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England assistant reckons losing to Scotland 'could be good for us'

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Dan Mullan/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

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New England attack coach Martin Gleeson has suggested that last weekend’s round one Guinness Six Nations defeat to Scotland could eventually be seen as a positive for Eddie Jones’ side. Having drawn a line in the sand following last season’s derisory fifth-place finish, the head coach has since overhauled his coaching staff and has revamped his player roster by bringing in numerous new faces into the set-up. 

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Fout of those newcomers from last July’s summer series will start against Italy this Sunday – Freddie Steward, Marcus Smith, Harry Randall and Alex Dombrandt – a contest they go into off the back of tasting a first Test level defeat last weekend in Edinburgh.  

Steward and Smith were starters at Murrayfield, with Dombrandt coming off a bench where Randall was an unused sub. Losing at international level was a new experience for them and it was the same for Jones’ new staff, the trio of attack coach Gleeson, defence coach Anthony Seibold and forwards coach Richard Cockerill who all came on board for the hat-trick of Autumn Nations Series successes.    

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Facing Goliath | A story following Italy as they take on the mighty All Blacks | A Rugby Originals Documentary
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Facing Goliath | A story following Italy as they take on the mighty All Blacks | A Rugby Originals Documentary

No one ever likes to lose but for a new group, it could ultimately prove to be a tonic. At least that is what Gleeson, an England recruit from Wasps after a lifetime before that in rugby league, is banking on. “You learn,  you figure things out and you think can we get better,” he said from Rome ahead of Sunday’s round two match. 

“You probably learn more in a defeat than you do in a victory, In the long run, it could be good for us but there was a lot of learnings from that and a lot of things to take going forward into this week.” Asked to elaborate on what those learnings were specifically when it came to attacking coach remit, he said: “A couple, yeah. Well, we hopefully will get to see that tomorrow [Sunday].”

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Much will likely depend on how Marcus Smith functions this week with an eight/nine combination of Alex Dombrandt and Harry Randall compared to last week’s starters, Sam Simmonds and Ben Youngs. 

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“Harry will bring some tempo and he will bring some speed and we are looking forward to seeing him link up with Marcus. In training, they have built up their combination and then we will go with experience coming off the bench. We want a fast start against Italy with the nine/ten and with Alex coming in for the familiarity with Marcus, we are excited to see what that can bring us.

“We want to play a high tempo game, we want to play fast when we are in the right areas and we want to take our opportunities. We want to get excited about the game, we want to get excited about the opportunities that will present themselves against Italy.” 

It was approaching noon on Saturday when Gleeson spoke at a virtually held media briefing from the England team hotel. “We just walked through what we needed to walk through. Everyone is fit and ready to go tomorrow. The weather’s beautiful.

“We haven’t been to the stadium yet, we only got in late last night. We just went for a little bit of a walk down to where we did our captain’s run, stopped off at a coffee shop on the way back and here I am, so we have not really ventured out anywhere yet.

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“There was a lot of positives in the Scotland game. Some of the set-piece work and some of our kick returns to get in some good areas was really good, some bits off the back of that we missed opportunities. We know that as staff and players and we just want to get better as a group and the team selected this week is the team we feel is best suited to face Italy. 

You want to be ruthless when you get in positions to create opportunities and then post points and put your foot on the floor of the opposition. We certainly want to do that and we think we can do that better.”

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