Back row coaches should take a look at England’s trio for the 45 minutes that they were together against Scotland on Saturday. It was a performance of extraordinary power and cohesion that allowed England to dominate both the match and the gain line.
Wayne Smith has previously mentioned on the Rugby Site how this England side strives to physically dominate teams at the area of contact. The match against Scotland was a warning to all the other Six Nations team – England will power you off the park if you don’t commit numbers.
When Euan Murray tried to drive Scotland’s first piece of possession out of the 22 on Saturday he was smashed backward by Chris Robshaw and Tom Youngs. Scotland’s first kick was then run back by Ben Morgan who broke two tackles.
So well did the trio play together that Robshaw must now come into the reckoning for the Lions captaincy. England’s captain was hugely influential in rescuing faltering attacks and nudging retreating ball back over the gain line. He was also immensely strong in the tackle.
Morgan is the fielder of kicks close to the touchline and England’s principal ball carrier. He broke numerous tackles and England lost a bit of balance when he went off with Tom Wood having to pack down at eight and Robshaw dropping back as a kick receiver. James Haskell didn’t do badly when he came on, and initiated a try with a turnover, but he has never quite made the grade at international level.
Wood is absolute ‘A’ grade. What a forward the man is becoming. He can break, he makes tackles, he cleans out and has a real sense of positioning, frequently playing off the shoulder of his back row colleagues.
Billy Twelvetrees’ try at the start of the second half was all about the backrow. Wood and Robshaw got England over the gain line, then Robshaw rescued a poor pass, re-gaining the momentum for Morgan and Wood to twist toward the line. By then Scotland’s defence was in fragments and Twelvetrees found the hole with a well-judged run.
Another part of Wood’s game is his distribution. On several occasions he arrived at the breakdown well before his scrum-half and, instead of lumbering in, he cleared a pass away without both speed and accuracy. His pass from the breakdown was a crucial factor in England’s penultimate try. Oh, and Wood wins lineout ball as well. Owen Farrell may have been awarded the man of the match against Scotland for his decision-making and goal-kicking, but Wood stood out for me.
If Johnny Sexton continues to stand as deep as he likes to then Ireland will be asking for trouble against England at the weekend. They will be thankful that Alex Corbisiero is out. That will save the Irish scrum from the beating it took at the end of the 2012 Six Nations. But if Sexton hangs back England will eat up the gain line again.
England will also ask a lot of questions of Ireland’s defence as they are aping the current All Blacks by shifting the point of contact. England’s first try was created by Joe Marlar drawing in two defenders by half faking to pass and then shifting the ball to Joe Launchbury.
England might have scored a few more than they did against Scotland, but Ireland were flattered against Wales. The opening try was down to shocking defence by Jonathan Davies and Alex Cuthbert. Wales gave up another three points trying to run out of their 22. The next 20 points involved two Evans turnovers, a charge down, a lineout penalty and another turnover. Lions coach Warren Gatland must have wondered what had become of his side.
It was a strange, strange game and Gatland may not have been much wiser at the end of it, other than inking in Brian O’Driscoll and Conor Murray for the trip to Australia.
But here is our Lions team from the weekend…
Dan Cole (by coin toss)
Chris Robshaw (capt)
Should Ireland fear the English back row in Dublin? Comments below…