What to expect from England’s defense against France

Anthony Seibold explains what the hallmarks of his side are when they don’t have the ball

What to expect from England’s defense against France

In this week of all weeks, the defense coach who will command the most spotlight is Shaun Edwards. However, if he is to guide France to a first Six Nations Grand Slam in 12 years he will need to outdo a former team-mate.

Anthony Seibold, who played alongside Edwards at London Broncos and talks of having a big respect for the Wigan legend, is in charge of England’s defence. And that defense was as hardy as it was stoic against Ireland at the weekend, even when playing for nearly the whole match with 14 men. They would succumb, as Ireland registered their largest ever win at Twickenham, but Seibold’s charges earnt great plaudits.

Asked what an Anthony Seibold defense looks like, the notion of accountability comes up. Because if everyone is honest with – and understands – each other, then everyone must also be accountable for their actions. According to the man himself, England’s defense is built up from the ‘effort areas’. The things that might not come down to supreme skill but rather willingness to get stuck in, of “making a choice”. Then tactics are grafted on top of that.

Seibold tells us: “We want to be aggressive, of course we do. We want to take time and space away from opposition teams. We want to win the contact area. You can’t have aggressive line speed unless you win the contact and that’s the starting point. We want to be aggressive, but coming in it has been about organization to start with and I feel as if we’re a well-organized defensive unit. It’s then about adding that emotional layer now.

“We reward effort here and working hard for the team. If you’re asking me what our defensive system looks like, then hard work, being aggressive and winning the contact are the key things for me. We don’t always get it right, but I think we’ve made a positive start – but we’ve got some big challenges to come.”

Maro Itoje and England’s defense (Getty Images)

Against Ireland last week, England had to dig down to their boot tongues. Maro Itoje took gleefully to the role of party pooper. Ellis Genge and Jamie George relished their time in the front line of defence. Despite being a man down, The side’s frenzied work spooked Ireland into tossing it around more than they should have.

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Joe Marchant (one of Seibold’s back-three boys) has had a fine tournament and defiantly stole the ball off of Ireland a few times. Harry Randall likes to shoot in defence.

Plays like these come down to hard choices by players. And they were part of a rearguard display that has been a highlight of these Six Nations. Their effort levels won’t go unnoticed.

But even before round four, England had ‘won’ 18 of their defensive rucks (according to Stats Perform – they had just slightly higher a percentage than France, at 7.2%) and although they hadn’t slowed as many as they’d like up the eve of the Ireland game, the tenacity the next day seriously impressed.

If England have taken note of how Wales came out on top of the kicking battle with France, then what Seibold says of the familiarity between defenses in rugby league and rugby union stands out.

“There are similarities, particularly around effort areas,” Seibold tells us. “If you take away the skill and talent related stuff, what’s really common to both league and union is you have to make a choice whether or not to get in the kick chase line or put pressure on a ten or a nine. Those decisions on effort are common to both sports. People at home don’t see a lot of that. On TV, you’re probably not looking for that. But for teams to be able to defend well, they’re important.”

It’s also something head coach Eddie Jones has spoken about. In his Monday press conference, Jones said of France: “One thing I know is that there’s not a team in the world or in the history of the game that does not have chink in their armour. Every team has a chink in their armour. It is your ability to be able to find that chink and expose that chink which is going to be the key on Saturday against France.

“France are the longest kicking team in the world and the highest kicking team in the world so that battle of the kicks is obviously important. They get their field position by kicking and we’ll need to take that strength away from them.”

One thing is certain: You need work-rate to play in this defence.

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