Rugby Insight: Play of the Week

Former England fly half and Rugby World Cup winner Paul Grayson analyses Sunday’s victory over Italy and picks out his standout play.  

My IBM TryTracker Play of the Week is Anthony Watson’s third minute score; it is an example of how movement, accuracy and pace can manipulate space.

A lot has been said about England’s finishers, but it was the starters who were clinical in Rome. They really shot out of the blocks and put Italy under pressure from the off.

England generate quick ball from the 22 metre lineout, and immediately get Ben Te’o (circled red) into the game, hitting him up the middle.

With Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes (both circled red) coming around the corner you’d expect one of them to carry, but England use them as decoys, and Ben Youngs (ball in hand) goes straight across the front of them, feeding George Ford. This alone has stumped three would-be Italian defenders (red line).

A really quick transfer follows from Ford to Owen Farrell, two players who have been growing together for a long time now, and they use Mike Brown (circled red below, closest to Italian defence) as another decoy, which makes the Azzuri midfield hesitate.

Jonny May (circled red, outside Ford) is off his wing, hidden, and appears from Ford’s shadow once the fly half receives the ball back from Farrell (yellow line). These aren’t the normal shapes we’re used to seeing from England, there is loads of movement going on here, and a bit of disguise too.

Ford feeds May, who in turn hits Watson in space after drawing the last man. The Italian cover defence (circled red) tries to get across to Watson, but the Bath man just ghosts in the corner and dots down for a perfect start to the game.

You earn the right to go wide, and England created the space for this score with accurate decoy runners and great deception. When a play like that comes at you quickly and accurately, as a defender, to some degree you have to just guess, and that is what England are after - create uncertainty, wait for someone to gamble, make the right pass and execute.

They delivered this with power, pace and precision mixed in with a bit of disguise. It was their first serious attack, and they showed real ambition. That is why it is my IBM Play of the Week.