- Temporary defence coach highlights line-speed as key weapon
- “The exciting thing about rugby is physically imposing yourself on somebody else” – Gustard
Saracens may have exclusive rights to the “wolf pack” moniker, but Paul Gustard is still set on enhancing physicality and defensive cohesion across England’s young squad during the current tour of South America.
Gustard has joined Stuart Lancaster’s Senior set-up on a short-term basis alongside Exeter Chiefs supremo Rob Baxter to fill the void left by Andy Farrell and Graham Rowntree – both of whom were adopted into Warren Gatland’s British and Irish Lions backroom staff.
This new-look duo’s first assignment saw a convincing 40-12 win over the Barbarians at Twickenham on Sunday, but mental lapses saw the match end on a slightly underwhelming note as the visitors ran in a brace of tries.
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Indeed, though Gustard is content with his first two weeks in office, he suggested there was plenty to work on over the ensuing weeks.
“It’s been brilliant – I’ve really enjoyed the experience,” he said. “We had a great win at the weekend against a very strong Barbarians side and defended very well.
“The disappointment for me was that we conceded 12 points late on in the game, but obviously we’ll learn from the ways we got cut. I’m looking forward to trying to develop that over the next few weeks.”
Sharing an uncompromising, industrious approach to defence with long-term club colleague Farrell, Gustard was the natural choice to join the England camp and went on to list the bare bones of his philosophy.
“Since Andy came into the job, he has employed a very successful defence system that we have at Saracens,” he added. “That is based on aggressive line speed and a strong, physical culture where you have to tackle somebody. Fundamentally, when the opposition has got the ball, we want it back.
“We’ve had some very good individual tacklers – the likes of Courtney Lawes, Mouritz Botha and Brad Barritt – people that can physically dominate and win the ball in these big matches.
“There are just a couple of nuances in and around the set-piece that we can change or try to advance a little bit. Defence is always a work in progress, but obviously I need to keep in line with what Stuart wants for the overall culture.
Photo: Getty Images
“It’s a case of picking up these guys and having one-on-ones, going over video training feedback and trying to advance their game so they will be very good England rugby players.”
Acknowledging the arduous, imposing physical threats that England will face, both against the CONSUR XV this weekend and Santiago Phelan’s Argentina in next month’s two-match Test series, Gustard also stressed the hostile nature of the environments that await the 31-man party.
“Over the next two or three weeks we’ll see how good we can actually be,” explained the 37-year-old. “That’s the exciting thing about rugby – there’s a chance to physically impose yourself on somebody else.
“These boys are going to have a big challenge in front of a vocal, fanatical support. There is a huge opportunity for us to come here and lay down a marker for future years.”
While his unconventional methods with Saracens have included the introduction of two wolves during a team meeting, Gustard finished by hinting he would adopt a more straightforward approach to his stint with England.
“I did go into my first presentation and a couple of the players were looking, expecting something,” he smiled. “I’m not sure whether that is a good thing or a bad thing. It was funny if nothing else.
“I might bring a llama or something in at a later date but we’ll have to see how we go over the next couple of weeks. Certainly the message I have to give has to be clear.
“The rest is just a bit of fun that I do for the guys at Saracens – the wolf pack belongs to them. For England it might be something else.”