The Blog

With A Little Help From My Friend - England Rugby

As we all know England Rugby came together as a squad for the first time on Sunday evening and on Wednesday George Smith arrived to provide the first, of what we hope, will be many breakdown masterclasses.

On Friday evening we witnessed George Smith making Premiership Rugby look easy as he led from the front for Wasps against the Northampton Saints.

Before Round 10 of the Aviva Premiership Wasps' record against the Saints didn't make for pretty reading as they had won just one of the last 13 encounters against Jim Mallinder's side. However in less than ideal weather conditions their captain paved the way for a comprehensive 24-11 victory with his outstanding work rate, incredible rugby brain and tremendous skill set.

When Australia's most capped forward was signed by Dai Young there were some that said that he was 'past it' and 'well beyond his prime'. However since the start of the domestic season, and indeed after his performance for the Barbarians before it, the Australian has made those individuals look like fools!

In 2016 George Smith remains one of the world's best openside flankers and it is no wonder that the man that first discovered him, Eddie Jones, quickly secured Smith's services to assist with the national side.

As we all know England Rugby came together as a squad for the first time on Sunday evening and on Wednesday George Smith arrived to provide the first, of what we hope, will be many breakdown masterclasses.

For a number of years the greatest criticism that has been laid at England Rugby's door is that the side have had a lack of scavenging proficiency and the absence of a true 'out and out seven'. Now it is well documented that in the short-term James Haskell is likely to be the man wearing the 7 jersey, and although the burly Wasp isn't a natural openside, Smith is on hand to make sure that this 'short-term solution' as effective as possible.

On Friday Eddie Jones and his side hosted an Open Training Session at Twickenham Stadium in front of 15,000 fans. The stadium may have been at less than 20% of its full capacity however there was a distinct buzz in the air. Following a pacy and intense session Paul Gustard shared his thoughts on their maiden week at Pennyhill Park and also gave an insight into exactly what George Smith had delivered on Wednesday.

Over the past few years Gustard's defensive system has worked wonders for Saracens however that was with a squad that he had the luxury of spending weeks and months with. Instead in his new national role there are just 7 training sessions in total before game one and with such a limited time England's defence coach has focused on implementing 'five key pillars'. These pillars and a mantra 'of keeping numbers on feet as much as possible' will form the basis of England's defensive work ahead of Scotland and then he will layer on much more detail as the tournament progresses.

The components of George Smith's session was of interest to all and England's defence coach was highly impressed by both the manner in which Smith delivered his messages and the physical attributes that the 35 year-old showcased;

"He [Smith] did 25 or 30 minutes of defensive breakdown skills. The way he explained it was refreshing. He hadn't been coached and wasn't thinking like an Anglo-Saxon, where you try to build a process around the tackle. He was just ball driven and the tackle was part of the process, but wasn't explicit. He just said "we want to get the ball", while I would have had a mechanical process to do so."

"The way his body moved, speaking to Chris Robshaw and James Haskell, players who have more than 50 caps each, left the guys a little bit embarrassed in terms of how poor their body moved compared to his. They can take a lot away from the mechanics of how he moves across the ground in those close-quarter situations."

As mentioned Wasps' Aviva Premiership match against the Northampton Saints highlighted Smith's teachings in practice. If his knowledge can rub off on England's back-row forwards then there is the real potential that an area of historic weakness could turn into a future strength.

George Smith's willingness to assist England on his day off says so much about him as a character and individual and while he clearly has gas left in the playing tank when he does hang up his boots I expect him to become just as proficient in the world of coaching.