England have got their mojo back… but they’ll need at least four tries to beat the All Blacks at Twickenham
- England not only beat South Africa but they have now got their spirit back
- They rediscovered their game in the second half against a very decent Boks side
- It sets up an intriguing week ahead of the much-awaited New Zealand match
I am a glass half full kind of person, so although you could pick apart England’s performance against South Africa the bottom line is that not only did they win, but they have got their mojo back.
I got ribbed on TV on Saturday for pointing out England were, effectively, only 2-0 down at half-time after scarcely featuring in the first half, but as a coach that is how you think. We go again and it will all be different after the break – and it was.
Sport ebbs and flows, big rugby Test matches ebb and flow. The trick sometimes is to just keep your head above water when the tide is against you. Get to 60 minutes within striking distance and it is anybody’s game no matter what has happened before.
England not only beat South Africa but they showed that they have now got their mojo back
England rediscovered their game in the second half against a very decent Boks side who, if they learn to close out games, are going to be massive contenders for the World Cup in Japan.
South Africa should have made it two wins on the trot against New Zealand in Pretoria last month and, yes, they should probably have beaten England at Twickenham. So that is how good they are, which emphasises what an invaluable England win it was.
All of which sets up an intriguing week ahead of the much-awaited New Zealand match. England are undoubtedly the underdogs against the world’s No 1 team and Eddie Jones and his coaching staff will have a considerable list of things to fine tune and work on.
But this is where the wise coach steps back a little. Everybody at Pennyhill Park will be buzzing on Monday morning, full of excitement wanting to get stuck in and prepare for one of the biggest games of their careers and the temptation will be to overcook things.
Just to state the obvious, this game will be won or lost on Saturday afternoon; that is when you explode out of traps, that is when you need to peak physically and emotionally.
Eddie Jones and his staff will have a considerable list of things to fine tune and work on
I would rein back a little this week with mainly walkthroughs and the emphasis on getting the mindset right. That can be difficult because Eddie, like all national coaches, complains constantly of limited coaching time with his squad.
The fact is, however, that England are fit and well conditioned — I was impressed how they lasted the game on Saturday after being under the cosh — and resting sore bodies will be a priority early in the week. Build the intensity slowly.
England’s defensive shape and systems looked in good order and pretty much held up under the strain. The lineout also went well. Dylan Hartley remains one of the best in the business at lineout time and was connecting beautifully with Maro Itoje and George Kruis so no issues there.
While there were two scrums that went back at an alarming rate they struck me as a bit random. Something had clearly gone wrong, a slip or the timing of the shove, but generally the scrum was pretty decent. A brisk technical session needed, not an overhaul.
I enjoyed England’s handling and linking when they broke free a little after half-time, much more of that will be needed against New Zealand and England must also concentrate on their ball retention.
Dylan Hartley is one of the best at lineout time and was connecting beautifully with Maro Itoje
One of the most obvious ways to beat New Zealand — or put yourself in that position — is to keep the ball, which rather limits their ability to score. For the challenge ahead England should be concentrating on three key areas:
1 Much more quality control on our kicking game, especially box kicking which gifts too much possession to the opposition. New Zealand are the side you least want to be gifting the ball.
If you do have to kick go ‘down town’ go very long down the middle towards the posts which restricts their attacking counter-attacking options and is a scenario you can prepare for and set up your defensive line.
Wales and Warren Gatland did it brilliantly last season when they nullified the counter-attacking threat of Scotland in this way.
2 Speed of play. England must and can match New Zealand for the full 80 minutes. The pack that started on Saturday was one of the more mobile England packs while the backs are full of seriously quick athletes.
Up front you must always take care of the basics — scrum, line-out, restarts — but again England need to bring some tempo into that.
Do not allow the game to stagnate. I have lost count of how many times in recent years pundits have said that the New Zealand forwards are vulnerable in the tight and that they can be dominated up front and I’m struggling to remember when that has ever happened. Teams are living in cloud-cuckoo land if they think they are going to ‘beat up’ the New Zealand pack.
3 Prepare mentally and in training for the fact that you will need to score four or five tries. You do not beat New Zealand by edging a kicking battle these days as happened in some of England’s famous wins: 1983, 1993 and our win in Wellington in 2003. Those days have gone.
You defend and tackle as if your lives depend on it, but New Zealand will score tries and amass a minimum of 25 points, possibly more. You will only win by exceeding that.
You do not beat the All Blacks by edging a kicking battle – they’ll amass at least 25 points
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