The 2018 Six Nations championship kicks off tomorrow with a match between Wales and Scotland in Cardiff that is highly anticipated, as a result of the tactical shift both sides appear to be undergoing. Scotland, in particular, are receiving a lot of media attention in the lead up to Gregor Townsend’s first tournament in charge, due to their new head coach’s attacking reputation and their strong November showing against Australia and New Zealand – aspects of which showed evidence of Townsend’s coaching focus.
Scotland’s record since the former Glasgow coach took over is impressive: a 4-2 record across the June and November internationals (including wins home and away against the Wallabies), along with averages of 32.3 points and 4.5 tries per game. Of the 27 tries they scored in this period, an impressive 5 resulted from opposition turnovers – a mark which suggests that Townsend is already moulding this side into the type of all-court team comfortable in transition not often seen in international rugby in the Northern Hemisphere.
Continue reading “Attack analysis: Scotland”
Portrayals of Northern and Southern Hemisphere rugby are typically contrasting: the latter marked by ball movement, skill and attacking invention, and the former tightly contested and brutally physical. The pre-eminence of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa for much of the professional era often meant that this contrast of style was also framed as a contrast of quality, and that its natural consequence was the rest of the rugby world falling into step with such an approach to the game. This pre-eminence, however, has faltered for both sporting and economic reasons, and with it the notion that style is a necessary prerequisite of substantive performance in international rugby. In the wake of the 2015 World Cup, the home nations in particular have been resurgent, and their success has been a result of honing traditional strengths: ball retention, breakdown work, defence and tactical kicking. On top of these foundations, individual skill levels have improved as a result of sustained exposure to a high level of coaching and a focus on all-round player development at all levels.
These increased skill levels have undoubtedly had a positive effect on the quality of attacking play in European rugby, and at international level both Wales and Scotland in particular have expressed publicly a desire to ‘modernise’ and change the way they look to play with ball in hand. Nevertheless, an examination of the Six Nations in comparison to other competitions during this World Cup cycle – as will be seen below – suggests that such deeply entrenched stylistic differences have sustained, and that higher skill levels are being applied within a markedly difference game structure to the international game in the Southern Hemisphere. This has important implications for test match rugby in the long-term: looking further ahead into the future of the international game, the apparently inevitable movement towards Northern economic and on-field dominance will have a clear effect on the nature of the on-field product. However, this also raises interesting questions in the context of the 2018 Six Nations championship, which begins on Saturday 3rd February: in particular, whether changes to breakdown laws will negate any such attempts and push Northern Hemisphere rugby even further down its current path, or the attacking ‘philosophy’ espoused by Gregor Townsend will result in Scotland truly departing from the European model.
Continue reading “2018 Six Nations preview: different hemisperes, different styles?”
England have operated an impressive defence in this year’s 6 Nations, and in the 3 games so far it has been the platform for their success: the intensity that Paul Gustard’s scheme has injected into their play makes it difficult for opponents to get on to the front foot in attack, and with the ball they have been able to feed off the turnover opportunities it creates. Athletes like George Kruis, Maro Itoje and James Haskell thrive in a system that requires them to work off the line, cut down space and win physical battles in the contact area; on the outside, Owen Farrell and Jonathan Joseph couple similarly sound physical capabilities in the tackle with excellent lateral movement and tracking of runners.
Continue reading “Attack analysis: Ireland vs. England, 27 Feb”