Italy and now Scotland have both unpicked it in the Guinness Six Nations, but England must keep faith with their new system of aggressive line speed – the results will come


The pre-match talk was of the “chaos” that Wales wanted to create in Dublin. Instead, it was the England blitz and the mayhem of Murrayfield that stood out in round three of the Guinness Men’s Six Nations.

As we know, England’s new blitz defensive system is a ‘work in progress’. Its instigator, Felix Jones, deployed it successfully with South Africa but they had only a 50% win rate in the first 14 or so matches with the system. It requires a lot of work and painstaking attention to detail in order to bed it in.

Blitz defence is nothing new, of course. It gained prominence two decades ago when Wasps took the first of three successive English titles using a blitz (or rush) defence that very much has rugby league origins. London Irish, the first Premiership club to use it, said the turnovers it produced accounted for at least 30% of their tries. When South Africa adopted the same system, they became Tri-Nations champions in 2004.

While traditional drift defence aims to push the opposition towards the touchline, by staying on the inside shoulder of attackers, with blitz you rush up in channels with the outside men leading the line. You align on an attacker’s outside shoulder and aim to hit him from his blind spot; you’re also pushing the opposition back and in towards the waiting forwards.

Even this description is too simplistic because there are variations. Defence coach Phil Larder felt an ‘up and in’ defence could be opened up by the top players, so with the England World Cup-winning team of 2003 he used an ‘up and out’ system, with three-man units defending channels. Others have used a straight-line press that demands highly aggressive line speed.

England blitz will bring rewards

Duhan van der Merwe is halted by George Furlong. England made 95 tackles to Scotland’s 135 (Getty)

England’s line speed is certainly one of the major features of this year’s Six Nations. Scotland knew it was coming but initially couldn’t cope with it at all, making only 12 passes in the first 20 minutes at Murrayfield.

But the system is high risk, high reward and Henry Slade’s midfield misread, allowing Sione Tuipulotu to put Huw Jones through and lay on a try for Duhan van der Merwe, changed the momentum of the match.

And England’s attacking game, which yesterday was largely an error-strewn mess, is not helped by having to spend so much on defence. They never looked likely to score the 30 points needed to avoid becoming the first England side since 1896 to suffer four consecutive Calcutta Cup defeats.

England experimented with an aggressive blitz in the Clive Woodward era and abandoned it. They should stick with it now because it will bring results.

But there will be pain along the way. Italy carved it open by using a run-around, creating space on the outside by having Paolo Garbisi get a second touch in a different channel.

Wales tried to combat it with cross-kicks and chips over the top but it was largely ineffective. And when they went through the phases, sometimes 20 or more at a time, they ended up going backwards.

Aligning deeper and wider is another way to negate it. Or getting around the outside-centre, perhaps through a cut-out pass.

England v Wales

Wales never got to grips with England’s blitz, despite running them close at Twickenham (Getty Images)

But it’s not easy. Scotland prevailed in Edinburgh but they never looked comfortable. Both sides made a huge number of handling errors, the difference being that most of Scotland’s were made under greater defensive pressure.

It made for a frenetic, madcap spectacle. Chris Paterson, the former Scotland captain commentating for BBC, said: “It’s just so messy at times, it’s so scrappy. Charge-downs, disruptions at the maul, breakdowns. The game has never settled into a rhythm. Probably due to the speed that England bring to their defence.”

So strap yourself when you’re watching the England blitz. Their dull style of 2023 has been replaced by crash, bang, wallop and even heart-stopping drama. But as for the finesse and execution, that will take a lot longer to come.

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