RWC 2015 - Neil Back column: England must target Welsh flankers

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The Independent Online

England need to play better against Wales next Saturday night to get a second win. I was at Twickenham on Friday to see the win over Fiji and it was concerning how lateral England were. In the first half we were under pressure at the scrum and breakdown. Wales and the following week’s opponents, Australia, will be buoyed by that.

These are elite players who train hard. England got the job done, winning with a bonus point, suffered no injuries and ticked boxes. They will gain momentum and belief from that. But the players and coaches won’t be pleased with the performance. A key marker the team would have had would have been no tries conceded – they conceded one and it might have been two or even more. Ben Youngs, winning his 50th cap, a player with more experience than most of his team-mates, bounced his first two passes before they reached the intended receiver.

There were defensive errors in contact and Fiji reached double figures (11) in turnovers. That’s the number England should be achieving, not a team like Fiji. And now England have Wales and Australia coming at them, with two openside flankers in each team.

It’s a fascinating tactical call, and different from the way England play. Chris Robshaw carries the ball well, but when you are carrying the ball in, you are not the continuity man we need. He is not a continual threat in my eyes at turning over ball at the contact area, and being the first or second person there.

What you have with Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric for Wales, or Michael Hooper and David Pocock for the Aussies, is two experts looking to deny you that quick ball. This can be a danger to England – everything is more threatening when you are on the front foot and playing off quick ball, as England demonstrated when the bench was emptied on Friday night; we were more direct through, primarily, Billy Vunipola and Sam Burgess.

But it is all a gamble; it worked one week for Australia, against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship, and it didn’t the next. New Zealand had worked it out. And at the set-piece you can be potentially weakened at the line-out, and at the scrum, which is slightly depowered because of that loss of kilograms. So that might just help out England’s scrum, which would be good news for Dan Cole and friends.

Warburton.jpg
Wales skipper Sam Warburton

From my own experience at No 7 I expect England to target those flankers physically and ferociously, denying them a chance of getting anywhere near the ball . I remember playing for England against great Australian No 7s, Phil Waugh and George Smith. We understood their threat, and their coach usually took them off after 50 minutes because we had nullified them by targeting them away from the ball. They never actually got there. You get my drift, I’m sure!

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