Oval Talk

England must embrace attacking rugby

Oval Talk

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Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree are unveiled at Twickenham

Stuart Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree

There are little over eight weeks to go until the start of the Six Nations, which does not give Stuart Lancaster and his coaching staff a great deal of time to prepare England for the start of the tournament in early February.

So far it has all been very polite, with a lot of talking - all too predictable. What Oval Talk would like to see from Lancaster, Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree is a signal of intent on changing some fundamental flaws in the England team.

First and foremost Lancaster must get his captain right. If you look at England's successful coaches in recent years - Geoff Cooke and Sir Clive Woodward - they made brave decisions by appointing young captains in Will Carling and Lawrence Dallaglio,
respectively; whereas the likes of Martin Johnson went with more conservative choices.

Any good rugby team has a core of leaders: the captain, the lineout leader, the defence leader and the 9 and 10. Lancaster has talked about having a leadership group of seven or eight in the squad. Every team has natural leaders but to name that many could be detrimental, with too many people feeling they have a defining voice.

Lancaster has to make the right decision on his captain because otherwise you start losing the respect of the whole squad very quickly.

Rowntree has done well as England's scrummage coach but it is an extremely focused area of expertise and none of the world's top teams lose their scrum on a regular basis, irrespective of who trains them.

But Rowntree is popular among the players and as the new forwards coach he can use that influence to transform the pack into world beaters once again. Nobody can question the strength and power in England's scrum, but their fitness and endurance is poor and that puts you at an immediate disadvantage.

Without endurance mistakes filter into your game in the later stages of a match. However this is something that can be easily addressed and hopefully Rowntree will implement a new fitness regime.

As for Farrell, the new backs coach, he has to encourage an attacking style of play. Good defence is a prerequisite of being selected in a national team: you cover your channel and tackle anything that comes down it - OT was taught that as a nine-year-old. But an attacking potency takes work and Farrell's aim must be to create a back line that is feared by everyone.

People will be quick to point out that this is not how Saracens, where Farrell is the backs coach, operate: they adopt a more conservative style of play. However, Farrell has already said England will not follow the Saracens way.

"I'm not going to bring what I do with Saracens here," Farrell said. "We will decide as a coaching team how we will play the game and the players themselves will have a lot to say in that.

"The main thing in rugby is filling Twickenham and people going away happy. If people go away happy, the players will be happy."

Farrell must unleash the skill and talent. The likes of Charlie Sharples and Alex Goode need to be let loose and play alongside Ben Foden and Chris Ashton. Maybe then we would see England taking risks and playing a vibrant style of rugby.

If Lancaster and his coaching team can address these three main areas - the captaincy, fitness and the back line - England will be a force to be reckoned with. Easier said than done, but they are the interim team with nothing to lose and everything to gain. England and the RFU's conventional wisdom have not been working, so take some risks and introduce a rugby philosophy that will get results and put smiles on faces.

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