Tuesday, 26 June 2018

England need to master eight

England's back row, or the balance thereof, has been the subject of debate for many a year, with the combination reaching its nadir in this year's Six Nations when it featured a second row (Lawes) at blindside flanker, a blindside flanker (Robshaw) at openside, and a Billy Vunipola-lite option (Hughes) at number 8.

In Eddie Jones' first year in charge Billy Vunipola's power game, ably supported by two 6½s (Robshaw and Haskell) was instrumental in getting England on the front foot and affording space to the half backs.

Clearly Plan A for Eddie Jones.

Unfortunately, in Billy's frequent injury absences since 2016, there does not appear to have been a Plan B other than to ask the inferior Hughes to do the same job but not as well or to give the seriously rapid Sam Simmonds a go but not alter the gameplan accordingly.

What Jones and his coaches must surely understand is that - in the continued absence of the overlooked Ben Morgan - there is no suitable like-for-like candidate to replace Billy.

Ergo, the gamelan must change.

It is perfectly possible to play international rugby without a big bruising number 8 making the hard yards. After all, Kieran Read, for instance, plays a much more fluid game for New Zealand, as does Toby Faletau for Wales - just two examples.

And given that England can field a back three including the the likes of May, Watson and Daly, it's not exactly rocket science to suggest that a faster back row, including a seriously mobile number 8, might be the way to go?

As for candidates for the role - I'd look at Zach Mercer, or Sam Simmonds, or perhaps Don Armand, or maybe Brad Shields, all of whom could bring something a little different to the position. Partnered with one or both of the Curry twins, or Sam Underhill perhaps, England might then just be able to play at the tempo required for international rugby.


Mike on a bike said...

Good summary - I think Hughes also needed a change of game plan (Alongside not being selected when unfit...) he really doesn't play well as mini Billy, and for Wasps runs a wider line into midfield

But whilst a faster back row does link with a fast back three, its still the half backs and centres that appear to be areas of doubt such that inside centre has no real option to Farrell, who is competent but no more. The back three would thrive on fast ball but would need the deftness of say Wasps (biased as I am) to make the most of it

Simon Todd said...

Personally I don't find the idea of a lighter more mobile back 3 that much of a problem. The idea of perhaps Simmonds at 8, Curry at 7 and perhaps Willis at 6 really excites me though I know that is a massively inexperienced back row.