Rush hour! Why England must fly at France from kick-off
22:01 GMT, 9 March 2012
The restart has become the third set-piece and it is an area England should target. Every restart is an opportunity to regain possession or win penalties.
If we were gathered under our own posts for a penalty or conversion, we’d be ready to sprint back to halfway. Sir Clive Woodward used to say that it was the chance to immediately turn the pressure around. Some teams would jog back and relax, but our wings would be in charge of making sure we got in position quickly and were ready and focused.
Teams often score a penalty then concede three points immediately from the kick-off – and it is exactly what happened to France last week. Ireland kicked off, Morgan Parra box-kicked straight into touch, Ireland got the line-out, won a penalty and claimed three points back, which is a double psychological blow.
Under pressure: Paul O'Connell attempts to charge down a Morgan Parra box kick
The French locks don’t look particularly comfortable receiving a high ball off the kick-off. Forwards work in pods of lifters and jumpers – like in a line-out – and the lifters are usually props or back-row forwards, who have to react to the kick and lift a second row. Unusually, France have centre Aurelien Rougerie lifting in the middle. Even though he is a big, strong man, England should target him.
When England receive, I would also put Lee Dickson in the area to receive the ball and feed Ben Morgan at full tilt, in the way Leicester use Alesana Tuilagi running off the scrum-half.
There are two main types of kick. The first is to kick long for field position, with a high hang so a wing or fast flanker can chase to get to the ball-carrier. If you cut off their momentum, the opposition have to kick straight back to you or into touch. The other way is to kick shorter and high, so that you can compete to win the ball in the air.
Owen Farrell is very effective at delivering a flat kick, so the opposition can’t get a pod in formation to win the ball. It is like a cross-kick in open play. He switched one kick against Scotland, which can surprise teams. Some teams put all pods on one side of the field but France put Imanol Harinordoquy alone on the other side to deal with this.
Key man: Owen Farrell's kicking game will be vital on Sunday
The chasing team have the advantage of running on to the ball. You want to stay outside the receiver and come from the blind side. If they’ve got a lift, the ideal option is to jump and put your knee on the arm of the back lifter, to climb up off them and get higher. You can get away with it because you are competing for the ball. It is a technique from Aussie Rules Football.
The receivers might have to back-track and that stops you getting a decent jump and ‘owning’ the space. Some jumpers have a great perception of depth so they can allow the ball to come down over them, but coming on to the kick also makes it harder for the opposition to knock you back.
Away from the kick-off, the three key battles are between the scrum-halves, the back rows and the front rows. France have picked Julien Dupuy at scrum-half and although he’s a lovely bloke and very talented, you can wind him up. He is very Gallic! When things aren’t going his way, he will throw his arms in the air in frustration.
England can wind him up and put him off his game. But he is exceptional at quick tap-penalties. He is also one of the best in the world at changing the direction of attack and finding a hole when the team has been attacking one way. Dickson has a big defensive role. If a penalty goes against them, he has to get back 10 yards quickly then race forward to stop Dupuy. He also has to boss his blindside guards to stay alert for Dupuy’s change of direction.
Talented: France scrum half Julien Dupuy goes airborne in training
France have an outstanding back-row. Julien Bonnaire is superb in the line-out, so it will be a good match-up against Tom Croft. Harinordoquy is another great line-out forward and an all-round player, but if you can get into him, he has been known to crack. Because he is so talented and flamboyant he is the sort of player who can get frustrated under pressure. When he can’t show off his skills, he sometimes tries to throw miracle off-loads and spills the ball.
The scrum is so important in France, where the props are the heroes. Dan Cole is very strong but he will get a severe test of his credentials. Alex Corbisiero struggled against Adam Jones and now he has to take on formidable tighthead Nicolas Mas.
It is particularly difficult taking on the scrum in Paris, because when the crowd start to smell blood, they become so loud, the French pack pick up on the atmosphere and try to finish you off. It is like being gladiators being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum!
Final preparations: England go in for a huddle at Pennyhill Park
In the week before playing against France we would do 10-second scrum practice – keeping the ball in and replicating the way they like to build pressure like Italy and Argentina. England have to win the ‘hit’ and keep it going.
I think England will soak up early pressure but France will win by nine points.
Ben Kay is a rugby analyst for ESPN’s Aviva Premiership Rugby coverage