George Ford has explained how conversations about rugby league and how its tactics could potentially be put to use in union have been a regular occurrence in recent weeks in Eddie Jones’ England squad following the arrival of Jason Ryles from the NRL in Australia as a full-time skills coach. 

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The 13-a-side assistant coach had been a consultant for Jones since 2016 but he has now taken up a permanent role in the England set-up after signing off from NRL following Melbourne Storm’s grand final success in October.  

It has led to league terminologies such as edge attack and defence becoming commonplace in recent weeks, while there has also been chat about which England forwards might be best suited to playing league.  

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Ford was in the Wigan Warriors and Bradford Bulls academies as a teenager before changing tack and going on to become the England rugby union out-half, and he has plenty to say following the permanent arrival of Ryles into the set-up.

“He [Ryles] actually asked me last week when the game was on, the Super League grand final, who would do well in the game? I said Kyle (Sinckler) would be a good rolling sub. He can do ten minutes, start of the first half, start of the second, but that would be him done. Someone like Tom Curry, maybe Sam Underhill, they have got good enough engines to have a real proper crack at it.”

Switching to the implementation of ideas regarding the use of edge attack and defence by England, Ford added: “I look at people like Tom Curry or Kyle, the way they go to the line with the ball in their hand and choose an inside option, outside option or maybe out the back as well.

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“In terms of the improvement and where that has gone (in union) it’s definitely gone more towards what they do in rugby league day in day out. I do think in terms of execution the gap is closing a little bit but again we have this conversation all the time with Jason, it’s different. The pictures change a lot more in rugby union so it’s not quite as set in stone as it would be in rugby league.

“It’s different because there are more defenders, the ruck is different, the speed of the ball from the ruck and the number of pictures that change quite late is different from league. It is those questions and conversations we’re having with Jason, him trying to understand how it is a little bit different from what he is used to in rugby league.”

Asked to be more specific about edge attack, Ford continued: “You get your tight five forwards who are generally in the middle of the field and they generally carry off nine. What I mean by edge attack is once that phase is done you go the same way or go back down the short side, whatever you want to do.

“The attack then is probably off the first receiver and you probably would have a combination of outside backs and maybe one or two back-rowers against five, six defenders from the opposition and it’s how we can exploit that situation more in terms of maybe trying to pick out a defender who we are trying to get to or split a defender, get runners either side. 

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“Ultimately it is to keep momentum or keep ruck speed of ball quick or make a line break and score some tries. That is what I mean by edge attack. It’s more off 10 after the tight-five have done their bit off nine.

“He [Ryles] has been doing a lot of work with the back row and half-backs on edge attack and edge defence, potentially where they do a lot of work from a rugby league point of view. They probably have a lot more edge attacks or edge defences than we have in a (union) game, but it’s how we can execute better, take some good things from what they do in rugby league to try and execute better on these edges… it’s those questions and conversations we have with Jason, him trying to understand how it is a little bit different from what he is used to in rugby league.”

Statistics have suggested ball-in-play time in Test rugby union comes in at no more than 39 minutes, far less than the 68 that reputedly exists in Super League in England – and Ford can’t see that gap closing any time soon. “I don’t think it will ever get to 68 minutes ball in play, that’s unbelievable. 

“I don’t know the answer in terms of what the thing is to do. All we know is at the minute the game is probably in a situation where it’s quite defensive and you use your kicking game quite a lot. Where you have got to be really, really good is flicking the switch that when that opportunity comes from an attack point of view that you are so quick in taking it and clinical. That is what we are trying to do at the minute, bridge that gap on how good we can be in that area.”

  

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