Iain Morrison: How to defend England’s driving maul

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1. Steal the throw in first place!

In Dublin, England eschewed a kick at goal and opted for an attacking five-metre lineout. Devin Toner had done his homework and the Irish lock stole the throw. Scotland rarely, if ever, take this gamble because, if you don’t win the ball, at least three men are out of position to defend the maul. Five metres from your own try line, the tactic may be too risky; elsewhere, it seems like a no-brainer.

Ireland caused problems for England's tactic in their recent win. Picture: PA

Ireland caused problems for England's tactic in their recent win. Picture: PA

2. Get stuck in

You have to be strong but maul defence also has to be wide because, if the defence is narrow, then the driving maul simply pivots around and carries on upfield. Get a player into the middle of the opposition maul to disrupt and, if possible, cause the turnover.

3. Sack the jumper

As soon as the jumper’s feet hit the ground, tackle him in the hope that he has not been able to pass the ball. Even if he has, the maul has one more hurdle to negotiate, their own catcher on the ground.

4. Mexican stand-off

Stand back from the opposition lineout. If the catcher passes the ball to the man behind him, then join the maul and the referee will either award the defending team a penalty for obstruction or a scrum for accidental offside depending on his mood. Alternatively, you can send one tackler around the back of the opposition maul to tackle the man holding the ball. He isn’t offside because there is no maul with only one team competing.

5. Mexican stand-off [part 2]

Stand back from the opposition maul. If the catcher keeps hold of the ball and the maul advances then the defending team has to tackle the ball carrier in the hope of stopping the maul. Sean O’Brien tried this tactic against England but was penalised, not for his initial tackle, but afterwards for lying on the floor in an effort to trip the English forwards.

Here are the six areas where England will expect to boss Scotland at Twickenham today…

1. The Scrum

England got no change from the Irish until it was too late, but this England eight are similar to the players who earned a penalty try against the All Blacks in November and that takes some doing.

2. The Lineout

In the absence of Richie Gray and Grant Gilchrist, the Scottish locks of Jonny Gray and Jim Hamilton are two big lumps who are not easy to get into the air quickly. That leaves a lot of emphasis on the two breakaways Rob Harley and David Denton.

3. The Bomb

Scotland have been poor at defusing bombs all season. They even let one high ball against Italy bounce while three players stood and watched each other. George Ford will test Stuart Hogg and the twin wingers.

4. The Driving Maul

If a team gets the set-up right, and the bodies in front of the ball work their socks off, the driving maul is a potent weapon. Italy scored 12 points against Scotland from this move; simple but oh so effective.

5. Close Channel Runners

England have some big men and they will send the likes of Billy Vunipola, Courtney Lawes and Luther Burrell down the ten channel in an effort to soften up the blue-clad defenders in general and, specifically, Finn Russell if they can get to him.

6. Doing Nothing

England will be happy to run through a few phases inside the Scotland half in the near certainty that someone in a blue shirt will, sooner or later, get on the wrong side of the referee and cough up a simple three for George Ford.

And here are the four areas where Scotland will hope to exploit possible vulnerabilities in the England game…

1. England’s Flat Defence

England like to play with as many men in the defensive line as possible, including wingers and even the scrum-half at times. Russell will look to stop the charge with little chip kicks into the space that should open up just behind that front line.

2. The Bomb

Mike Brown is brilliant at catching high balls but he will be joined in the backfield by George Ford, who is not. If Russell can isolate Ford and have him one-on-one with either Dougie Fife or Tommy Seymour, the Scottish wingers should win that aerial battle.

3. The Driving Maul

Didn’t Sun Tzu state in The Art of War that you must attack your enemy at his strongest point? It has all but been forgotten but Scotland have a decent driving maul themselves which marched the French pack 30 metres backwards and the Italians 20. If the Scottish big men want to put down an early marker there is no better way.

4. The Back Three

Stuart Hogg has carried for more metres than any other attacker in the Championship so far, and beaten more defenders. If Scotland can buy their full-back, or the twin wingers, a yard or two of space, they can do some damage.


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