John Mitchell has warned the RWC could be ruined as a spectacle and All Black captain Reuben Thorne says it would be “a real shame” if England’s ball-delaying skills won a World Cup.
New Zealand’s coach John Mitchell has warned that this autumn’s Rugby World Cup could be ruined as a spectacle if teams such as England are allowed to get away with deliberate spoiling tactics to blunt the attacking ambitions of their opponents, writes Robert Kitson in The Guardian newspaper.
England, who have won 28 of their last 30 Tests, beat the All Blacks 15-13 in Wellington last Saturday but in doing so had Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio sent to the sin-bin for ruck offences, and Mitchell, who was Clive Woodward’s assistant until three years ago, has now joined forces with Australia’s coach Eddie Jones in calling for stricter policing of the tackle area by referees to improve the flow of the game.
“It was effective that night but I’m sure if that kind of situation occurs in the World Cup, it will be a pretty boring World Cup, won’t it?” asked Mitchell, who is unlikely to be the last opposing coach to try to ruffle Woodward’s feathers between now and the start of the tournament in October.
“England were very effective in that area and maybe they’ve shown us a card or two of what we’re to expect in the future.”
Reuben Thorne, the All Black captain, has also claimed it would be “a real shame” if England’s ball-delaying skills won a World Cup, and the ever-shrewd Jones has been probing away at the same sensitive area before this weekend’s England v Australia Test, demanding that the Irish referee David McHugh intervene swiftly if ball-killing starts occurring.
“Hopefully the referee will be very strict on enforcing the tackle and ruck situations,” said Jones. “If he does I think there’ll be some good, clean ball for both sides. If he doesn’t it could be quite an ugly affair.”
This is the sort of media-driven ambush that Woodward was anticipating in Australia this week, the only surprise being that Mitchell has weighed in first. The England captain Martin Johnson, however, argues that England are still being wrongly typecast as a negative team on the basis of two games in poor conditions in New Zealand.
“We’ve got a northern hemisphere referee on Saturday so we’ll see,” Johnson responded. “If you can slow down team’s ball at the breakdown it makes defending a lot easier but you’ve got to do it legally otherwise you’re going to get into trouble.”
However if England, are forced to back off at the breakdown for fear of giving away too many penalties their opponents will have more scope to attack them. This is, of course, exactly what Jones and Mitchell are hoping for.
“We’re not going to win a kicking contest, we want to go out and play rugby,” admitted Jones, suggesting England’s dominance is based squarely on their strength around the tackle area and at the set pieces.
“It’s no secret the way they play the game, with strong set-piece players who get inside the opposition half and take their opportunities from there. It’s a very pragmatic approach and it’s an approach that wins Test matches, but you can’t play that way on 40-45% first-phase possession. England need a high percentage of primary possession to do well.”
As expected Jones has called up Nathan Grey, a specialist centre, to replace the fly-half Elton Flatley, who has been dropped for oversleeping and missing a rehabilitation session after the Wales match. Jones has also put the veteran Owen Finegan on standby, although the lock Nathan Sharpe should have recovered in time from a left-knee ligament strain in training.