Ex-World Cup-winning coach Sir Clive Woodward has offered England a comprehensive plan to dethrone the back-to-back reigning world champion All Blacks in their World Cup semi-final clash in Yokohama on Saturday.
Writing for the Daily Mail on the eve of the biggest match in English rugby in over a decade, the 63-year-old, who led England to their only World Cup title in Australia 16 years ago, outlined eight key points which could guide his former side to victory.
The first point that Woodward identified was for England to play an “intelligent” kicking game against a ruthless Kiwi counter-attack, which he said would punish any ill-placed nudges.
As part of his revamped kicking plan, the former British and Irish Lions coach said box-kicking should be eliminated entirely from England’s game plan for this weekend’s encounter, because doing so is “just too risky against New Zealand as it merely gifts them possession”.
“Kick very long so an All Black has to turn to collect the ball,” Woodward wrote.
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“It is not easy, but this is what great teams can manipulate. Chase hard but in a controlled and organised fashion. They do have good back-three runners, but if they are under pressure running from deep in their own half even they will think twice about attacking.”
Secondly, Woodward stressed the importance of retaining possession against the All Blacks.
That means limiting New Zealand’s opportunities with ball in hand across the park, so England’s lineouts, scrums and re-starts must be inch-perfect and no-nonsense, he said.
“Possession is everything. And there is another aspect to this that all successful teams master. If New Zealand are pinned deep in their own 22 and they have a scrum do not give away a penalty, make them kick it out to regain possession.
“Keep that scrum legitimate, any scrum penalty just gives them an easy out. Ditto at lineouts.”
What it's like behind the scenes having three Barrett brothers in the All Blacks squad in Japan… https://t.co/DJ0rFm0PO2
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Woodward went on to warn about the threat the All Blacks posed with turnover ball, stating that it is “like a jolt of electricity goes through them, they spark into action and start playing at extraordinary speed” when the Kiwis shift from defence to attack.
He said that if England are to defuse New Zealand’s swift transitional play, they must first “protect and cherish” the ball when taking it into contact, and follow that up with “two or three” supporting teammate acting as clean out players at the breakdown as quickly as possible to ensure possession is maintained.
Woodward suggested that much has been made of the inexperience of New Zealand’s two wingers – George Bridge and Sevu Reece, who have a combined total of just 14 test caps between them – which some believe could be a potential weakness for the All Blacks.
However, he guarded against complacency, as while English rugby followers may not know much about either player, the fact that both have been selected ahead of a vast array of other star wings is indicative of the potential and ability that both individuals wield.
“We might not know that much about Sevu Reece and George Bridge but Steve Hansen has the choice of dozens of high-class wings down there so these two will be the cream of a pretty vintage crop,” Woodward wrote.
Discipline will also be vital if England are to reach the World Cup final, and given the officials’ tendency to brandish yellow and red cards throughout this tournament, Woodward highlighted the need for 15 players to be out on the park at any given time.
“You have zero chance of beating New Zealand if you get a red card,” he said.
“Even 10 minutes down to 14 men with a yellow will result in at least one try, possibly two.
“No team can afford to give New Zealand a 14-point start, so this is very important, and England have worked incredibly hard on it.”
The All Blacks’ ability to strike quickly and frequently was another talking point Woodward raised in his column, and his resolution to counterbalance this was to keep the scoreboard ticking over as much as possible.
He said England should look to take every kickable penalty goal on offer, which could pay dividends after Owen Farrell slotted eight goals from eight attempts against Australia in their quarter-final last week, and shouldn’t shy away from attempting drop goals.
“Keep ruthlessly building the score. England raced into a 15-0 lead against New Zealand last November but took the foot off the pedal and ended up losing 16-15. They are a much better team now and I hope they have learned that lesson.”
Woodward added that England’s best players must remain on the field for the entirety of the match, writing that he wants his “strongest team on the pitch in the last minute as well as the first”.
He noted that he only used four of his seven possible substitutes in England’s extra-time win in the 2003 World Cup final, and, as such, recommended that in-match changes should only be made for injuries or tactical reasons in order to keep the best possible side on the field at all times.
Woodward’s final key to an English win at International Stadium Yokohama was belief.
With such talent throughout the starting XV, Woodward wrote that it was imperative for England to believe that they possess as many world-class players as their opponents.
“England have the core of a World Cup-winning team and every player in the team can look at their opposite number and know they truly match up to them.”
Kick-off for England’s blockbuster semi-final clash against the All Blacks is scheduled for 5pm local time.
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