Finn Russell How the seven contenders for the Rugby World Cup shape up

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Finn Russell Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray
Johnny Sexton and Conor Murray

Japan 2019 has been widely tipped as the most open Rugby World Cup in history, and yet New Zealand can still swipe the Webb Ellis Cup for the third time in a row.

Here, we examine the nuts and bolts of the big machines’ attacking approaches.

New Zealand:

Trendsetters to the point where other Test coaches clip up their exemplary patterns of play to map out ideological aspirations – not just to their own squads, but sometimes to members of the media too. Stuart Lancaster did just that as England boss when underscoring lock Brodie Retallick’s all-court skills as an auxiliary playmaker. Some six years after Lancaster’s power point heralding, Retallick remains so pivotal to the All Blacks that boss Steve Hansen selected him for the World Cup knowing he might not feature until the quarter-finals due to a dislocated shoulder.

If Retallick remoulded tight-five forwards into ballers, hookers Dane Coles and Codie Taylor boast the pace and guile to lurk with genuine creative intent in the channel outside 13. Beauden Barrett offers searing pace at fly-half, or another playmaking option from full-back should Hansen start Richie Mo’unga at 10.

England:

All of a sudden equal parts power and panache, at once flexing muscle and flicking passes thanks to their fit-again titans. Vunipolas Mako and Billy, Maro Itoje, Manu Tuilagi and Joe Cokanasiga can all pop as many sinews as back-door passes. Partner all those talents and Eddie Jones can wield a third of a team in powerhouses alone. Add in George Ford, Owen Farrell, Henry Slade and Elliot Daly with the swashbuckling playmaking ability, and boss Jones’ men boast the all-

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