We give you a glimpse into how England study themselves and opposition – and tell you about a competition that offers the chance to support the team in Japan
However, just as vital as all the shifting of tin and run-throughs of moves is the analysis that goes on behind closed doors. On a recent trip to Pennyhill Park this becomes abundantly clear.
In the England Rugby Training Centre – where phrases like “An Englishman’s home is his castle. This is our castle” are emblazoned on the walls, alongside motivational messages about Japan 2019 – several of the England squad welcome members of the press to give a brief glimpse into what goes into an analysis session.
Alongside players Jonny May, Joe Launchbury and Mark Wilson is analyst Sam Lister – one of three analysts that support England’s senior team. Lister usually operates the drone that captures aerial footage of each England session, no matter the conditions. As they explain, there is a great deal of scrutiny in the modern game, especially midweek.
“There’s no hiding place in training – every fault is recording and played back,” laughs Launchbury.
“We usually get a great deal of our team analysis done during the week to try and get as much clarity into our training on the Monday or Tuesday. Towards the back-end of the week, players start to do their individual analysis, maybe on the strengths and weaknesses of your opposite man and how you would counteract them.
“For me, from a lineout point of view, that is when you would focus in on a bit more detail, two or three days before a game – the trends they have, the numbers they operate with in different areas of the pitch, how often they drive and how often they play off the top, all variants of that. There’s a responsibility on us as players to use the resources we have to do a bit of individual work as well.”
In typical style, May nips in, adding extra detail: “The day after a game, you will be able to click on your name and have a list of your match involvements straight away. That saves time and you can see exactly what you’ve done and what you might have done differently.”
Lister explains that the team have what they call a ‘Learning Room’ with six iMacs set-up with incidents marked up for the players. Through the week, there will be squad and unit-specific meetings and the analysts (Lister is part of a team with Carwyn Morgan, who looks at attack, and Joe Lewis, who is in charge of defence) will try to have training marked up as soon after a session’s close as possible.
You can have access to vast amounts of data should you wish. The consensus here is that head coach Eddie Jones is very good at distilling lots of information down into a few key points to focus on, either in training or in the upcoming game.
“You look at strengths and opportunities against them,” Mark Wilson says of his future opposite men. “Specifically as a back-row, I might study how (an opponent) carries the ball so I know how best to tackle him.”
May adds of his own prep: “It’s not just the guy you are up against either. I’ll often look at the kicking games of nines, tens and full-backs. Also who are the opposition’s better and weaker defenders. You want a rough idea to give you a feel without over-thinking…because the game will surprise you every week.”
The group go through examples from games in November and during the Six Nations, reverse-engineering certain moments in big games and how their analysis led them there; whilst also analysing the plays themselves for the group here.
The team go through a try against the All Blacks in November, explaining that “the sell” and “deception” – as the ball swings one way with players running the other – is the key to the score. Before the game against Australia the same month the theme for the week was “brutal defence”. The clip they show next displays how front-foot ball can lead to a score in that Test – against the Wallabies, May scores in the first few minutes after a dominant England scrum.
Before their final clip, from the Six Nations, they explain that disrupting Ireland’s rhythm was the theme heading into that match. In the footage, we see a patient England starving the Irish of ball before kicking it into the oppositions territory and then pressuring Robbie Henshaw with good chasing, forcing him to slice a clearance kick.
At the heart of all this is doing the simple things to an incredibly high degree.
May explains: “The way we want to play is to create speed of ball and then there is a decision to make. If you get that speed of ball, there is going to be space somewhere.”
Launchbury adds of the Ireland example: “We kept the ball in the middle of the pitch. We wanted to starve them of the ball, but not to our detriment. We didn’t want to keep possession in areas of the pitch where we could have conceded penalties and stuff. We knew they’d have one guy in the backfield most of the time. It was territory-based.”
Of course, these are just a few examples of how England work – and for all the ‘simplicity’, there is incredible detail within each action and the build-up to performing it.
As this group hurtle towards the Rugby World Cup in Japan, there will be a lot more analysis done. That’s a lot of hours spent in the learning room. And a lot of late nights for the analysts!
Jonny May, Joe Launchbury and Mark Wilson were speaking at the Mitsubishi Motors England Rugby Training Centre at Pennyhill Park. Mitsubishi Motors is giving England Rugby fans the opportunity to live out their ambitions by offering a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan this autumn. To find out more visit https://www.mitsubishi-motors.co.uk/campaigns/rugby/japanawaits
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