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Schalk Burger highlights the 'deeper' issue in English rugby

By Josh Raisey
Ben Spencer of England looks on as players of England huddle after defeat to Scotland during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Dan Mullan - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

After victories against Italy and Wales in the opening two rounds of the Guinness Six Nations, England’s progress, or possibly lack thereof, was brought into question on Saturday with a 30-21 loss to Scotland at Murrayfield.

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In the wake of the defeat, many have been scrambling to work out just what is going wrong with England- whether these are the growing pains of a side in transition or whether there are chronic issues, chiefly their lacklustre attack, that are not being resolved.

Hanyani Shimange recently questioned whether England currently have the right players at their disposal on RPTV’s Boks Office, and whether head coach Steve Borthwick is under pressure after the Eddie Jones era.

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NORTH vs SOUTH: Rhys Patchell on the differences he’s seen since playing in NZ

Welsh fly-half Rhys Patchell weighs in on the differences between playing for the Scarlets back home and where he is playing now, with the Highlanders in New Zealand

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NORTH vs SOUTH: Rhys Patchell on the differences he’s seen since playing in NZ

Welsh fly-half Rhys Patchell weighs in on the differences between playing for the Scarlets back home and where he is playing now, with the Highlanders in New Zealand

Former World Cup winner Schalk Burger joined Shimange on the podcast, and added that England do have a hangover from the Jones era, but said that their issues lie deeper than that.

The former Saracens flanker said that the current state of the Gallagher Premiership is a greater concern for English rugby, suggesting that it affects the squad depth that the national team will have.

Match Summary

3
Penalty Goals
2
3
Tries
2
3
Conversions
1
0
Drop Goals
1
86
Carries
102
4
Line Breaks
4
15
Turnovers Lost
22
6
Turnovers Won
8

“I think the problem runs deeper than [the Jones hangover],” the 2007 World Cup winner said.

“If you look at where the Premiership sits at the moment, that for me is a big issue. A lot of big senior players will have to make big steps now to move to France. You see a guy like Owen Farrell going away from Saracens. If the league suffers, your squad depth suffers as well.

“So the RFU will have to have a look at the structuring around their competition. When I was there five years ago, there was a big call to make it closed – twelve teams, let’s make it closed and grow this thing together instead of promotion and relegation.

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“Unfortunately that did not happen and they lost big names within them- London Irish, Wasps, Worcester Warriors.

“I think it’s going to be hard for them to rejig the system. I do think there are good enough players, but it’s about them finding an identity that works for them.”

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Poorfour 11 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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