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'England need to be brave enough to use everything they've got'

By Lucy Lomax
England huddle following the Rugby World Cup 2021 New Zealand Quarterfinal match between England and Australia at Waitakere Stadium on October 30, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand.

At this World Cup we have seen the varying playing style of different teams helped by the likes of South Africa, Japan and Fiji returning to or debuting at the pinnacle event.

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Fijiana like the Black Ferns preferred the running style of play, offloading and attacking from anywhere, with the Sakura Fifteens also getting in on the act and scoring fantastic, off-the-cuff, crowd pleasing tries.

We’ve seen South Africa and Canada take advantage of their carrying powers up front with the likes of Aseza Hele and Sophie de Goede always making metres in contact. Canada, like England, have also impressed at the set piece, with both teams securing a 100% lineout success rate in their respective quarter-finals.

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With England as the current world number ones and pre-tournament favourites (are they still?), it seems the Red Roses’ go-to method of scoring tries by using the rolling maul has received a lukewarm reception here in New Zealand. England Head Coach Simon Middleton went as far as to call the criticism “hilarious”.

When it comes to England’s game plan, there does appear to be a reliance on the pack to get over the whitewash, often utilising the lineout drive, with all of their tries scored by forwards in last weekend’s rain-drenched quarter-final win over Australia.

England back-row Poppy Cleall replied by highlighting why the team are focussing on winning, rather than playing the style people potentially want to see.

“I don’t understand where the criticism comes from really. You can’t be complacent when you come to a tournament like the World Cup, especially when you reach the knockout stages, it’s all well and good that we have a record winning streak but if we lose the next game we’re going home.

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“It’s a long tournament and to win a World Cup is a tough ask and New Zealand is a tough place to come.

“The criticism is interesting because no one seems to say it about Canada when they score from driving mauls. We had a tough pool with Fiji, South Africa and France and our maul stood up in those three wins, but then we used other things and played other ways.

“I guess when you’ve paid a lot of money and travelled the world to see us, you could see the driving maul back in England couldn’t you? People want us to entertain but at the end of the day, the coaches sit down and formulate a plan and we get on board with whatever they put down.”

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Former England centre Rachael Burford, capped 84 times, agrees with England’s philosophy and shared her views in an all-ranging interview with RugbyPass premiering this Sunday.

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“Like any good team, you need to know what your major strengths are,” said Burford.

“England have that in their driving maul, but they have multiple other ways of attacking, just look at the ways they scored against Fiji. They’ve got it in their locker and people are trying to find fault.

“For them, ultimately, they need to be brave enough to use everything they’ve got. They’ve got plenty of tools in the box and we haven’t seen everything yet- they’ll have a couple of things up their sleeve.

“They will have some things ready for the semis and then hopefully the final. New Zealand did that to us in the final in 2017, they came out in the second half with something we’d not seen or been up against before and we couldn’t deal with it, so England might play their own tricks on them.”

Whilst out in New Zealand covering the World Cup, Burford spoke to RugbyPass’ Sam Smith at the top of Mount Eden. The interview included sampling some of New Zealand’s finest beer, the famous chip and Vegemite sandwich, with of course, some interesting anecdotes from Sam mixed in. Catch the interview on RugbyPass.com from Sunday.

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