In July England head to the dark wet depths of New Zealand for a four game, three test, summer tour. Players running out in the Aviva final the week before means the first test will see a very different England team to the one that finished the Six Nations in quite some pomp.
Never the less. England will head south with a large, confident and talented squad, but whilst they will talk of a belief that they can beat the worlds number one ranked team, running the All Blacks close at home at the end of their long hard season is very different to playing them away at the end of our long hard season, and playing them in a three test tour is an even bigger challenge. Where Southern Hemisphere teams have been raised on this kind of competition, this kind of Test Series rugby is something English players just aren’t subjected to very often and it’s a genuine challenge, so I believe the coaches will use this summer’s tour as a way to benchmark the squads progress in the world game. They also have the added bonus of a midweek game against the mighty Canterbury Crusaders, who whilst not quite the force of old, are still a formidable outfit. They will also be in the middle of their season and hitting their stride as they jostle for a playoff place, and with the Super XV taking a break I expect to see a strong Crusaders outfit line up against the men in white.
So it’s a tough and challenging tour that awaits England, and while I think a test series win is out of reach for this squads current development stage, I very much think that a one off win is possible. To win any of the tests England will need to be on top of their game for a full 80 minutes, keep mistakes to a minimum and pressure New Zealand in a number of key areas.
The first of which is: The Kicking Game.
As we know New Zealand play a pressure game, they kick deep and keep the pressure on. They then defend hard in opposition territory and wait for you to either make a mistake or relieve the pressure with a snapped kick – The idea is that when you kick, you kick long and inside the tramlines, they then have a full pitch to work their counter attack magic in or again kick into the corners – seldom will they just truck it up, and they seldom lose ground in the kicking duel.
Additionaly New Zealand base a large percentage of their game around the counter attack, of which there are two main forms. Turn over ball at the breakdown and from kicked away possession.
Able to choose from the back three quality of Dagg, Smith, Savea, Barrett, Slade, New Zealand have pace skills and power at their disposal. Importantly though it’s not just their back three that are great on the counter, and Kieran Read is often found slotting in to make it a back four. Read is one of the best readers of the game and key to New Zealand’s counter attack decision making.
To be fair, Read is probably the most important player in world Rugby. In this instance, how many times have you seen it, the 9 or the 10 kicks down the tram lines and who catches it? Read. Like most good 8’s, Read will drop into the pocket and wait for the ball but it’s how he gets involved afterwards that’s key, he can chase a return kick, he has a brilliant long pass to release the wide runners and the pace to track the ball across the pitch either in support or as a clearer or is able to get in place as a secondary wave ball carrier/1st 5. If he’s not back in time he’ll run a blocking line in front of the ball carrier to make sure he is at the breakdown or in support when the contact finally comes, and signal where the space is for the back three to exploit. He is one of the main eyes and ears of the counter attack game.
Below is a short video to demonstrate his positional play in defence.
Key to England beating the All Blacks is that their kicking strategy isn’t loose. Personally I wouldn’t kick high to re-gather, I’d ask Farrell and Care to kick long to the corners. Surrendering possession is ok, as long as it allows you to maintain or increase pressure. Englands kicking must be dead, or as close to dead as possible, their kick chase must be accurate and put pressure on the catcher. If they kick high and their chase is not perfect they’ll either end up where they started or be on the end of a counter attack. If they do kick to regather then they must kick when they are in control and going forward. They must not kick out of panic/as a reaction to New Zealand pressure.
Yes, of course there will be moments when they have to scramble and clear but that is different, and as with attacking ball if they make composed decisions going forward then the New Zealand loose forwards will have to stay close to the maul/breakdown and Read et al will not be able to sit in the pocket or fan out and block chasers – if they kick dead than those lazy meandering runners from the pack don’t matter. Ireland and South Africa the two teams who’ve come closest to toppling the giants last year both opted to retain possession, kicking only when they knew the space had opened up.
If they kick to the box then again it needs to be moving forward and holding the pack close, from inside their 22 it needs to be so close to the touchline that it’s essentially unplayable, they also need to get their kick chase pushing up in the middle to close down those wide sweeping passes. Get it wrong and they’ll be pinned back in their own 22 or worse, our video breaking down the Piutau try against France outlines this perfectly.
England’s kicking and kick chase game must be absolutely perfect, or they could pay dearly.
Author: The Dead Ball Area