweeper we can see all of England’s kicking options are now on the near side of the pitch.
Ideally they would want a kicker both in the middle and on this near side and at this point we really need to see Farrell or Youngs starting to spot the space that’s being left and moving to protect their 22.
Watson has come in for Criticism but as Daly puts the kick up and chases we can see how Watson has to move into this wide space to shut down the counter attack options.
In the clip from Geraint at the top of the article we can see when Daly kicks May holds the space and doesn’t chase and doesn’t move open. Again Ideally we’d have seen May (1) chase and put everyone on side allowing Daly to hold, or move early to that far side trusting Youngs (2), or Farrell (3) to drop to where Daly came from and occupy the space he’s just left.
Ultimately it’s a perfect example of systems breaking down when one person doesn’t react in the way everyone else expects and roles get changed on the fly.
Farrell not holding the + 2 position muddied the edge defence on this near side and no one reacted to that imbalance in the back field.
At this level you would expect, or at least hope, that the back three and 10 and 9 would have slotted straight in.
A Taste of their own Medicine
We can see here from the Autumn international How England used a kick deep to generate a turn over in the French half:
Regardless Scotland had a wonderful game, with their excellent defence once again putting them in a position to close the game out, though they’ll have hoped for more out of their in game dominance than just 11 points and allowing England a losing Bonus point.
England’s defence will take much credit for keeping the score to 11 and earning that bonus point but they’ll urgently be looking to change their lack of focus in attack against Italy at home.
Author: The Dead Ball Area