England’s kicking game holds the key
My rogue thought would be to give May free rein to hunt down Mo’unga England have a free shot to rattle the All Blacks and invite a Barrett mistake
left touchline. It is just as hard for the scrum-half, who has to swing the foot around to the open side of the breakdown much closer to the defenders, with the ball in full sight the whole time.
Aaron Smith has wobbled when England have played the All Blacks in previous years. Smith is a beautiful rugby player, but I would lay a hefty bet now that England will charge down one of his kicks today, especially with big men like Maro Itoje and Courtney Lawes around the fringes.
If they are to win, England need to get into New Zealand and mess with their supply lines. They need to spread panic in the ranks, and get the All Blacks scrabbling to maintain the ball. If they pass back to Richie Mo’unga, then England need to know that he has an issue – neither of his centres kick. They will want to force another pass to Beauden Barrett. But two passes in your own 22, even by a team as good as New Zealand, should be an open invitation for carnage.
How do England make that happen? They need to be creative and fashion a one-man mission for their fastest player. Most teams use the scrum-half and, while Ben Youngs used to be a wizard at this, his pace is not what it was.
My rogue thought for England would be to give Jonny May free rein to hunt down Mo’unga from the first ruck at every restart or after every New Zealand defensive set-piece. England would then need to shift out defensively: Manu Tuilagi to wing; Owen Farrell to 13; George Ford to 12.
The thinking behind this is simple – do not waste your speed on returning a bad kick that may not happen. Shut off the good clearance kicks at source and try to make all of the clearance kicks bad. To beat the All Blacks, England need to change the picture.
Once England get into attacking areas, the cross-kick can be their friend. The two match-ups are Anthony Watson v Sevu Reece and May v George Bridge. The clear and obvious example in terms of a mismatch in height and aerial play is the former. Reece is an absolute marvel with the ball in hand and with time and space, but what he cannot do is grow a foot in height.
Watson is world class at attacking the flat cross-kick. These are not high hang-time kicks, these are more the low-flying type, the fizzed, classic three-iron crosskick. There is less of an advantage for May against Bridge because the All Black is excellent in the air.
Even so, England should use the crossfield kick early on because they need to have both wings, and Beauden Barrett, worried about the cross-kick.
England need to separate the New Zealand full-back from standing behind the midfield and controlling his players. in the same way that Smith controls his players from scrum-half around the ruck. England need to remove some comms from their system and spread out the All Black defence.
Once that happens, the big English runners can find gaps and elbows, not shoulders and hard hits. Put distance between Barrett and his wingers and when England go to their classic playbook – the double pull-back ball, behind Billy Vunipola and Tuilagi from the line-out or behind Henry Slade and Tuilagi from scrums – then they have the chance of seeing a disconnect between the All Black midfield and the wings.
This will allow the fliers of Watson-daly-may from the right-hand side and May-dalywatson from the left-hand side to sweep round and be the ballplayers and pick off a disjointed defensive system.
The kick that requires total concentration from England’s perspective is the boxkicking from Youngs. This will most likely take two forms – under control from a restart , or from a line-out in our own third.
The ball will be accurately transferred to the hindmost foot of the forwards’ caterpillar and the ball will ideally have a hang time of between three and four seconds, covering a distance of about 30 metres. The aim is to have the chaser either compete or tackle the catcher immediately on landing. It has to be accurate, especially when kicking to an organised All Blacks defence.
The difficulties occur when England have to scramble tackle, back into their own 22 or close to their goal line, breathing out of holes they did not know they had, with key players trapped at the bottom of a ruck, forwards in the midfield, second rows on the wing.
When that happens, it is crucial that England’s No 9s breathe calmly and slow down the rotation of the world. Then they must think clearly. The ball must go into