England intent on ‘hunting down’ opponents in Six Nations
‘We’re militarily red-teaming our own side to see what weaknesses we have’ says Guscard
Referee Romain Poite explains to James Hakell and England captain Dylan Hartley that Italy’s “Fox” tactic at Twickenham in 2017 is legal. Photograph: Henry Browne/Reuters
On the eve of this year’s tournament, defence coach, Paul Gustard, has revealed that England have introduced “military red-teaming” – a practice previously employed by the US armed forces and intelligence agencies against the Soviet Union – that involves an organisation instructing an independent group to improve its effectiveness by assuming an adversarial role and probing its weaknesses.
Rather than bring in external help however, Eddie Jones – whose side begin the defence of their Six Nations title in Rome on February 4th– and his coaching staff have been conducting meetings twice a week to plan exercises specifically designed to target England’s pressure points.
Against Italy at Twickenham last year, England were given an almighty scare and were trailing 10-5 at half-time after Conor O’Shea’s side had adopted the unusual tactic of not competing for the ball at the ruck – dubbed The Fox.
England recovered after regrouping at half-time and eventually won comfortably but Jones was furious after the match and said, “If that’s rugby, I’m going to retire”. He was adamant his side had reacted well to Italy’s strategy but it was not until the half-time interval that England were able to counteract it.
“As coaches we brainstorm some ideas and thoughts where we think the opposition can attack us,” said Gustard.
“We’re militarily red-teaming our own side to see what weaknesses we have shown and where we think we can improve. Then we put that to the players and they come up with some ideas and we talk through some different scenarios.”
During England’s autumn internationals campaign, Gustard revealed that he had been tasked with developing the best defensive side in the world by the 2019 World Cup.
Gustard, who has recently spent two weeks with the Australian Super Rugby team Melbourne Rebels, has since claimed that statistics show England have already reached that position as they aim to “hunt down” a record-breaking third consecutive Six Nations crown, starting in Rome.
“Statistically we had the best defence in 2017. We had a successful autumn and we tried to look at different things‚” he added.
“We want a hunting mentality in this Six Nations. We want to go after teams, stamp our authority on them and dominate them. That obviously starts with a successful performance against Italy. We want to hunt teams in every aspect. We want to go after teams, put them under pressure and strive to be the best team in the world.”