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Eddie Jones believes that test rugby has evolved into a hybrid of American football and soccer over the past 12 months, a trend that he believes will place a great onus on pace, power and tactical kicking at the Rugby World Cup.
Such a shift, comprising longer passages of “unstructured” play, has contributed to selection reassessments in certain positions over the latter part of this four-year cycle. Prioritising the speed of Elliot Daly and Anthony Watson at fullback over the experience of Mike Brown has been one result of the England head coach’s logic.
“Brown is a great fullback.” Jones said. “He is a great defensive fullback, but we feel, the way we want to play, we need a fullback who can attack and with pace. Fortunately for us, Daly and Watson are our best options.
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“The game keeps on changing. I see this game now where it is basically a mixture of NFL and soccer. You have got the first three phases that are basically all power and precision. Then you have the kick-return game which then becomes football.
“That sort of analogy for us became clear in the last 12 months and that’s why we’ve gone to having a more X-factor type fullback who can be more commanding in that more unstructured rugby.”
One of those X-factor fullbacks, Daly, estimated that the international game was now at a split of “65 per cent unstructured to 35 per cent structured”. While there are generally fewer opportunities to launch first-phase moves, a set-piece platform remains so valuable that choreographed shapes are drilled meticulously.
Jones also highlighted the influence of centre Henry Slade – “a 13 who can kick, run and pass” – as England aim to manipulate back-field defences and find space by putting boot to ball. Grubbers, dinks and chips were prominent weapons as they amassed 24 tries during the 2019 Six Nations.
The composition of England’s back row is
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