Lawrence Dallaglio on England’s back-row options
England’s recent switch of the composition of their back row, fielding Tom Curry and Sam Underhill alongside each other, mimics a worldwide trend when it comes to how teams will attack the breakdown at the World Cup, according to former England No8 Lawrence Dallaglio.
Eddie Jones’s decision to pair the opensides worked against Ireland, and the combination is poised to be used in key pool matches against France and Argentina.
“The argument is the same as playing Michael Hooper and David Pocock, or Ardie Savea and Sam Cane,” said Dallaglio, a Land Rover ambassador. “Opting for two sevens now just shows how things can change at the last minute. The game has shifted more towards the breakdown again, particularly with how it is officiated, it becomes such a key area. Having two sevens gives you a real licence to attack that area.”
England’s strong tight five also allows Jones to experiment with the back row. “In 2003, Richard Hill, Neil Back and myself performed well because we had Martin Johnson and Ben Kay in front of us. If you have strong ball carriers, the focus is different. If you have amazing line-out forwards, your options change.
“It’s horses for courses. Sam Underhill and Tom Curry looked particularly good against Ireland, and they are good, but that was also because Maro Itoje and George Kruis ruled the air. Against a better line-out, maybe New Zealand or South Africa, they might start with Curry, Underhill and Billy Vunipola but then opt for the flexibility of moving Itoje into the back row.
“You have to get your set-piece right, which in turn puts pressure on the locks and the front row. You might come unstuck during games without an Itoje or Courtney Lawes.”
One certainty is that Vunipola will be integral when it comes to England’s hopes. “Billy is capable of doing things that very few players can do, multiple carries but also with that ability to offload and produce moments that can turn games.”