Brian Smith's Analysis: England win despite French tactics - Green and Gold Rugby

Brian Smith’s Analysis: England win despite French tactics

Brian Smith’s Analysis: England win despite French tactics


England were rusty and lucky to beat an enthusiastic and super sized France in Twickenham in Round 1 of the 2017 RNS 6 Nations. The monster French team created 10 line breaks to England’s 5 and their talismanic number eight, Louis Picamoles, was announced man of the match. A rare occurrence for the award to go to a player on the losing team playing away.

However, despite losing heavily almost every statistic and KPI, the Eddie Jones coached England team took their chance late in the second half with Ben Teo scoring to deny France. This England team is now the proud holder of the longest winning streak of any team wearing the red rose. Fortune is clearly smiling on this England team.

Red Zone Analysis

Both teams had limited opportunities in the opposition 22m area but the only 2 tries in the match were scored from Red Zone Shots. France were the first to score a try around the 60 minute mark with a sustained attack that eventually saw them cross the white wash. As the following clip will show England’s Dan Cole was slow to adjust and shut down the offload as the French forwards played through the line.

When England had their opportunity to respond it was the fresh substitute Ben Teo who scored the try after some heavy carrying from James Haskell and Nathan Hughes. As England launched this Red Zone Shot they changed multiple players injecting Danny Care, James Haskell and Ben Teo. It proved perfect timing from the coach and it’s fair to say the England bench stepped up and delivered.


General Attack

The French were the more fluent of the 2 teams in attack and they focused on attacking England on the blind side on multiple occasions with good success. This clip is probably the best of their blind side raids. It’s a 5 Man lineout and France attack George Ford from the launch phase and they get plenty of go forward. Picamoles then ran a hard line directly off the scrum half and his carry created super quick ruck ball for the French to launch their blind side raid. As the clips shows they created a well worked scoring opportunity on the right edge.

England struggled from the launch phase of many of their attacking opportunities due to French pressure in the set piece and the ruck. However, they made a very good adjustment just after half time using tempo at the lineout to launch one of their best attacking efforts. As the clip shows England employ a “Hurry Up” tactic to dilute aerial pressure at the lineout and provide clean ball for the backs.

Exit Plays

The French changed things up with their Exits but the following clip is an illustration of a tactic that we may see more of in this Championship. The French saw England’s fullback Mike Brown as a threat on kick return so in order to deny him space to launch a counter attack they bombed him. As the clip shows it’s easier to shut down a counter attacking threat if the target get man and ball at the same time.

England’s exits continue to look like the 2007 Springboks with Ben Youngs hoisting box kicks for Jonathan Joseph to chase and contest the kicks. As the clips show France kick to England’s winger so that he is not able to chase the box kick but England were prepared for this so Joseph was given the task of kick chase and he was outstanding.

Referee Review

It would be remiss of me not to mention the Twickenham debut of the young Australian referee, Angus Gardiner. The television commentary team made much of his performance, questioning a number of his scrum and ruck decisions. At one point they even questioned the political correctness of his language.

(^ make sure the volume on the video is turned up!)

All that being said I recently caught up with Alain Rolland the boss of World Rugby Referees. We played international rugby together many years ago now but we’ve stayed in touch and he’s a good friend. When I quizzed him on Angus Gardiner he was very supportive of the young Aussie referee. So let’s hope he learns quickly and kicks on. International rugby can be an unforgiving arena for players, coaches and match officials.

  • I thought Gardiner had a good game. Of the up and coming referees Gardiner and Jackson are head and shoulders above the rest in my opinion. It’s a bit of a shame they’re only getting one game in the middle each.

    That said, Gardiner is definitely miced up and broadcast and while “buggers” isn’t bad language compared to some we hear from the players, it is bad enough for tea-time viewing in the UK the commentators should have apologised for the bad language you may have heard and moved on. They didn’t do it properly, but I thought the commentary overall for that match was quite poor.

    • Brian Smith

      I think Angus would be the first say that refereeing in front of 80,000 people for the first time was a real test. For mine he made clear errors that thankfully did not impact the result. Most rookie international refs take time to settle in and I’m sure he’ll do that quickly. The scrums and rucks are much more difficult to manage in the test arena. Angus will have to work thru that and he’ll need to look at how he speaks to players. Last year he was disrespectful to David Pocock in a Super Rugby match and his tone was a bit school master like with the Hookers in this test. I’m sure he’ll be getting plenty of review feedback this week. Coaches and players pick up on these things…it’s an easy fix.

      • Xaviera

        I thought he handled himself well, especially given it was a bi-lingual match. I didn’t have an issue with the chat with the hookers – they’d had plenty of warning, and there was obviously a pre-match chat too, and they WERE playing silly buggers. I suspect that he was trying to dumb it down a bit so the French could understand, but it may have come across as harsh as a result. A couple of his decisions while called pedantic were correct, although one of his explanations was poor, which didn’t help the perception of the decision.

        I think the scrum penalties were the most difficult to get right, as is often the case. Marler still angles, and the English back row still bind on the props, both actions being illegal, and neither were penalised. An early call on those may have changed some behaviours sooner.

        As you say, he’ll have a thorough debrief and he’s smart enough to learn from it. Even in the past year or so he’s improved, and he’ll only get better. He needs more Tests now, although Super Rugby will provide an excellent forum for his “work-ons”.

    • mikado

      I thought Jackson was awful in SA vs Argentina last year. I hadn’t noticed anything about him since then (in fact, has he reffed an International since then?)

  • david baldwin

    Brian, if you think Angus Gardner is “schoolmasterish” perhaps you should watch some of Romain Poite’s games involving the Wallabies or any of Nigel Owen’s work. Flat out rude those two!

  • mikado

    Thanks for the analysis Brian. I don’t quite agree that England were lucky to beat France – they were fitter, had a better bench and pick kickers that punish every penalty in the opposition half. France simply failed to capitalise when they had the upper hand.
    I thought Gardiner did fine. There was some whinging about his performance but it was no worse than the other two refs that weekend. TV commentators are cretinous when it comes to knowledge of the laws.

  • adastra32

    Gardiner was OK but his “ball’s out”…”no, it’s emerging” ruck call, while it might have been technically correct, was not good, clear reffing and the players looked suitably puzzled. And some major leniency for France’s late-on persistent infringements in the red zone contrasts unfavourably with some of his more pedantic calls and the usual bug bears that all referees seem blind to (the synchronised charge/flop to seal off at the b/d especially..grrrr!) . However, not bad for a first big one.


Brian Smith is a rare breed who has both played and coached international rugby and doesn't mind telling it as he sees it. He's currently putting his Oxford degree to good use teaching Commerce and coaching rugby at the Scots College, Sydney.

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