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Analysis: How the England blitz defence actually works

In this new Analysis column, Editor-in-Chief Louis Chapman-Coombe talks us through the new England blitz defence, looking at the roles of key players within the system and any potential flaws. 

Analysis: How the England blitz defence actually works

England’s new blitz defence has come under plenty of scrutiny, with fans and pundits alike keen on understanding every aspect of the new system.

What is a blitz defence?

A blitz defence, in theory, is very simple. It’s an aggressive, no holds barred press meant to reduce the opposition’s time on the ball or create a disconnect in their attacking shape too. It is also typically led from the outside, with the wingers especially prevalent in setting the speed of the defence.

Whilst, in theory, it seems simple, it requires a lot of work to get right.

The instinctive shape of a blitz is almost a diagonal line out from the ruck to the wing, and whilst this will instantly set your old-school coach into a mad, red-faced frenzy, it’s done for a reason.

When you ‘hunt high’ as England do, the option for the ball carrier becomes very limited, they either have to run back inside into traffic or throw a 50/50 pass which could unlock the defence.

Forcing defenders inside then brings the big hitters like Sam Underhill, George Martin and Maro Itoje into the fray even more. Around the ruck, you typically have your ‘guard’ who watches anything inside of nine, your ‘nine’ who watches the nine (obviously) and then a ‘ball’ who is on the first receiver.

What England have done is put players like Jamie George, Joe Marler and Dan Cole a bit closer to the ruck, to then allow the enforcers to be in midfield and really go for the kill if the carrier then comes back towards them.

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The role of the winger in the England blitz defence

Immanuel Feyi-Waboso in action for England-IMAGO

As mentioned above, the tone of a blitz defence is set by the winger, or else it’s not an effective blitz. Against the All Blacks on Saturday, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso gave almost the perfect example of what a winger needs to do in this aggressive system. The Exeter man really led the line speed, but he also cut off the passing lanes between Rieko Ioane and Mark Tele’a.

The high-pressing nature of the system will, instinctively, create space in the wide channels; however disrupting the connection between 13 and the wing will limit how they can exploit this area.

Feyi-Waboso, who runs a very similar system for Exeter, knows when to ‘jam’ in to either cut off a pass or even stop the pass getting off.

Tommy Freeman is still learning the system, and when he gets it right he can do it just as effectively; however, the All Blacks got a lot more change down his wing than Feyi-Waboso’s.

The wingers are so valuable to this system too, but they can’t do it alone. They need to have someone step up inside them too if their aggressive press is going to function.

Outside centre is the key

Henry Slade after England loss-IMAGO

Whilst the winger might set the tone, the outside centre is arguably the main component of the blitz defence. 13 is always regarded as the hardest position to defend from anyway, but in this system they are the main focal point.

Since returning to the team in the Six Nations, Slade has thrived in this new defensive system; but his best defensive performance came against New Zealand.

Not everything went right for him in attack, but defensively he was solid throughout the game. He really fronted up when needed, but importantly he jammed in at the right time on a consistent basis, which in turn caused the All Blacks some real issues.

One thing that is FUNDAMENTAL for this system to work though is his connection to the wingers. Slade and Feyi-Waboso play together week in and week out for Exeter, so can read each other like a book. This has also quickly transferred over to England too.

This chemistry between them leads to them being super connected in defence, and if one flies high the other one is quickly up with them too. Slade and Freeman are building this chemistry too, but it is naturally taking a bit more time.

In a blitz system, the 13 needs to be on the exact same page as the winger, or else it creates huge holes in the defensive line to break through.

England must ironing out the creases

England pack after the match-IMAGO

When England get this right, they get it very right; but in the same breath if it goes wrong it goes very wrong. In the build-up to Ardie Savea’s try, Ben Earl shot out the line on an edge, but because the others around him weren’t fully connected this created space in-behind him for New Zealand to capitalise.

As mentioned above, England need to stay connected throughout the front-line if they want this system to work. They are tiny, tiny fixes, but yet so important at the same time.

If they fix this, they could end the All Blacks streak at Eden Park…

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