Jim Mallinder hints at England’s rugby future … and its past

Jim Mallinder is currently front-runner to replace Martin Johnson as England’s chief coach of Rugby. His Northampton Saints team yesterday displayed the strengths and weaknesses of England’s recent international performances

The Saints began their Heineken Cup campaign with their coach Jim Mallinder tipped as a replacement for Martin Johnson. It was inevitable that closer comparisons are being made between the style of Northampton under Mallinder and England under Johnson.

Sean Edwards backs Mallinder

I watched Northampton play the Scarlets yesterday [18th Nov 2011]. Before the [Sky] transmission, Sean Edwards offered positive views on Mallinder. Edwards had several qualifications for offering his opinions. He is an important part of the coaching squad which helped produce the currently successful Welsh national team.

The match

The match was an interesting one if deeply flawed with technical errors. I was struck by the similarities in style of the Northants team and England’s teams since before their glorious World Cup victory led by Martin Johnson and coached by Clive Woodward, nearly two decades ago.

Plan A

Plan A for The Saints (and England) is establishing dominance through powerful forwards. When it works it is very effective.

Not ‘one side playing, the other clapping’

But Rugby like other sports is not case of one side playing and the other clapping. As in game theory, any strategy interacts with that of the opponents. The Dragons arrived with leading members of the Welsh squad including Rhys Priestland and George North.

Plan A for the Scarlets is to rely on a young, strong and talented back division which can overcome limited possession against the strongest forward s of opposing teams. Much the same can be said of the Welsh international team at present.

When Plan A doesn’t work…

When Plan A doesn’t work, (often in hindsight) a different plan is called for. Plan A was expected to work for Northampton partly because they rarely lose at home. Their track record internationally is better than the Scarlets over a period of years.

Plan A seemed to be working for the Saints, as The Scarlets struggled to win ball from the scrums. But Northampton could not execute the plan. It could be said that the plan was fine, and it was its execution that failed. Much the same is said by disappointed strategists in business. In any event, there is always a need for a plan that can be implemented…

After the match, the inquests

After the match, the inquests:

Northampton Saints rugby director Jim Mallinder: “I think we were well beaten. I’m very disappointed with the way that we played. Scarlets came here and kicked very well and we didn’t handle that. We turned over too much ball and didn’t play the conditions as well as they did.”

Scarlets coach Nigel Davies: “We had to play a very good game of rugby to get a result here and that is what we did. This is pretty big against a side of Northampton’s quality. I don’t think they have lost a European encounter at home since 2007 so it is a big scalp for us. We have to build the momentum. The big thing has been belief, believing we can come to places like this.”

Like country like club?

Am I reading too much into the evidence of one game? As a student of management rather than rugby I guess so. But Northampton Plan A could be at least a metaphor for England Plan A. Even in losing, the Saints showed considerable muscular talent. The game last night at least goes some way to explain why Jim Mallinder is tipped as a future England coach. It may even explain why so often we get the leaders we deserve.

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One Response to Jim Mallinder hints at England’s rugby future … and its past

  1. I have simplified the complex patterns of play in rugby to make my main point. But I’d welcome comments, especially from people who are more than armchair Rugby followers…

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