Dangerous England forwards ready to go 'off script'
ENGLAND scrum-half Ben Youngs has disclosed that the team have been encouraged to go 'off-script' as they look to unlock opposition defences.
New-look England have had a makeover in style of play as much as they have of personnel and head to Dublin for Sunday's Six Nations championship match brimming with confidence.
In their past two games, against New Zealand and Scotland, they have scored seven tries and 76 points. They were by far the most proficient off-loaders in last weekend's matches, with 19 completed compared to 14 by the next best, Italy, with Ireland managing only three.
Statistics can be misleading, but there is no mistaking the message coming from the England camp. They are intent on taking the game to the opposition and are encouraged to do so by their attack coaches, Mike Catt and Andy Farrell.
"We're allowed to go off-script and that can makes us pretty dangerous," said Youngs, whose ad-hoc arcing break led to England's third try on Saturday, scored by Geoff Parling.
"Catty wants us to play heads-up rugby after the third or fourth phase. It's good when it works but of course it can go horribly wrong. But the coaches back us to go out there and express ourselves which is what you want. It means you can be patient, wait until the game comes to you rather than forcing things and chasing it."
Catt's influence can be seen in the fluency with which England now attempt to play. A year ago, under a brand new regime, they had little option but to concentrate on the basics. There was certainly little divergence from the norm of heavy-duty set-pieces and a relentless kicking game.
Catt has worked assiduously on getting players to recognise how a defence might be broken down, and England have shaped their selection accordingly, notably in the forwards where players such as lock Joe Launchbury, hooker Tom Youngs and prop Joe Marler, are comfortable with ball in hand.
"Catty has done countless drills with us to help us see the situations that are out there," Youngs said. "Teams are used to backs putting people through holes but when you've got the likes of Marler and Launchbury doing it as happened for Chris Ashton's try, then it makes it very hard to defend."
Catt works more on individual skills while Farrell looks at the entire attacking jigsaw. Catt only came on board in an interim capacity in the summer, duly promoted thereafter. He is making a difference.
"The players have to react to what they see," Catt said. "We didn't know how Scotland were going to defend as they had a new coaching set-up. The team decided out there that this is what we can do, this is what we can get away with, this is how we're going to do it. The players are transferring what we're doing on the training pitch into the game."
The key to the fluidity of any attack lies in delivering the goods at the breakdown. "The basis for breaking down any defence is the speed and movement of ball," Catt said. "I have been doing a lot of skills, stuff with off-loading, with speed of ball, putting guys in the right positions."
England have looked backwards to go forwards, adopting an old-style rucking technique at the breakdown, driving beyond the point of contact. "You've got to win the foot-race to the breakdown, clearing out before they can clamp over it, and firing past it to leave the ball behind," Youngs said.
Catt admits that he throws in ideas and the players decide whether to take them on board or not. He has also, he says, been impressed with the growing maturity of Owen Farrell. "Owen is buzzing like everyone else," Catt said.
"They're now getting it, tempo, speed, that sort of stuff. What we want from our 10s is the ability to play flat or sit back in the pocket and kick.
"It's about getting that balance right, and that's where (Ireland's) Jonny Sexton is so good – he sees it and Ronan O'Gara sees it all the time. Now it's about making sure our guys see it all the time too."
The Aviva Stadium on Sunday promises to be a proving ground one way or the other. (© Daily Telegraph, London)