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31st Oct 2019

Springboks must stop England’s lightning starts – Jerry Flannery

Rob O'Hanrahan

Tús maith, leath na hoibre.

While you would doubt that there’s an Irish seanfhocal written up on the wall of the English dressing room, it’s been their mantra in a couple of key wins this year. A good start is half the work.

When England arrived to the Aviva Stadium in February for the opening weekend of the Six Nations, they were facing the in-form team in the Northern Hemisphere and the Grand Slam champions. They hadn’t beaten Ireland in Dublin since 2013, and it was two years even further back for their last try on Irish soil. Ireland hadn’t lost a home Six Nations game under Joe Schmidt in his 5 previous campaigns.

England had all that rectified within three minutes. On their first attack.

They boxed Ireland in close to their own touch line, forced Murray to kick for touch and then hit Ireland with a clever strike play from the resulting quickly-taken lineout. This lightning start was replicated last weekend, as Manu Tuilagi’s 98-second try was the fastest New Zealand had ever conceded at a Rugby World Cup. In exactly the same way they had done against Ireland, they grabbed their opponent’s throat in the first few minutes, and never let go until the clock was in the red.

With South Africa naming an unchanged side, the return of Cheslin Kolbe aside, from their semi-final win over Wales, Rassie Erasmus has again tasked his ‘bomb-squad’ with the task of finishing stronger than they start the game. The problem is, they’re coming up against a side who start faster and more devastatingly than any other in world rugby at the moment.

Speaking on The JOEpan Rugby Show this week, former Munster and Ireland hooker Jerry Flannery was quick to heap praise on England’s ability to start with such relentless pace;

“Yeah I think there’s definitely a part of it where England seem to go out and they seem to say ‘right, we’re going to start from the whistle, the minute the game starts we’re going to go 100 miles an hour, there’s going to be no feeling our way into this’, whereas some teams go ‘we’re going to feel our way in and we’re going to receive the restart and then we’re going to build our exit plan and get the ball off the field or get the ball down the pitch’. Whereas England are just saying they’re going to really ask and see where the opposition are at. What’s really interesting is that they did the exact same to Ireland in the 6 Nations, their first lineout Ireland kicked the ball out, their very first lineout. Jamie George went over the top of the lineout, they carried, they came back on the blind and it was just ball-carrier, ball-carrier and Ireland just struggling to handle that, and then a try for England. Very much the same with Tuilagi’s try, it was just non-stop, every single English player that carried the ball was getting over the gainline and New Zealand were behind after a minute and a half.”

Flannery was also quick to point out that if South Africa were to be caught cold by another blistering England start, they could find themselves out of the game pretty quickly;

“Like Warren Gatland said about the Wales game (semi-final defeat), it’s going to be an arm-wrestle. And eventually then South Africa got stronger for the final quarter, when they brought on their replacements. I’m not so sure it’s going to be quite such an arm wrestle against England. England are going to start really fast, and if you haven’t got your best players on the field to deal with that then you go behind. And as we’ve seen with South Africa, they’ve struggled to create outside of their set piece, so if there’s scoreboard pressure on them, if they’re chasing a game, they’ll have to go off-script which won’t suit them.”

England go into the World Cup Final as favourites, but South Africa may be handing them a 7 point headstart if they don’t show up in the opening minutes.

On Episode 12 of The JOEpan Rugby Show, Rob O’Hanrahan and Jerry Flannery preview the Rugby World Cup Final between England and South Africa, why England won’t care about the Haka fine and how Rassie Erasmus has transformed the Springboks’ fortunes. WATCH below:

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