So why the improvement ? Going into the game most had N'pton as favourites. I did anyway, looking at a 19 - 31 predicted score line. N'pton will have to carry this tag for the whole season as reigning Champions but that's their problem. Mind set wise we will have known anything short of our best could have led to a defeat and possibly a heavy defeat - this tends to focus the mind. Technically we were a different beast defensively and although we had few chances, in attack too. We showed composure and purpose - individually we have never had a problem, it is collectively we very seldom perform as one with clear focus.
For the majority of the game we had our backs to the wall. We never relented in purpose and organisation until just about their final attack. We did not over commit at the rucks before this last attack and made accurate decisions to attack the ball or drop back in line and keep our shape. We were only broken by the same movement as against Sarries where we over committed to a simple post or circle ball off 10. That is 9 running round 10, although in this instance 10 was tackled but still managed to off load.
In attack I can only think the presence of Leiua within the squad is focusing the mind of the whole back line, particularly the centres. Bell stuck to doing what he does well in attack and defence and Daly stayed straight and showed he can distribute accurately and effectively off his right hand. Dai Young has a big decisions to make, lucky him. Every player now must perform to the highest level or risk losing their place. This, hopefully will bring the consistency we are after. For future games the mind set will be a more difficult challenge as we will not be underdogs and more importantly we will need to take the initiative in attack. That is we can't start thinking we have beaten the Champions so all we need to do is turn up.
For this game, Goode showed his experience and kept the team moving forward with excellent game management and some good distribution. However it was not until Jackson entered the fray that we really threatened in attack, playing much higher and keeping the back line straight, creating space out wide. It is attacking the space between the attack and defensive lines that is the difference between top quality 10's and most other 10's with ball in hand. Much higher risk but the only way to threaten the defence effectively. The best 10's play flat and can distribute in the face of the defence. We now have options and again huge choices for Dai Young to make. Questions are if Jackson would have started would we have controlled the game as well and kept N'pton at bay.....I doubt it. However against other teams where we need to take the initiative Jackson or Lozowski could be better starting options particularly if the back line maintains the effective running lines. We simply must use all the resource we have across the field, but at the right time to suit the suitation.
Nathan Hughes gave us the good go forward last week but was mostly stifled this week. Haskell and Bell provided most of the go forward this week but mostly it was Goode who turned the N'pton defence with intelligent kicking supported by good chasers. Ashley Johnson was Ashley Johnson, simply a pain in the neck around the breakdown and in loose play. The front five provide superb cover and compensated for the lack of some of the requirements produced by our back row. Mostly our back row are ball carries first, tacklers and jacklers second and support players last if at all. However, the front five, Launchbury and Gaskell particularly, provide great support, high work rate and high tackle counts. Equally we have replacements available in Lindsay, Cooper Wooley, Myall, Cannon, Davies and Swainston who offer dynamic, high work rate options. Launchbury and Gaskell could quite easily and have played in the back row.
This performance whether resulting in a win or loss was very encouraging. N'pton choose to not take kickable pens and will be rueing those decisions today. They may have been believing their own press after their performance last week. However we must not fall into the same trap. We must play our game appropriate for the situation, all games will provide different challenges but we clearly have the fire power to beat any team if we play with this composure and accuracy. The rustiness of last week had disappeared and we looked sharper in mind and deed. We should also remember the Ashley Johnson intercept was a try the other end if missed. For me what was a delight was the Tom Varndell try. On the front foot, ball taken flat by Jackson, line straighten by Daly with accurate right to left passing putting TV in space. We know TV and Wadey can finish but a great decision and execution of the chip, gathered and scored. We should also highlight two excellent difficult conversions, with pressure, from Jackson.
Next up is Quins. We need to forget they are in turmoil and focus on the requirements. Narrow pitch makes space out wide a premium. So keep our defensive shape and play territory. Take the points when offered. Use the pack, midfield, counter attack and grubber kicks to provide the tries. Quins will come out all guns blazing and we need more of the N'pton composure and to turn the screw in the attacking zone. Keep lifting the aggression in defence line speed in attack and defence. COYW - back to back wins please.