The lessons learned in the World Cup ought to make for a better and more fascinating Six Nations. Not that we are often short of excitement, but it is good to see the game advancing both tactically and as a spectacle.
This past World Cup was far more adventurous and exciting than its defence-dominated predecessor and it proved the importance of a more creative approach, as teams such as Samoa and Wales showed when they cut loose. But it wasn't all about carefree abandon. The most glaring example of adapting tactics to suit the situation was Australia's performance against New Zealand. Australia knew that the All Blacks had the edge in speed and ideas, and so they did their utmost to deny them the ball. They cut their kicking down to a minimum, and when they had to kick they made certain the ball went high in the stand. No loose kicks meant no one running the ball back at them. They made possession their priority and came out worthy winners.
It's horses for courses; you would not employ that tactic against England. You need to kick against them in order to turn them and try to pin them in their own 22 for as long as possible.
I would like to see more variation and for teams to introduce more creativity from first phase. The tendency is to build up the phases to suck in defenders and cause overlaps. Nothing wrong with that, but there is often a lot to be gained from putting players in one-on-one situations as quickly as possible.
The problem is that players don't have the confidence to take on opponents. I don't know why. If you are in possession you have the advantage and you have to back yourself to get past the man in front of you. Too many players panic and look for support or try to chip over. That's how opportunities are lost.
In the same way, teams are not adventurous enough from scrums, where many oppportunities for 8-9-15 moves are wasted. If you have a scrum in the middle of the pitch you can wheel it just enough to ensure their back row are moved away from the ball. The No 8 can then pick up and give to the No 9, who feeds the 15. The French execute this wonderfully. If the angles are right, the full-back comes from deep, hits flat ball and is difficult to defend against.
It is a very simple move and I would love to see it done more, particularly when we have full-backs such as Gareth Thomas, Josh Lewsey and Geordan Murphy around.
The danger is that teams become slaves to phase play and have not the courage to try something different. I hope to see some evidence of a bit of extra thought going into the tactics during the next few weeks.
Quite what tactics we are going to see from England is not easy to predict. The way they played in the final stages of the World Cup was not the way they were playing when they reached Australia. They were superb in the build-up, where they played very controlled rugby, very open and very quick. But then they did not go well against South Africa and even less so against Samoa, after which the expansive game was ditched and they returned to basics. They were very impressive basics, but I would say that they won it while playing to only 75 per cent of their capabilities.
What can we expect of them now? I reckon Sir Clive Woodward will want to open it up more, but the team he picks will determine the style.
It will be good to see new individuals establish themselves. If Henry Paul gets his chance, he could be one of them, as could his Gloucester team-mate James Simpson-Daniel. Yannick Jauzion will surely make his mark as a great French centre, and Shane Williams will confirm the brilliance he showed in Australia if he is given the long-awaited chance to play again in the Six Nations.
Paul O'Connell, the Irish second-row, is the most improved player of the past 12 months and is going to get better and better. He has it all. I also look to Chris Paterson, the new captain of Scotland, to impress. He looks a bit unconventional at outside-half but brings pace and will be a threat with ball in hand.
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