Jonathan Davies: Premiership needs to take flight not fright

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The Independent Online

After the first four games in the Powergen Anglo-Welsh Cup, the general view was that English clubs had paid the penalty for under-estimating the strength of the Welsh regions.

I don't believe for one minute that complacency was the cause. They are too professional for that. The real reason was that at the root of the English displays was a negative mindset formed by the fear of relegation.

It was the nature of the different styles of play in England and Wales that caught out the English, and I believe the lesson will do their game the world of good. Today's tie between Newcastle and Llanelli will be an excellent test of how English clubs have reacted to the shock provided by the Welsh on the first weekend of the new competition. Newcastle can play a bit of football, and that is what is called for from the English if they are to restore their feeling of supremacy.

The Welsh certainly surprised them with the quality and force of their forward play and the resilience of their defence in three of the games. The Ospreys did not perform as well as they can in those two departments and suffered accordingly at Kingsholm.

But, overall, the Welsh performed better because they play with greater freedom. That has traditionally been the Welsh style, but the freedom from relegation worries makes a big difference to their approach.

The Guinness Premiership is based on power, power and more power. There's nothing wrong with that if it is coupled with vision and adventure, but the English game is one-dimensional and very blinkered when they are on attack.

Apart from Sale and Wasps, the Premiership clubs are not well-versed in the art of the counterattack, and this was highly noticeable in the first batch of games. The lack of imagination can be seen in how rarely they get to the second pass, which is how you get away from the traffic.

But they tend to make one pass and then either kick or go back in search of support. Welsh teams are not afraid to make the second pass or the third. If it is not working out you can then kick or run back to strength.

There were two excellent examples of the difference in attitude last weekend. The first was when the Dragons full-back Kevin Morgan broke from his 22 to set up a brilliant move for the try that helped to break Leicester. Llanelli's Gareth Bowen was also in his own 22 when he dummy-kicked and broke through to set up Tal Selley's try that saw off Leeds.

English clubs are just not used to having to cope with such audacity. They have become accustomed to wars of attrition up front, looking to force turnovers or penalties to gain their points.

This is what happens when you are governed by a survival mode, when your victories are ground out with a style that has the avoidance of risk as its first priority.

Relegation is not a new threat in the English system but it seems to have taken on a new menace in the past couple of seasons, and you sense how sharply the pressure to stay in the Premiership has increased.

Without doubt, the safety-first factor crept from the clubs into the England team last season. In the 18 months before the 2003 World Cup, England were the best side in the world because they were fully equipped to play any sort of game. I know they have lost many inspirational players since, but the difference in the team who did duty in the Six Nations earlier this year was remarkable.

They have become as one-dimensional as their clubs. Their coach, Andy Robinson, will be well aware that he has to cultivate a more expansive gameplan and that he has to do it quickly, otherwise they have no chance against the southern-hemisphere teams.

I am sure that the English clubs will raise the intensity and try to overpower the Welsh, but their first aim must be to get rid of their conservative approach.

They can still play within a solid team structure, but when the opportunity arises they should be prepared to try a bolder method. Individual decision-making seems almost a thing of the past in English rugby.

There is no relegation threat in the Powergen Cup. The English clubs should use the tournament to develop the deftness and awareness that would do wonders for the attraction of the Premiership.

If they let their hair down and loosen up, who knows what magic they may discover lies hidden in their grim ranks.

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