Monday, April 2, 2012

England must spread wings with coach Stuart Lancaster

Unfortunately for Lancaster, such is the desire for labels, that he is going to be under pressure not only to develop but to name his team?s attacking style. He should avoid using generic words such as expansive, creative and attractive because they do not have a standard definition.

Phrases such as playing what is in front of you or heads-up rugby are better but do no more than describe what good players should do ? look for opportunities, recognise them and take them.

Lancaster does not have to reinvent the wheel; all you want from an attacking strategy is for it to work. It does not matter what it is called or whether it is plan A, B or Z.

England?s scrum, given its relative youth, should develop into one which is solid on its own ball and can put pressure on most opposition packs.

The line-out poses more questions. Specialists such as Geoff Parling are important to complement athletes such as Courtney Lawes, but you need someone to think under pressure and react accordingly. England?s standard line-out is capable but has considerably more options when someone, usually a blindside flanker such as Tom Croft, stands at No?5. A player who can jump, lift and move up and down the line makes it far harder for the opposition to anticipate and lift a contesting jumper.

When Lancaster considers the back-row balance, he must consider the line-out as well as general play. England?s forwards have to get the balance right between when they go close round the corner and numbers are needed to produce quick ball and when they take it wider out, allowing players such as Ben Morgan to punch holes on their own and look to offload.

It is also essential that they learn how to drive mauls properly, because it is a skill that is misunderstood and rushed far too often, yet is still the most effective way of committing opposition forwards.

Whichever half-back pairing he chooses, Lancaster has to ensure that the scrum-half interests opposition back rows by being able to make breaks, but does not take three steps sideways if he is intending to pass the ball. Wales?s Mike Phillips has eradicated this fault and is probably the best No 9 about at the moment.

Whether Farrell or Flood plays at fly-half the way they mix their kicking and carrying game has to be better to beat better sides, and England have to learn to be patient. At times in the Six Nations they made all-or-nothing attempts to force passes or plays. The only way to solve this is to become comfortable and confident with the ball in hand, so that they can wait for the right moment to strike.

A centre pairing of Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi gives plenty of power but Tuilagi has to be told that he cannot treat passing as a secondary option.

If he does not look for passes, the composition of England?s back three is rendered largely otiose because they will not get the ball, unless it is from opposition kicks.

Wings such as David Strettle, Charlie Sharples and Chris Ashton and full-backs such as Ben Foden and Mike Brown are arguably England?s most potent weapons and Lancaster has to find ways to involve them as much as possible. In turn the back three have to be encouraged to work harder to give catchers the option of running opposition kicks back rather than kicking away possession. They also need to understand the correlation between kicking away ball and failing to develop rhythm and momentum.

Lancaster should also bear in mind two generalities ? tempo and discipline. When England have these they play well; when they slip so does the team?s performance.

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