Saturday, 17 March 2007

Sum up of Super Saturday

Well done France you fought till the end again!!!

Ireland I bet you wish you kicked the ball dead instead of going for that extra score.

Wales better team on the day you had it all to play for. I was at millennium stadium and the Welsh crowd made a lot of noise for their team, I should imagine for a new English cap it was extremely intimidating.

For England 3rd is progress and unfortunately before kick off the squad knew win, lose or draw we were only ever going to be 3rd. Good experience for them and they will learn from this as they did from the Irish game. Brian Ashton does seem to learn from his mistakes unlike Andy Robinson.

Italy held Ireland well in the first half put unfortunately once a couple scores went in there was nothing left to play for with their best position in the 6 nations already secured.

Scotland wooden spoon.

I have learnt a lot about the use strategy and the advantages and disadvantages each team encounters before a game. The 6 nations is an interesting competition the luck of the draw of home and away game and the order of the games being key to each teams chances. Imagine what might of happen if the games had been played in a different order???

Thursday, 15 March 2007

Psychology of the pre-match banter

It has been interesting to hear the talk coming from the different camps this week.

Ireland talking about how easy it will be to beat Italy is a mistake. It will only give the Italians passion on the day.

Wales similarly talk about showing the English, how good they are and that they are confident of victory.

England talks about how hard the game will be and expect the Welsh to fight them every step of the way.

This is all about controlling expectations. The Irish players now have it in their heads that they will walk over Italy. The Italians will be out to make a point they previously didn't need to make, it will give fuel to their game in front of their home crowd.

English players have prepared them selves mentally for a hard game against the Welsh with the coaches talking about this being the most difficult test of the 6 nations. Where as the Welsh have it in their heads that they will win through pure passion to avoid the white wash.

If you are prepared mentally to met your opponents believing you will win easily and find when you met them they are not so easily beaten, it is hard to shift your mental view of the situation and therefor your expectations.

If however, you are prepared for a long hard fight you will never be disappointed.

In the first world war the German troops where told that the "Tommy" was a buffoon and a flop they would easily overcome. The British troops where told the Germans were barbaric "Hun" and expected to met a monster in the battle fields. When they met the British troops were enraged with anger prepared to fight for their lives against the barbaric "Hun" and the Germans expect to met a buffoon. So what do you think happen when they first met???? The German discovered the truth about their opponents and felt cheated and lied to by their leaders and suffered from bad morale. The British troops were mentally prepared for their opponents and fought them tooth and nail with their expectations met.

Wednesday, 14 March 2007

Preview Wales v England

For 2008 England v Wales click here

Final game of the 6 nations with both teams having something to play for. For England this could range from 1st to 4th place depending on the other results earlier in the day. For Wales avoiding the white wash and the wooden spoon.

England will be keen to progress from last weeks win and will love the idea of sealing Welsh fate to the white wash and wooden spoon. With Tindall out Matthew Tait has been rewarded with a start, as he has played well as a sub. Tait will be looking forward to banishing those ghosts from 2005 at the Millennium Stadium. He is a bigger, fitter and more rounded player from back then and has grown mentally from that experience. Ashton has cut Lewesy from the squad showing that he will punish bad performances. Leadership is a massive part of strategy and a good leader looks to reward the good (Tait) and punish the bad (Lewsey) to create the right type of team. All leadership books will discuss this point and references to it can be found in "The Prince" and"The Art of War". This was something Andy Robinson failed to do. How often did one of the players have a crap game yet still get picked the next time around (I don't want to mention names), but Andy Robinson definitely had his favourites. More on this after the 6 Nations were I will compare Aston to Robinson style of leadership and its role in strategy.

From Lewseys removal Cueto has been brought in to play at Full back. I find this strange, Lewsey was axed as he played the full back role like a winger, so he swaps one winger with another winger at full back!!!!!! Robinson is the natural full back for his club, allowing Cuteo or Lewsey to play in their natural position on the wing.
For Wales "Captain Crap" is out and James Hook looks to replace him at fly half. Is it just me or does James Hook look like Dean Gaffney?????

Some think this may actually help Wales. Giving Jones the title "Captain Crap" won't help and it gives him a tag of bad omen. Wales will be desperate to avoid the White wash and will give them extra fight on the day. Plus if there is a chance England could win the 6 Nations it will intensive this energy. The Welsh forwards found it difficult to compete against the other 6 nations and in the last 20 minutes are normally worn out leaving the hair bear bunch to prop things up. Wales have been a bit unlucky this year with decision going against them, but still have the players in the backs to cause serious damage. The are gaining ground and it won't surprise anyone for them to put in their best performance against the English. For Wales to win they need the ball in their backs to stand a chance. It will be interesting seeing the Welsh back line up against the new and improve English back line. Strettle put in some ferocious tackles against the French, so it will prove to be an interesting contest.

I believe England will win. Some of this is due to my rose tinted specs, but also they have the form and confidence going into this last game. England squad still need time to gel properly too reach their full potential. The new forwards will look to dominate the game and the new English back line will enjoy a run at the Welsh. The Welsh back line is an attacking force, but in defense they are weak. Like wise the English back line has shown against France they can defend well and they prevented any tries from the French attack, which no one else has done this 6 nations.

If England can get a few earlier scores on Wales then the Welsh team may crumble knowing that they are heading to a white wash and wishing they could get off the pitch as soon as possible. However, if Wales get the early score using the extra energy of avoiding the white wash to England, we could be in for a good fight. I think however, England would still win the game in the last twenty minutes. This appears to be the time when the Welsh slow down and their opponents take full advantage.

Preview France v Scotland

France can still win the 6 nations and probably have the best chance on Super Saturday.
Strategically the advantages are all on their side.

1) Playing at home - Scotland fans don't travel so the French will have huge support. It is their stadium they will feel at home and know the pitch well.
2) Revenge on Scotland for last years defeat - A big motivational boost to the players
3) They will want to bounce back after defeat against England - Again these players will want to prove them selves in a world cup year and regain some pride.
4) Will have seen the Italy v Ireland game and know what they must do to win.
5) They will stop experimenting and field their best side ensure victory. Against England they changed their side yet again still looking for that magic selection.

Scotland will go with their "active defense", but the French will look to blitz and charge down the Scottish kicks, as it has become an obvious weakness. The French will try and prevent the Scots slowing down the ball and will take the resulting penalties Scotland give away. Scotland will rely totally Paterson to get them the penalties and build a score line. Yet they will actually need the ball to do this and I believe the French will totally dominate in the forwards.

Overall the French have the better team and players, plus the strategic advantages discussed above. The one thing against the French and for Scotland is no one expects Scotland to win on Saturday, so they have nothing to lose at the moment. If Ireland win well against Italy it may allow Scotland to frustrate the French and capitalise on an errors brought about by forcing the game to get the points difference up.

The tone of the weekends games will depend on the result of the Italy V Ireland game. From that the French will know what to do and then so will England. If the French win convincingly England win just concentrate on the win securing 2nd/3rd place on points difference depending on the Italy v Ireland result.

Preview Italy v Ireland

On Saturday Ireland have the hardest job of being first up with the chance to win the championship. That is slightly wrong however, because Italy could win on Saturday as well if they beat Ireland and the rest of the results go their way. However, the race is really between Ireland and France ,with England on a outside chance and Italy with a mathematical but highly improbable chance.

I believe that Italy could beat Ireland on Saturday if the play the right type of game. The Italian coach is very clever tactically, as we have send in the 6 nations so far and he will see the opportunity to get at Ireland.

So far Ireland's result, except against England, have been very poor. Wales should have beaten them and would have if they had got the penalty try for taking Czekaj off the ball. France beat them at the death, as Ireland took their metaphorical eye off the ball. Scotland should have beaten them, as Ireland were clearly not up for the game as I discussed in the result post of the Scotland v Ireland match.

So on Saturday away from home against an emergent Italian side with Ireland already won the triple crown, the Grand slam is gone and the French only have Scotland to beat in Paris after a defeat against England. Also knowing that everyone still sees the French as the favourites for the championship, probably including the Irish.

I don't believe the Irish have the right mind set to go to Rome and record a big win. Plus I think the Italians can use the fact they know Ireland must record a big win to tactically out manoeuvre them on the day.


1) Italian Blitz defense is good and can be used to disrupt and upset the Irish back line. Can get at O'Gara and Stringer.

2) Target O'Driscoll, he is injury prone. This is a sound tactical play to remove an oppositions leader. With O'Driscoll out they not only lose their most talented player, but also their captain and talisman.

3) Frustrate Ireland as much as possible. Keep the scores low by playing a very strong defense (as point 1) and wait for Ireland to force the game looking for the big scores, and then exploit the opportunities this will create. Italy will keep the ball in the forwards (their strength) and pound at Ireland slowing down the ball and ruining Irish the game. Tronconn will see the gaps as they appear and give the fast Italian backs a chance to run for or with the ball.

Ireland will be missing O'Connell and the Italians Bergamasco (for taking out the opponents leader!!!).

Also I believe the Italians will be on a high from beating Wales and won't want the last game to be a record defeat at the hands of the Irish.

Ireland will want to make amends for their poor performance from the week before, but most of their players will now be think Heineken Cup and World Cup.

Most of the Strategy for this game will be around the psychology of the two teams. Each side will have plenty of chance to see what the other is capable of and with have planned their tactics appropriately.

Let see what happens. It should make for some interesting viewing for the neutral.

Monday, 12 March 2007

My day out

As I may have mentioned in my earlier posts I got tickets to the England V France match.

So I head off to Twickenham looking forward to a good day out. I didn't expect England to win, but then again not many people did. I thought if we changed things we could compete as discussed in my match preview.

I had managed to get hospitality tickets and met up with the people I was going at a hotel in Richmond for lunch. Turns out the tickets were through the French Union when we turned up discovered everything was in French. I mean everything menu, speeches, 90% of the people, and even the waitresses were French. Nevermind it was a different atmosphere than I was use to and the French were very friendly. Had a few Guinness, bagged my programme and a free gift. Every one was told to head for the coaches and half an hour later we realised every else had left the room and decided to get a translation. Out side everyone crowded around the hotel next door??? Yes the French team was heading for their coach. Chabel is entering scene left.

We jumped on our coach and followed them to the stadium. Cool. More drinks and found our seats. This was our view.

Soon realised as the French fans passed around the songs sheet to the French national Anthem we were seating in the French section of the crowd. It's going to be different I thought. Then there was this noise behind me!!!!

Just before the kick I got a picture message from my wife of my 2 and a half month old daughter in her England ticket. "COME ON ENGLAND" was the title.

The games kicked off and we had a great time chatting with the French crowd. However, one English woman complained about the band!!! (obviously not a proper fan) I don't know why it created a great atmosphere. The stewards asked them to stop play and they did. However, all the English fan then complained to the steward about the music had stopping and that was all enjoying it. They reached a comprise in the end and moved the woman to another part of the stadium. The English and French fans encouraged the band to start back up and sang along. This is way I love rugby you would never get this at football.

The result went our way and I felt sorry for the French fans as they left. They all come a long way with high expectations and had created a great atmosphere and a great day out.

Few more drinks and headed home.

Met up with my friend who been in the players lounge and had got autographs from Mike Catt, Austin Healy and Danny Grewcock. Tried to get Harry Potter(Harry Ellis), but he had disappeared, typical. Great day going to Cardiff on Saturday, can't wait.

Result England 26 - France 18

The surprise result of the tournament so far. There was a number of things England needed to improve from the Ireland game if they were to seriously compete against the French, as discussed in the Preview post. They changed these areas and the team managed to become a unit after only a few hours of training together.

The pack fought well and secured decent ball for the backs. England attacked through the middle giving us the options that lead to the two tries. This was all discussion in Preview on the game about what England needed to do if they were to seriously compete. The fact that the man of the match was a forward shows how well England competed for the ball allowing our backs into the game, more so than any of the previous 6 nations matches this year. This also slowed down the French allowing us to re-group and form a defensive line. How often did you see Dominici with the ball in space??? We needed more pace in the middle that Farrel couldn't supply. Flood, Catt and Geraghty supplied this swiftness and was able to break through the middle setting up options to score the tries. For the first try Flood still had Robinson on his outside. For the second Catt and Tindall supporting Geraghty, plus Lewsey following up on his right hand side.

Corry in the second row was great, he may be to slow as a number 8 at international level, but as a second row he adds an extra dimension to the England squad. The stats show just how well England competed for the ball and how much of the game they controlled. The recycling was so much better and kept the momentum going. When you consider the experience of the back line with Tindall, Catt, Lewsey, Robinson and then add some talented new players trying to make a mark; Strettle (get a hair cut ;)), Flood and Geraghty you get a mix that gives England the right balance. Plus we still have experienced players like Wilkinson and Cuteo to come back.

However, lets not get to carried away. This is new side that may have just surprised the French as they didn't know what to expect, especially with introduction of closed training sessions. Wales next week will of had chance to review the tapes and work out some counter tactics. Plus they will be desperate to avoid the white wash giving them an extra incentive on the day. There are still things England could improve on, as they should always be with any side.

"If you are not going forward you are going backwards, there is no such thing as Static". Not sure where this quote comes from, but it is a key point in Strategy.

I shall write up the preview of the Wales v England later in the week once Brian Ashton picks his squad. Who will be fly-half?? Who will be on the bench??? Will Farrel, Wilkinson and Vickery be back in the side?? Will he reward Catt and Flood places in the starting line up?? With Tindall out we need another centre! It's important to remember that both Flood and Geraghty have played at centre for their respective clubs, so don't be surprised to see Wilkinson at fly half and Flood or Geraghty at centre along side Mike Catt. What about Matthew Tait he has played well as a sub evrey game?? I don't think Geraghty will start at fly-half as his place kicking has been poor in the England Saxon games earlier in the tournament and his kicks to touch where a bit wayward at the end.

It will be interesting this week to see the squad selection and hear the pre-match psychology. The psychology employed before a battle is an important point in strategy texts such as the "Art of War". I will discuss this in more detail on the Preview post before the last games of the 6 nations, but it will be interesting to hear the language of Brian Ashton and Mike Catt/Phil Vickery before the Wales game.

Saturday, 10 March 2007

Result Italy 23 - Wales 20

Lets consider the Strategic advantages/dis-advantages of each team going into this game

For Wales a win would have meant avoiding the wooden spoon and a potential humiliation of a white wash sealed by their arch enemy England. Why is this strategic advantage!! The cornered man/army will fight twice as hard as the man/army with an escape route. This situation would have given them some extra drive against the Italians. Now against England on Saturday they will fell even more cornered and will fight much harder as there is no escape route and no second chance.

For the Italians they had done better than before in any 6 nations by winning away from home. This however, meant win or lose they could still hold their heads up high and claim progress at the end of the tournament. This was a potential dis-advantages for Italy as they had an escape route. This was nicely counteracted by the offer of £15k per player if they beat Wales, plus the sell out of all the remaining games with their country men and women fully behind them. They knew they could beat Wales and they had all the reasons to want to beat Wales as well.

Now to the game itself.

The Welsh forwards did complete better than expected and Italian backs also played better than expected against the Welsh. The turning point was the substitutions in the Welsh and Italian forwards. This gave the Italian forwards the clear advantage supplying them with the penalty and and the penalty kick for the line out resulting in the try.

Discussed before about using the expected to met the expected and the unexpected to win. This refers back to the unorthodox and the orthodox methods discussed in the England vs France preview. So you use the expected to met the expected and the unexpected to break the expected.

"Use standard methods to meet everyday challenges
Use unexpected methods to win big breakthroughs"

When Pez chipped the ball over the Welsh line you could see it was an unexpected move as it caught the defense on the back foot. Everyone expected Italy to keep the ball in the forwards trying to use their strength to barrel it over the line. The fact the try was under the posts resulting in a 3 point margin was critical to the controversy that surround the game in the last 10 seconds. Overall even a draw would have been disappointing for Wales and still left the Italians with their best 6 nations so far.

Result Scotland 18 - Ireland 19

Every action has an equal and opposite re-action. From the heights of thumping victory against England it seems Ireland found it difficult to pick themselves up and gain the motivation against Scotland. Knowledge that the Grand slam was lost, suspecting that France would beat England and beating Scotland would only result in another Triple crown, which these set of players had won 3 times in since 2003, meant Ireland didn't have much to play for. Scotland battled on with an "active defense", as I discussed in the preview and nearly caused an upset with Ireland playing a few percent off their normal game. This time round Scotland took their penalties and and kept the score board moving, putting pressure on Ireland to score and stop giving away penalties. If Scotland could have stopped giving away penalties and kicked the ball away quicker to prevent another kick being charged down for a try, they would have stood a chance of a famous victory.

Lack of celebration of the Irish team showed lack of motivation for triple crown, as it's the championship/Grand Slam they want. With England winning against France the points difference becomes vital and good win against Scotland would have given them the edge going into the last weekend.

Ireland seem to struggle against weaker opponents and when playing away from home. Against the Welsh they nearly came unstuck and against the Scottish it nearly happened again. Against the French they took their eye off the ball and only against the English with a game of huge historic importance did they play to their full potential.

Facing the Italians on Saturday in Rome, plus being the first game in the final weekend I don't believe they will have the necessary mind set to score enough points to secure the championship. I fancy the Italians may even spring a surprise against the Irish if the play the right kind of game. More of this in my Preview post for Italy v Ireland.

Friday, 9 March 2007

Preview England Vs France

On the face of it France are easily the favourites on Sunday. So far only Ireland have really tested them in the 6 Nations and due to a lack on concentration at the end, let the game slip away from them. You can never write off France until that final whistle has gone and this year they have a real belief in their style of play. They are re-cycling the ball well, have a bruising pack, fast and agile wingers and have a fly-half that can kick their penalties for a change.

In comparison England's forward are slow to the ball resulting in turnovers and the slow ball causes loss of momentum. The centres are slow and one of them is inexperienced at international level in Rugby Union, and it shows in the defensive patterns creating gaps for the opposition. The wingers are fast and could cause some damage if they got decent ball. England's fly half can definite kick the penalties, but still isn't 100% match fit. They have played 3 games together and have little preparation time between games due to the organisational structure of the English rugby. However, England are playing at home and are bound to change their game after the Ireland match, meaning they will present an unexpected dimension to the game (well for the first 20 minutes at least.)

If England are to compete in my opinion this is what we need to change.

  1. Get faster guys in the forwards to support and to prevent turnovers and slow ball. Plus in defense slow down their ball and fighting for turnovers.
  2. Bring in more speed at the centre of the pitch i.e. Matthew Tait.
  3. Remove any defensive frailties i.e. Andy Farrel, a few games in the Saxons side will get him the additional experience he needs.
  4. Bring the wingers into the game more, either getting the ball out to them or getting them to come in a get the ball to create extra numbers and put some pace and momentum on the attack.
  5. Surprise: Do the unexpected to throw the French off their rhythm.
  6. Preparation: Find a way to gel the team.

So how does this relate to strategy.

1. Speed, momentum and surprise are the corner stones of a good attack and therefore preventing these are the corner stone of a good defense as well. They must be carried out in balance with one another.

"When the speed of rushing water reached the point where it can move boulders, this is the force of momentum. When the speed of a hawk is such that it can strike and kill, this is precision. So it is with skillful warriors -- their force is swift, their precision is close. Their force is like drawing a catapult, their precision is like releasing the trigger. " Art of War by Sun Tzu.

"Getting people to fight by letting the force of momentum work is like rolling logs and rocks. Logs and rocks are still when in a secure place, but roll on an incline; they remain stationary if square, they roll if round. Therefore, when people are skillfully led into battle, the momentum is like that of round rocks rolling down a high mountain -- this is force." Art of War by Sun Tzu.

2. Speed through the centres. When attacking through the middle it gives you more options on your next decision. Right, left straight on. Where attacking on the wing leaves you limited to your options of back inside or straight ahead due to the touch line acting as a extra defensive line. You need to, "punch a hole" as my Dad says.

"The condition of a military force is that its essential factor is speed, taking advantage of others' failure to catch up, going by routes they do not expect, attacking where they are not on guard. " Art of War by Sun Tzu.

But be aware of haste and recklessness. Consider your position first, make sure you are in a decent position to enact these moves and that you understand your opponents position as well. So your own 5 meter line may not be the time to try and put too much pace/speed into your game. However, in their half may give you the break through you are looking for to get pass their defense.

"Carrying the feet is important also in large-scale strategy. This is because, if you attack quickly and thoughtlessly without knowing the enemy's spirit, your rhythm will become deranged and you will not be able to win. Or, if you advance too slowly, you will not be able to take advantage of the enemy's disorder, the opportunity to win will escape, and you will not be able to finish the fight quickly. You must win by seizing upon the enemy's disorder and derangement, and by not according him even a little hope of recovery. Practice this well. " The book of Five rings by Miyamoto Musashi.

3. Defense. in strategy you should always attack weakness with strength. The Irish considered the Tindall/Farrel partnership as weakness and O'Driscoll/Darcy as their strength. Farrels lack of commit to the defensive patterns was highlighted during the game by Austin Healy. It was shown how it lead to gaps opening in the English defensive line. Tait showed he can tackle and has more experience than Farrel. Tait fulfils two important criteria for the strategy; speed of attack (swiftness as it is often referred to) and defense.

"Strategy is improving your position as from a better position better opportunities arise".

"A better positions is a position with more options."

Attacking through the middle fulfils these rules.

4 & 5 . We are back to swiftness, momentum and surprise again. Same as before.

With regards bringing in your wingers this helps you outnumber your opponent's and brings in the element of surprise.Tthe idea being the unexpected and expected give you endless possibilities.

"There are only two kinds of charge in battle, the unorthodox surprise attack and the orthodox direct attack, but variations of the unorthodox and the orthodox are endless. The unorthodox and the orthodox give rise to each other, like a beginningless circle -- who could exhaust them?"

"If you can strike few with many, you will thus minimize the number of those with whom you do battle."

6. Preparation. We don't have the time to prepare the team and get them use to playing together. However, we can pick the team around players that are already use to playing together, minimising the impact the lack of preparation has caused. For example Jonny, Toby, Noon and Tait all play together at Newcastle and have an understanding they can bring to England. Also Corry, Chuter, Kay, Ellis all play together at Leicester Tigers.


There is so much I could write around this subject, but this is blog not an essay so I will keep it short and sweet, and save it for my grand unified theory of rugby. I predict France to win by at least 15 points if we stick to our current style and rhythm of play. If we make some changes that allow us to compete I think we can bring the scores closer, however I doubt we can win this game as France have too many strategic advantages on their side at the moment.

Let get ready to Rumble

Only one more day to go and the Rugby starts again. Whooopppeeeeee!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I am going to the game on Sunday and will take some photos and post some time on Monday once I have recovered.

Good luck to all the teams, I hope we have some good matches.

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Preview Scotland Vs Ireland

We all know what Scotland will do on Saturday after losing to the Italians, they will shut up shop and play very defensive rugby. To be honest it's really their only hope of keep the score down to a respectable level against this confident Irish side. We saw Scotland do this last year against England and France, and it worked. The Irish side will be prepared for this type of play and will have come up with a plan. In the "Art of War" by Sun Tzu he talks about adopting an, "active defense" when against stronger opponents. The active defense tires the stronger opponents out making them run around trying to find the way through the defense, whilst you wait at your leisure. I am sure there will be nothing leisurely about defending against Ireland, however the idea of making the attackers force their way through thus resulting in them tiring out the attackers still holds true.

Preview Italy Vs Wales

I think Wales will really struggle against the Italians on Saturday. If the Italian forwards control the ball and starve the Welsh backs of possession and put in some good tactical kicks they have a very real chance of victory. The Welsh pack need to lose some weight if they are to keep up with the pace of the game and secure the ball for their backs. The Welsh backs are slowly getting it together, but can have a tendency to over cook it. They need a bit more direct play at times and be prepared to go to ground with the ball rather than losing it with the constant off loading. Could be they don't trust the support to re-cycle the ball and get it back out again.

I think with the home advantage and the prospect of a fourth place finish the Italians will go hell for leather against the Welsh. I never rated Gareth Jenkins, look how well Phil Davis is doing with the Scarlets since he took over!!!!

England's line up

Just read the starting 15 for England. Definitely putting in a faster pack which will allow us to compete for the ball as discussed in my previous post. At the same time keeps a bit of experience in the squad. This is good, however they won't have long to prepare and get an understanding running between them. Flood is a fast attacking player and may surprise the French, however he is inexperienced at this level and will find it hard going if the boys don't secure decent ball. With Catt providing experience at Flood's side like he did for Jonny in the world cup. Catt is unlikey to last the full game so expect to see Matthew tait at some point.

Overall a better selection, Wilkinson and Vickery weren't match fit anyway and it showed late on in the Ireland game. Moving Corry to second row is interesting, he is a very experienced player and leader in the side, and having him on the pitch is a bonus to the English team. At number 8 seemed a bit slow for this level, but at second row he could still bring a huge impact to the game if he can adapt.

Still expect France to win. For England a lot depends on how quickly they can adpat to the new squad and style of play it will bring. Competing for the ball in the forwards is key if we want to get momentum and bring in the pace Robinson, Lewsy and Strettle to open up the French side.

Monday, 5 March 2007

France vs Wales

Great game to watch with the momentum swinging back and forth like a chav on swing.
France like Scotland went down to some early tries from the visitors. However, unlike Scotland they didn't panic, as they realised they had plenty of time left and believed in their own abilities to win the game still. They didn't get flustered they just picked the ball back up and tried to re-establish their rhythm. France took their penalty and regained momentum with the 3 points to reduce the gap and with their rhythm re-established they start threatening the Welsh try line with the inevitable results. They continued to put away the penalties and keep the scoreboard moving in their favour, something they having been unable to do in the last few years, but with Skrela they now have accurate fly-half. "If you are not moving forward you are going back wards, there is no such thing as static," this a paraphrased strategy quote.

The recycling of the ball by the French was brilliant they kept momentum up on the attack keeping the Welsh on the back foot. Typical French however, as once the game was won they eased off content with the win by any margin. All the strategy texts discuss the need not just to beat your opponents, but to destroy them were possible. The All Blacks are great at doing this and it creates a psychological advantage for the next time they meet and sends out a clear message to all other opposition. When the next side faces them (All Blacks) they already fear an almighty thumping and tend to prepare themselves mentally for the loss of the game, and how to reduce the score line as much as possible.

For the Welsh it was a better night than I expected, with 3 tries giving them hope that their back line is regaining its confidence and direction.

Roll on the next set of games. I am going to write up something about all the matches up coming games this week end by the end of the week.

Saturday, 3 March 2007

Ireland Vs England

Ireland vs England

A classic match and some great examples of classic strategy. Strategy isn’t just about what happens on the field it is about the whole picture. So this includes leadership, organisational structure, planning/preparation and leveraging your environment. I feel these areas of strategy had a big impact on the game as much as the on field action.

Leadership. Brain Ashton and Phil Vickery has only just taken over and the team is only just beginning to gel. In comparison to the length and strength of the Irish leadership that has been running for the last few years. I am not saying that the English guys are bad leaders they just haven’t had the team to make an impact yet. Plus captain of country but not at club is an interesting situation.

Organisational Structure. Basically we are talking about the whole club vs country row the structure of who has overall control of the English players. Plus what does Rob Andrew actually do? Who is in charge?

Preparation. Strategy texts state that battles are not won on the field, but in the HQ. In other words the planning and preparation is everything without them you are at an extreme disadvantage. This comes back to the club vs country row with the English players only having 2 training session prior to the game. This in comparison to the Irish whom with their central contracts had 2 weeks preparation time.

Leveraging your environment: It was an historic day with England playing at Croke park and the Irish players and crowd were sweating pure passion, and demanding a victory over the English. Strategy says to choose the were, the when of a battle and use the climate to your advantage. Games venues and times are obviously decided in advance, but home games are a definite advantage. With the home game you can set up the pitch to your style of play and you know the dimensions and markers around the pitch you can use them to gauge your position. You also know the ground and will feel at home giving you one less worry on the day. An example in football is Real Madrid whom like to put a small layer of water on the pitch as it helps a quicker passing game. The crowd can also motivate your side and de-motivate the opposition. The added historical importance of the day also had a huge impact ensuring the Irish players and crowd were pumped up for the match. In comparison the English players had been given history lessons into the tragic events that had happened at the site. This was bound to have positive impact for the Irish and a negative impact on the English players.

All this before the game has even kicked off, makes you realize the power of strategy when so much can be done in advance to achieve your mission.

Now finally the game itself.

England lost the competition in the forwards and at the breakdowns. Everyone has already said this, so it isn't much of a surprise. You basically can't win the game if you haven't got the ball. The Irish turned us over and slowed us down at the breakdown slowing down our momentum or swinging the momentum to their favour. We need a more mobile pack to compete at the break downs and support the players making the breaks. "Move out of old positions slowly and into new positions quickly" Art of War by Sun Tzu. You need to consider your defence when you attack. In this case the players behind the player making the break need to provide that defence by providing support to the player at the breakdown ,or to keep the move going by taking the pass and ensuring momentum is retained.

Now the backs didn't really get much of a go with the ball especially on a wet day and with poor ball. Like I said the momentum had been lost and the Irish defensive line re-established, meaning the English players were starting all over again ever time trying to break through a organised defense. Mr Austin Healey pointed at that Andy Farral wasn't keeping to the defensive patterns allowing the gaps to appear meaning the Irish could take advantage. I think he needs some more experience, so playing for the Saxons for the rest of the games may be a good idea. Just like the pack we need speed in our backs, as speed, momentum and surprise are essentials of a good attack. So at centre Matthew Tait could answer this need for speed, plus he can now tackle.
I will write a more detailed blog prior to the French game about what I think we need to change in the England side to stand a chance of victory over the French.

An interesting result the week before was Ireland A 0 - England Saxons 32.
This goes to show the differences in the depth in squads between the two countries. Also I don't believe many of the Irish A players have central contracts so probably only had the same preparation time as the England Saxon side. This gave our players a more level playing field when encountering their Irish counterparts.

Scotland v Italy

Scotland v Italy.

This was a very interesting match in terms of strategy as the state of the game was dictated to very early on with 3 Italian tries. It showed a huge the difference in attack and defence of the two teams very early on, and showed the mind set and beliefs of each team as the game progressed.

Italy was very obviously employing a blitz defence and bore early fruit in with a charge down and a try. I am a big fan of blitz defence as it ticks all the boxes with classic strategy. In “The book of five rings”, Miyamoto talks about defending at the first impulse of the attack. He says to stop them on the a of attack and l of the leap. Part of strategy is to use the opportunities presented to you quickly. You should never try to create opportunities or gaps but be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that arise. Secondly in classic strategy speed and momentum of a move are the corner stones of attack. By employing the blitz defence you prevent this speed and momentum and the attackers are likey to make mistakes that you can capitalise upon. Miyamoto also takes about flustering your opponent and disrupting their rhythm. So the blitzing work and Italy scored an early try.

Scotland was obviously flustered and want to get back in the game quickly. They forced some passes in their own half and again fell foul of the Italians Blitz defence. On the subject of forcing the game we are back to not creating opportunities but seeking them out. “move into new positions quickly and out of old positions slowly” Art of War by Sun Tzu. My interpretation is always considered the defensive position of your new position created by your move. Strangely enough Scotland seemed even move flustered and hadn’t worked out the Italian defence and again forced the move which the Italians took advantage of by being in the right place at the right time due to the blitz defence.

21 points down the momentum of the game was in favour of the Italians and Scots need to get some points on the board. Later on Scotland had several chances to kick at goal and turned these down and went for terroritory and possibility of try. 7 points would have obviously given them some momentum and settled some nervous allowing the Scottish to regain their rhythm. However I think they underestimated the Italian defence, again. This terroritory attacking didn’t really work and when you consider it only takes 1 minute to kick for goal it is in terms of time to points ratio it is very cost efficient. In strategy we have something call cost of a move. A cheap move is the shortest distance involving the fewest people. This is why intercept tries are so great as the usually on involve 1 or 2 people to score across easy ground. Kicking to the 22 and lineout and involves most of your team plus the ground ahead is dangerous as it is packed with defenders/obstacles. The time this all takes to kick and walk down set up and throw into your line out you could be back in your own half receiving the ball again if you had kicked as the cost of the move is 1 person and maximum 1 minute. Considering Paterson’s excellent goal kicking the week before it seems a strange decision. I think Scotland wanted to regain momentum and didn’t believe the Italians defence was very good. Once 21 points up you can afford to defend, defence in strategy is always the easiest option as it puts the effort on the attacker. In the Art of War the worse attack you can make is against castle or fortress. Forcing the opposition into a siege drains them of resource and frustrates them leading to lowering of morale.

Scotland did regain some points but eventually they tried due to the siege of the Italian half. Once this happened the Italians were able to counter attack having weathered the siege of their try line. They took their penalties unlike Scotland and scored another try.

Thursday, 1 March 2007

The first entry and the weekends 6 nations Super Saturday

So for my first post I might as well with what happened the previous weekend. Scotland vs Italy. England Vs Ireland and France vs Wales.
To make it easier to read I will write one a day so a separate blog entry for each. The idea will be what happened in the match and how strategy played its role in the result.
I do have lots of ideas on many areas of strategy and rugby but rather than an essay I thought a blog was a good way to discuss individual elements of strategy as they happen. So next entry on Scotland vs Italy.