For too long the type of rugby played by top clubs and international teams has been divided by a false dichotomy: ping pong or basketball? Focus on the set-piece, stick it up the jumper and turn the back division into a set of kick-and-chasers. Alternatively, forget about scrums and lineouts and throw the ball about as much as possible.
Too many teams have fallen into this trap and been highly influenced by this incredibly reductive contrast.
Indeed, last year’s Six Nations encapsulates this quite perfectly: for the first four rounds of games most teams focused on strangling their opponents without really offering anything in attack. It wasn’t until the last round when teams simply had to score to win the tournament that a huge mindset shift was witnessed.
But why should rugby be so polarised? Why can there not be a happy medium?
New Zealand, Australia and Argentina, three of the four World Cup semi-finalists, can throw the ball around with precision, pace and skill, but all three also have powerful forwards that can dominate at scrum time and at the breakdown. It’s no coincidence that Australia’s surge in form directly correlates with the introduction of master of the dark arts, Mario Ledesma, as their scrum coach.
In contrast, England panicked after a below par performance against Fiji, resorting back to a safety-first approach. A 10-12-13 axis of Farrell, Burgess and Barritt has impressive benchpress figures, but the creativity of a One Direction album. After two woeful games against an injury-hit Wales and a masterful Australia side, the only direction England were going was backwards and out the nearest exit.
Eddie Jones, England’s new Australian head coach, has talked of resorting to England’s natural strengths – a dominant pack and set piece – but coupling this with improved attacking skill and vision.
Similarly, Vern Cotter has been encouraging more of such a balance with his much-improved Scotland side. Scotland came within a whisker of the World Cup semi-finals by playing the most exciting and adventurous rugby of all the Six Nations teams, but mixing it with a cohesive pack and a smarter approach to the breakdown.
Every country in the tournament has outstanding attacking talent; just think of the likes of George North, Sean Maitland, Gael Fickou, Rob Kearney, Jonathan Joseph, and the one-man-team that is Sergio Parisse. That’s just a few of the wonderful players on display, but too often their vision and ability is ignored in favour of prescriptive and defensive game plans, driven by fear of failure rather than the ambition of victory.
This Six Nations is an opportunity for all teams to show that the concluding round of the 2015 event was not a one-off, that rather than being a flash in the pan, the northern hemisphere teams have the skills and the belief to not only be ferocious up front, but intelligent and articulate in attack.
The World Cup ended early for the home nations, France and Italy, but now is the chance to show the rest of the globe what we can do and what we will bring to them this summer and beyond.
Read More About: All Blacks, argentina rugby, australia rugby, brad barritt, eddie jones, England, england rugby, france rugby, george north, italy rugby, Jonathan Joseph, Mario Ledesma, new zealand rugby, owen farrell, rob kearney, sam burgess, scotland rugby, sean maitland, sergio parisse, Top Story, vern cotter, wales rugby