Jones will de­mand re­lent­less pace un­til the Amer­i­cans fold

Eng­land will want to im­pose their phys­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity to a level that tier-two op­po­nents can­not match

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Rugby World Cup - Will Green­wood

If, like me, you en­joy the odd game of poker, you quickly dis­cover that when you come up against some­one much stronger than you, in a card-play­ing sense, very few games go the dis­tance. When you play Texas hold ’em, for in­stance, you have the “flop”, when the dealer turns over the first three com­mu­nal cards. But it is rare that you ac­tu­ally reach the “turn” or “river” cards, the fourth and fifth com­mu­nal cards. Why? Be­cause the strong play­ers tend to raise the stakes so high be­tween each round that it is too much of a risk to go with them on the tiny per­cent­age that you get that four of clubs you need for a straight flush. Even if you might have won had it played out, you fold.

It is ba­si­cally the same in rugby. The stronger teams, the tier-one na­tions, raise the jeop­ardy lev­els to such an ex­tent that the smaller teams can­not live with them. They in­crease the stakes, al­though in­stead of money, they use their su­pe­rior phys­i­cal strength and tech­ni­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity.

These days the top teams, when play­ing against the so-called smaller, tier-two na­tions, want to make the game as fast and as hard as pos­si­ble, so that their op­po­nents even­tu­ally have to fold.

I have been read­ing Matthew Syed’s new book, Rebel Ideas, re­cently. In it, there is a pas­sage about the 1996 Ever­est dis­as­ter and how the de­ci­sion-mak­ing went to pot in the “death zone” above 8,000me­tres. When you are strug­gling with cold and fa­tigue, when your brain is starved of oxy­gen, you make poor de­ci­sions.

The rugby pitch poses sim­i­lar is­sues. I do not want to com­pare it to life and death but in­stead of al­ti­tude, it is speed, it is tempo. Tier-one teams, when they play tier-two teams, want to take them to the sum­mit of Ever­est. They want to in­crease the pace, the tempo, the ball-in-play time. They want to get heart rates up above 200 beats per minute. They are far bet­ter equipped to op­er­ate in those en­vi­ron­ments.

When it is tier one against tier one, it is usu­ally more of a struc­tured game. When it is tier one against tier two, it is about drag­ging them into deep wa­ter. It can make the game scrappy, espe­cially at the be­gin­ning, be­cause the tier-one na­tions are con­stantly try­ing to in­crease the tempo. Even the best play­ers make er­rors when push­ing too far.

But they ac­cept that be­cause they know, at a cer­tain point, their op­po­nents’ lev­els will drop. Aus­tralia, for in­stance, were happy to play that way against Fiji last week­end be­cause they knew Fiji would not be able to sus­tain those lev­els deep into the sec­ond half.

Too many er­rors, of course, and you lose tempo, the game slows down and you get sucked into a more ba­sic level of game. This is what hap­pened to Eng­land against Tonga on Sun­day. They gave away 10 penal­ties and con­ceded 17 turnovers. The penalty count was just about ac­cept­able, the turnover count not. They were un­able to knock Tonga out of their stride and could not get away from their first phase. They had to start kick­ing.

Ed­die Jones will want his side to get back to that high-tempo style against the United States to­day. Even af­ter mak­ing 10 changes to his team, they should be able to do so. The US may be one of the world’s top sevens teams, but are ranked 13th in the world and are light years be­hind Eng­land.

Ed­die will want his play­ers putting the US into the red zone. This is what Eng­land have trained for, so that they can be ex­plo­sive in bursts.

If you con­sider that a game lasts around 100 min­utes from whis­tle to whis­tle, and of that 100 min­utes the ball is in play for 35 min­utes, that is about a 2-1 ra­tio – 35 min­utes in play, 65 min­utes not in play. For ev­ery 20 sec­onds of work, you have 40 sec­onds of rest. Eng­land will want to make those 20 sec­onds count, forc­ing heart rates above 200bpm, where it is about anaer­o­bic thresh­olds, lac­tate. At the sum­mit of Ever­est, when the body is scream­ing, that is when teams make bad de­ci­sions, han­dling er­rors, poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion. That is what makes the All Blacks so spe­cial, they can main­tain those lev­els the long­est in the most rar­efied airs.

Ex­pect to see Eng­land try­ing to keep the ball in play for longer, run­ning their op­po­nents off their feet. If they can do that, very soon their op­po­nents will be in deficit.

Ed­die knows that the south­ern­hemi­sphere teams man­age to keep their heart rate higher for longer pe­ri­ods. It is why he made such a big thing about the play­ers not be­ing fit enough when he first ar­rived. It is why he threw those Hari­bos at Ben Youngs. It is why you hear the play­ers say­ing train­ing ses­sions are harder than matches these days.

The col­lat­eral dam­age is in­juries. But you have to go there. That is the game at the top level these days. Af­ter the in­dif­fer­ent Tonga per­for­mance, it is go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing see­ing whether Eng­land can im­pose that fast-paced style on the US to­day; whether they can make them fold.

At the sum­mit of Ever­est, when the body is scream­ing, that is when teams make bad de­ci­sions

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