Johnson’s Spy Network, Rugby Rules and Terrible Stats

12 03 2010

Martin Johnson is in the papers today rebutting claims from Andy Robinson that England effectively cheat with their use of American Football style ‘blockers’, which supposedly enables them to open up space for their midfield, in turn creating space out wide. Two things here:

Firstly England’s midfield has been pretty poor during this 6 Nations, only coming into its own during turn over ball situations (more on which in a minute). The ‘blockers’ that Andy Robinson is referring to, are effectively dummy runners who are just enough in the way of the defenders to prevent them from making crucial tackles, and are only really employed as part of set piece moves which have been practised on the training park. The Australians have been using this tactic brilliantly for years now, and the Lions also did so effectively last Summer.  What Andy Robinson is forgetting, however, is that from a set piece move, England are as inept as any Under 9 team and have not threatened at all.

Secondly, this concern of Andy Robinson’s clearly backs up yesterdays Compulsive Hooker article, and shows how effective Martin Johnson’s spy ring truly is. Obviously Cusiter has been inveigling his supposed concerns regarding England’s pace out wide into Robinson’s mind, and so consequently Scotland will mass defences to combat these threats leaving England’s forwards a clearer path on which trundle.

The selection of Joe Worsley is really the give away in all this, strong and brutish he is a clear indication of limited game England intend to play. Cusiter is the double agent and Andy Robinson his unwitting tool. Some may accuse Robinson himself of being in on this plan, but we feel he is probably so bitter after his time as England Head Coach he would be supporting the Scots anyway, whether coach or not!

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The use of blockers though is a valid concern along with much else that is going on in rugby today. Watching today’s Super 14 games, the number of forward passes, crooked feeds into the scrum, players offside when chasing kicks, indeed offsides in any given context which were not picked up either by the referee’s or linesman is astonishing. Rugby is based upon certain tenets, of which these are amongst the most defining and without which you may as well call it something completely different.

We must also say that it is not simply southern hemisphere rugby that has these problems, but rugby as a whole. Everyone, from your classic armchair expert (a category which we proudly fall into…) to the professional rugby journalists, both ex players and not, seem to have ideas about new laws and regulations that will improve rugby as a spectacle. We have an idea too.

How about the linesman are told to watch for forward passes, players in front of the kicker etc? The ref has enough to deal with at the breakdown and at the set pieces meaning that inevitably he will miss defending players creeping into offside and unfair positions. In top level rugby a yard is crucial and usually weights the balance unfairly in the defenders favour. Essentially, lets apply the existing laws, and particularly the central ones that define rugby, stringently. These laws were devised originally with the idea of keeping the contest a level playing field – by becoming lax on the policing of these laws the game has degenerated into a defensive game rather than the attacking affair it was conceived as.

This years Super 14, it should be said, is an exception to this rule that defensive systems are on top. However in our view, concessions have been made in other areas, such as the quality of the tackling which in many cases has been atrocious. Watching the Waratahs run in 10 tries today against the Lions was not the sort of rugby we are interested in quite frankly. The Lions players seemed to have given up by midway through the second half with tackling purely an optional extra.

It is still a valid point though that tries are what make rugby exciting and so something has to be done. With England and Scotland (along with Italy) all so excruciatingly bad going forward, we are approaching this Calcutta Cup match with some trepidation. We seriously think though that if rugby was refereed how it is designed to be, within a relatively short period of time rugby as a spectacle would improve.

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Coming back to the turnover situation and England as promised above. On the few instances that England have made telling breaks up field in this 6 Nations tournament, they have almost all come from turnover ball. The Times have today published rather a telling set of statistics which underline England’s problems….

They are last in the table of turnovers won with 5 in 3 games. That is not enough in the modern game when with defences so well organised this is one of the few situations when they have the opportunity to create something with a defence in disarray.

Allied to this they have only offloaded 16 times out the tackle which when you compare it to Clive Woodward’s tenure is appalling. Back in 2002/3 they would have come close to this in a single game, let alone three.

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