What is it about the playing the Poms that makes better Aussie teams lose when they should, by rights, be winning?
Since 2000, England has won nine out of the 16 matches, including the two crucial ones. That goes against the grain of Aussie performances against other UK sides (unless in the rain against Scotland!). And you can’t say that England have been a huge rugby force apart, from 2001–2003.
So why does England triumph more than the form book suggests?
Let’s get that elephant in the room dealt with first. Yes, it looks like Andrew Sheridan, but even he has said that the England team won in 2007 not because they scrummaged well, but because of their counter-rucking.
Scrummaging does have a part to play in international rugby, but there are so few scrums these days, it is not the influence you might think. Give away a five-metre scrum, and, yes, you are under pressure. But territory is more important, especially for teams like England. They do not have the cutting edge of New Zealand or Wales. They are more likely to play like South Africa — a sort of Springboks Lite.
England know this: basically, when you are in possession you have to put yourself in a position to either kick goals or score short-range tries. You do this by pounding.
England are good at pounding. Big runners smashing forwards, a couple of offloads and then recycle for more of the same. Sometimes the clever runners will find a gap but we all know this is rare. Chris Ashton’s first try in 2010 (the forgotten one) is typical of the tries England score, not his more famous length-of-the-field effort.
Look at the first try again and you will see that England bash, recycle and offload. Then look back at their first try against Australia in June 2003 — it’s exactly the same. If the bash and offload does not bring a try, it might bring a scrum or a penalty.
Move the video forward to 12:14
Why doesn’t this tactic work against all teams? There is something in the voodoo sign here. It is about momentum and belief. Look at the way Wales see things. The biggest match of any season is against England. The Welsh feel they have a God-given right to beat the English, and they regularly do so. Even in this season’s Six Nations, where England were arguably the better team on the day, the Welsh still beat them.
It is the same for the Wallabies defence against the All Blacks. Tackling and hitting back behind the gain line seems to improve immeasurably, certainly in the first half of games. The defence is up and at their trans-Tasman rivals, reducing their go-forward and forcing more kicks. When Beale, O Connor, AAC and Digby are about, this is just what the doctor ordered.
Yet when it comes the All Whites, the desire to take them on physically isn’t there. That is the main problem – fire in the belly in defence. Attack will take care of itself (once the backs remember to not kick the ball away). Defence is about attitude, and an extra 5 per cent might have been lacking against the English.
Whatever side runs out this weekend for England, it will look at the route one option first. Watch out for Robshaw pushing and pulling defenders onto him before releasing runners around him – Ben Morgan and Dan Cole for instance – and Flood attacking the gain line to do the same.
I think Dingo is in for a tough tour. All the home nations will fancy their chances against his bruised and battered 1st/2nd XV. That might be just the extra fire they need. The second teamers could decide they have a point to prove and stoke up the fires to beat England. Will the curse of England dampen that desire…?