Exclusive Interview with Richard Hill – England’s 6 Nations journey so far
If you can cast your mind back to the 6 Nations opener against Wales, what impressed you as England secured a famous victory?
Clearly we didn’t get off to the best of starts and to be 10 points down inside the Millennium Stadium certainly wasn’t the ideal situation but we were able, to keep in sight of them. I was fearful when we had an attacking scrum on their 22 with about 2 minutes to go until half time – you’re thinking that it would be nice to get another score on the board, be it a penalty or a try, to go in at half time pretty much all square. At the time, I thought Biggar’s drop goal was going to be extremely significant, but fair play to England. The conversations in the dressing room at half time to address tactics and application worked because they came out after the break and performed very well. The majority of the play in the second half was in Welsh territory and we were getting points on the board. I think that Jonathan Joseph, getting his first 6 Nations start, made the most of the opportunity and took his try particularly well. He took that through to the Italy match, starting at centre and moving onto the wing and again took his tries well. The Italy match acted as a positive step in terms of a point-scoring mission and yet defensively we offered Italy the opportunity to get onto the front foot and score some tries, which would have no doubt been a bit disappointing for the England camp. From a 6 Nations table point of view this put us in a strong position heading to The Aviva but unfortunately we weren’t able to replicate that 2nd half performance against the Welsh.
Why do you think that was? What was the difference between the Welsh and the Irish performances?
One of the key factors was that Ireland targeted us with the high kick – they had good precision with their kicking game which meant that they were able to compete for the ball, contesting in the air winning the ball or causing errors with us. When theyweren’t quite so accurate with height or length of kick, they were able to put in a good chase and put us under pressure – if you look at the first half, they didn’t let us get into any sort of rhythm at all. But, saying that, we were able to get on the board with a penalty and there was a decision to be made whether to attempt another or kick for touch. It’s very easy to say that perhaps we should have looked to go for 3 points but we have to trust the instincts of the decision makers and players, and the direction in which they thought the game was going. The previous 2 line-outs were won cleanly and on the latter they managed to get a good drive going which resulted in the penalty decision. They would have wanted to reinforce the fact that the line-out was going well and wanted to get a catch and drive and, if they didn’t score from it they would’ve wanted to put that element of doubt in the referees mind about how they collapsed it again and put the pressure onto Ireland. It was a brave and bold call but Toner got up and stole it which was a key point in the match.
In terms of the second half, if there was a way that Ireland were going to break away from us in terms of the point differential then it was going to be the kicking game. They already had the advantage on a penalty and so with an American Football style Hail Mary they put it up and into a position where it was 50-50 and Henshaw got the better of the rise and beat Alex Goode to the ball and thenjust had enough space to ground it before going out.
How then do you think the England camp will look to recover after this defeat and prepare for facing Scotland in 2 weeks time?
There will no doubt have been disappointment and deflation in the dressing room after thematch, they obviously have to debrief, review and soul search at times but the important thing is not to dwell in a negative state – it’s just not conducive to bettering yourself. There are lessons to be learned regarding how we want to defend those sorts of situations and tactics to be discussed – do we want to put more players into the backfield, which leaves us more vulnerable in first up defence? Could we have done better in blocking lines? These scenarios have to be looked at and in training youhave to rehearse for it as you feel that Scotland will look at similar tactics. These are tactics that can be replicated relatively easily so whoever is in our back 3 can expect some high kicks to see if they can rattle us at home.
With the World Cup on the horizon, where do you think that the England squad currently stands? If you are Stuart Lancaster, are you viewing the 6 Nations campaign to date as positive and how do you rate their chances of still claiming a Series win?
In terms of the 6 Nations tournament, Ireland are in the hot seat to win the Championship and a potential Grand Slam but we along with Wales are still in with a chance. Yes we are reliant on Wales but England can only take care of what we can control which, at this moment, is performance which will in turn leads to results. We can only look as far forward as Scotland who are up next and look to remedywhat we have said needs to be addressed. I’m sure that there are players who were involved, whether they started or not who are desperate to get the show back on track. We are still in a position where there are elements of our game that we need to work on, some require fine-tuning but there are others that require extra work. This week the England squad have a fallow week, which allows the body to recover, the pain subside before cracking on with high quality practice, rather than disappearing back to clubs. It will then be time to fine tune in preparation for the match against Scotland and this work can certainly be of benefit if we look further down the line and towards the World Cup in 6 months time.
Finally, what would you be looking for from the final 2 6 Nations matches and who will beputting their hands forward for a spot as we do approach the World Cup?
I think that looking back at the first 2 fixtures, we were very confident with what Jonathan Joseph was showing particularly in attack and we need to make sure that he is offered the opportunity, along with George Ford, to play with the ball on the front foot because quite clearly they are two great talents with ball in hand and they are able to break through defences. To give them that opportunity, we need our pack to work incredibly hard. We’re pretty fortunate in that position, we know that Lawes and Wood will put their hands up to be involved but we have options where we still compete with any of the packs in the world. Combinations can be switched around but it would be great to get the likes of Billy Vunipola on the front foot to run over people and challenge people which is perhaps what we saw towards the end of the Ireland game.
Interview date: Monday 2nd March 2015