Toby Flood gives his view on the big England selection news
It’s a massive surprise, Steve Borthwick dropping Henry Slade from the England Rugby World Cup squad. Henry’s been a huge stalwart of English rugby and someone who’s been massively admired in the Premiership. He also gives England something a little bit different.
He offers a left-footed kicking option for England – everyone knows that. But he’s also a calming influence on those around him. He has one of those skillsets that seems to give him time on the ball. Now that doesn’t mean England have to take him to France, but his ability to understand his surroundings, make strong decisions, ascertain what is needed from the squad and the environment he’s faced with is valuable. And he’s been there for a long time.
Moreover, he knows a lot of the people around him. So although it’s a relatively new coach in Borthwick, you’d think that his experience would lend itself well to migrating from an Eddie Jones regime to Steve’s.
Watching England against Wales at the weekend, it was like they just wanted to whack through them. There was a lot of brawn, but there wasn’t a huge amount of guile. And when the opportunity arose, quite no one was taking it out the back and there was no desire to go and take on opportunities of mismatches.
What I recognise when France played Scotland – even though obviously France lost – was that young French team’s ability to identify space and mismatches. In attack that’s more important than anything else.
England may miss some of Slade’s creativity going forward, and that’s something we should all be concerned about.
Of course, take away New Zealand’s last couple of wins, and the World Cup has been won by South African force. They have kicked really well, suffocated teams and manage the environment in terms of aggression and a desire to beat a team up. It’s why you never write off South Africa in a World Cup, and England may also want to bludgeon their way through this tournament.
What you lose with England dropping Henry Slade is that understanding of space, that understanding of situations where you probably can score an easy try. Now I thought Joe Marchant was excellent for England against Wales, and perhaps the trio of Ollie Lawrence, Manu Tuilagi and him means that Marchant has a sort of hybrid role.
Because Lawrence and a Manu are going to be pretty up and down. They are incredibly talented and I think we never give enough credit to those boys in terms of their skills: kick, pass and catch. Maybe, though, you have lost a different way of playing.
If you think back to 2003, Mike Catt came in and brought a completely different style to the other centres in the England squad. Of course, let’s not hang our hat on days gone by, but that ability to shift the dynamic of a side is something England just let go.
Against Wales it looked like England want to be fairly aggressive, fairly direct, and not that expansive. The thing about that style of rugby of course, is that when it really works, it wins World Cups.
Now does losing Slade’s left foot mean you then have to play a certain back-three player as a kicking outlet, or prepare for far more box-kicks? Yes and no.
If you’re going to play one of Marcus Smith, George Ford or Owen Farrell, then yes. However, I still think they’re going to play with two decision-makers in the backline. My intuition says Ford and Farrell are the most likely pairing.
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