Rugby Union

Focus on line-out leaves pack short of force

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Following Stuart Lancaster's announcement of an unchanged side for Friday's World Cup opener against Fiji, an imbalance has developed within the English pack.

With the debacle in Paris over a fortnight ago fresh in his mind, Lancaster and his coaching staff have placed great importance on shoring up England's line-out. Throughout a performance littered with errors and inconsistency, the most alarming flaw was England's repeated inability to retain their ball.

In a significantly more dynamic display in the 21-13 win over Ireland, the selections of Geoff Parling and Tom Wood respectively helped alleviate this problem while consequently creating an additional one. Though England regained all 14 of their line-outs, many in an untidy fashion, they are now in danger of lacking sufficient power while carrying.

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Parling and Wood's selections have become a necessity, considering Tom Youngs's inconsistency while throwing, however, neither are particularly dangerous in possession. Wood is a smarter player than blindside rival James Haskell, and deserves his selection following his performance against Ireland though the Wasps captain would bring greater physicality.

Similarly, though a renowned technician at the set piece Parling lacks Joe Launchbury's superior size and skill in open play. Courtney Lawes, though capable of making thunderous tackles is also unlikely to get England over the gain line consistently.

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Setting such a precedence on a single aspect of the game places considerable pressure on Ben Morgan's shoulders. Given the nod over rival Billy Vunipola, the Gloucester No.8 simply has to carry strongly for the English backs to flourish.

Though he has only just returned from a broken leg sustained in January, Morgan performed well against Joe Schmidt's side, breaking tackles and allowing scrum-half Ben Youngs to probe around the breakdown.

Lancaster will be wary of not letting the game become too open thus playing to the Fijians flair, and, therefore, cannot be dominated in the pack. As stated by former captain Will Carling, it is "important they (England) start in a controlled, composed way, that will give them a lot of confidence", as reported by the BBC.

Superiority at the set piece will facilitate this. However, Lancaster mustn't be afraid to turn to the bench if England is consistently unable to make ground while carrying.

Kieran Brookes, Tom Webber and the Vunipolas, can all provide an explosive impact in the game's finale and thus the bench mustn't be used simply as a tool for introducing fresh legs; as has often been the way with Lancaster's formulaic substitutions, but rather as an asset that can turn the game in England's favour.

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Topics:
Rugby Union
England Rugby
IRB Rugby World Cup

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