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.
- 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.
- Bring in more speed at the centre of the pitch i.e. Matthew Tait.
- Remove any defensive frailties i.e. Andy Farrel, a few games in the Saxons side will get him the additional experience he needs.
- 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.
- Surprise: Do the unexpected to throw the French off their rhythm.
- 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.