The new interpretations of the breakdown is music to the ears of John Mitchell, the England defence coach, who believes that come the Autumn Nations Cup their wealth of back-row talent will give Eddie Jones’s side an early advantage over their rivals.
England’s dual-openside approach paid off this time last year as Sam Underhill and Tom Curry became a focal point of their run to the Rugby World Cup final, which continued into this year’s Six Nations albeit with the latter deployed at No 8 in the absence of Billy Vunipola.
However, behind Underhill and Curry lies a swollen pool of flankers at Jones’s disposal. Ben Earl has forced his way into the England set-up this year alongside Mark Wilson and Lewis Ludlam, while 23-year-old Jack Willis has thrown his hat well and truly into the ring with a series of man-of-the-match performances to fire Wasps into the Premiership play-offs, along with Curry’s twin brother Ben.
These loaded back-row reserves are no surprise to England’s closest rivals, given their improvement around the breakdown since Jones first took over. But Mitchell believes there is something within how referees are judging the ruck that will play into their hands when northern hemisphere international rugby resumes later this month.
“With my experience now … if you had asked me that when I was back involved in New Zealand I would probably say that I would love it,” Mitchell said of the new interpretations, which has seen an emphasis placed on purebred ball-winners who also have the awareness to correctly time their attack on possession due to the faster ruck speeds.