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FEATURE Ben Kay: 'South Africa's 2019 World Cup win is England's blueprint'

Ben Kay: 'South Africa's 2019 World Cup win is England's blueprint'
8 months ago

First up. I’m not saying England will win the World Cup. In fact, I’d be hugely surprised if they did, but it reminds of that Jim Carrey meme on social media, which says, ’are you telling me there’s a chance?’ Well yes there is. The way everything has panned out for them, they couldn’t have had an easier ride.

Think about where they were five or six weeks ago. Beaten by Wales, beaten heavily by Ireland, beaten by Fiji for the first time at Twickenham. Yet time softens the memory and we are starting to forget the pre-World Cup warm-ups.

In a way, they were jolted into action against Argentina after three minutes with Curry’s sending off. They just had to roll up their sleeves and deliver a result and Argentina, almost inexplicably, froze. They’ve then had two games, where one was a slight step down against a still dangerous Japan, where you have to make sure your defence in order because of their running threat, and then against Chile, where you can afford to try out different combinations and assess your bench options.

Now, a few days out from Samoa, they are ramping it back up again for a big couple of weeks.

Samoa shouldn’t be underestimated. They aren’t as good as Fiji but they still have quality, and in players like Steven Luatua and Theo McParland, they can hurt England. They will fly out of the line and still test England’s resolve on the ground and in the air, but because of that boundless enthusiasm, if you’re smart enough opportunities will present themselves and it’s up to England to exploit. It could also serve as a useful hit out to the better teams they’ll face later in the tournament, especially if it’s Fiji in Marseille a week Saturday, which looks likely.

Henry Arundell
Henry Arundell made the headlines against Chile but that doesn’t guarantee him a start against Samoa(Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Selection-wise, you’d imagine Steve Borthwick had already mentally selected his side for Samoa before he picked his team for Chile, but they’re a few slots still up for grabs. He’s a completely risk-averse coach. I wouldn’t say he’s a data-led coach, more someone with some very fixed ideas, backed up by data. He won’t get swayed by fans on social media salivating over clipped-up highlights. He will always look at the nuts and bolts, before viral YouTube hits.

The strategy of bringing Ford on when he did against Chile is an indication that he will go with the Ford-Farrell axis and there are probably room to make one or two more tweaks to the starting line-up. You’d think Henry Arundell or Marcus Smith will have had plenty of mentions in dispatches, but I’m doubtful he’ll chuck them both in. Smith, however, may well have played himself onto the bench.

If you were a cohesive, settled team like Ireland who have been doing things really well for a sustained period, you might say your selection depends on who you are playing against. For example, if you’re playing against South Africa, you want your best back three aerially, because you know they’re going to rain kicks down on you, so you may go for Steward.

Borthers will be pondering who his Cheslin Kolbe is, who may just have that little spark. If he decides Smith is his man, he could easily move Freddie Steward out to the wing.

What we do know is Borthwick is a scholar of the game and he’ll be poring over previous games and even historic World Cups. He’ll be saying to his analysts, ‘look at 2019, what did the Boks do well? What did New Zealand do in 2011 and 2015? Even, what did the England side of 2003 do well, just trying to get a feel of what tactics work at a World Cup.

Borthwick is a pragmatist, and will accept England don’t have the personnel New Zealand have, but are more like the Boks with a sprinkling of stardust. He will be pondering who his Cheslin Kolbe is, who may just have that little spark. If he decides Smith is his man, he could easily move Freddie Steward out to the wing. To accommodate Farrell, I think he’ll shift Manu out of 13 and then potentially Marchant out to the wing, with Freddie, and see how it goes.

Owen Farrell
Owen Farrell is expected to resume the 10-12 axis with George Ford, ensuring changes further out (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

It’s funny, the Wallabies back in the day, wouldn’t worry too much about the number on your back, or thinking laterally and England should be bold. That’s why he’s picked versatile who can fill different job roles.

Saying that, and before I get too excited, his default is to be quite structured, so he will want England to dominate territorially. He’ll want the set-piece to function and 2019 South Africa is the blueprint. They played really basic rugby with one-off runners and won the game because they dominated physically and were clinical in two or three big moments. The problem for England is when they actually face the Boks, France or even an Ireland but that’s for another day, they need to reach the semi-finals first!

Selection debate is all part of the fun, but you have to remember, we are not privy to all the information the coaches are. These guys have been together for four months. They know what the players are capable of and if they’re in form. On paper, Marcus is the perfect impact player but expectations should be moderated, so it’s not just, ‘you’ve got 20 minutes, so go on and fix it’. That’s very difficult to do.

I expect Earl will start at 8 because he’s making more metres through contact, which I know England monitor closely. He’s a big energiser in that squad, and at times like this, you want to follow those sorts of players.

In the pack, I’m looking forward to seeing Tom Curry coming straight back in. He’s barely played in this tournament, for well-documented reasons but the camp have been talking up his fitness levels and it’s not a surprise, because he’s a machine. Him and Ben Earl would do well if they brought back Superstars, they are freakish athletes.

If they go with Billy (Vunipola), it will be to play him back into form, because when England against the big boys, they’ll want to match them physically but Billy’s not quite having the impact he used to. I expect Earl will start at 8 because he’s making more metres through contact, which I know England monitor closely. He’s a big energiser in that squad, and at times like this, you want to follow those sorts of players. He is confident, vocal and along with Lewis Ludlum, there’s an element of them both driving each other on. Apart from that, the pack looks after itself. Maro is not the player he was, he’s slowly improving, but you’re not saying, ‘he’ll walk into any team’ right now, and he calls the line, so he’s safe.

Ben Earl Tom Curry
Having played only three minutes together, Steve Borthwick may want a look at how Tom Curry and Ben Earl gel in the backrow (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

One area I will be looking at, for obvious reasons, is England’s lineout. Pretty much every one they’ve had, they’ve driven, especially against Japan. They didn’t make huge dents, but they got a shuffle on. The statisticians tell me most tries are scored after a set of phases that start with a lineout, so England need to get their delivery spot on. If Manu is their only hard runner, and they want those metres through contact, he needs the ball a fraction earlier in his hands, so he doesn’t need to check for a second. They did it against Argentina once, when Manu crashed over the gainline and suddenly everyone came alive. That’s what the forwards need to deliver.

Now whether England are trying to lull teams into a false of security for later on and just driving everything because they need to find a balance, teams will have done their homework and just bar up in the maul because England don’t have other threats. They need a Plan B.

Looking ahead, firstly Fiji will have to be professional to navigate an impressive Portugal, but they will be massive crowd favourites. The thing is, England are used to that, and it won’t phase them. The England fans will be there in their droves to balance things out, and anyway, losing to Fiji wouldn’t be a huge bombshell because they did it in August! They are playing as equals, on the field, if you look at the last few months.

I do expect England to be more effective than that dark day at Twickenham, and they won’t mind that the underdog want to play more attractive rugby, they will just be focusing on getting the job done the England way. I believe they will make the semi-finals.

Comments

3 Comments
A
Allan 251 days ago

And the photo is of THE most arrogant & egotistical player in the English team! Couldn't you find one of hard working, non boasting player?

B
Bob Marler 252 days ago

Somebody call Clive Woodward. He must be informed.

P
Phil 252 days ago

Ben Kay: 'South Africa's 2019 World Cup win is England's blueprint'
🤣 🤣 🤣 🤣

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