England: Kevin Sinfield on tackle technique and a positive catch-up with Owen Farrell as Six Nations looms

England defence coach Kevin Sinfield Credit: Alamy
England defence coach Kevin Sinfield Credit: Alamy

At the England press conference on Monday, Kevin Sinfield talked to the media at length regarding captain Owen Farrell and making sure tackles are legal.

When Sinfield speaks, people listen. Concise, considered and empathetic are his key qualities so when he revealed his ongoing discussion with Farrell over a 90 minute dinner appointment, and his own drive to ensure tackle legality in the game, it was time to break out the popcorn and listen.

Planet Rugby’s James While takes up the story as Sinfield impressed in front of the microphone.

Caught up with Farrell last Wednesday

“There was very little about tackling over our dinner, actually. It was just part of the process of getting around and seeing players. We started the conversation at Gloucester Uni a week ago, which sadly was cut short to come and see you guys for the press conference,” Sinfield teased.

“So we needed a bit more time and I went to see him on Wednesday night. It was always planned that I was going to go and see Owen – but I didn’t know what was going to happen the weekend before with the red card.

“That formed a very, very small part of the chat. The vast majority of it was about building relationships and trying to take some of his knowledge, understand and talk to him about where I’d like to take us defensively, but predominantly it was about building relationships.

“I don’t know really him. I’ve met him a couple of times, and obviously know his dad a fair a bit more – but it was an important conversation and that’s been part of getting around and meeting players at different times and spending a bit of time with them in the last couple of weeks and it’s been great.

“The main thing I took away was how desperate he is to play for England – and how excited he is to do that. I think I mentioned to you guys in Gloucester that it’s about the glint in people’s eyes, the excitement of what 2023 has to offer – the excitement of this first (Six Nations) game and the excitement about a new squad and a new regime.

“At that point, I’d probably say a lot of the squad had been put together. But I came away absolutely knowing that Owen is in a really good place.

Wants to put his body on the line

“He understands the tackle height stuff. He’s been smacked over the head with that – if you pardon the pun – enough now. I think it’s quite refreshing that we’ve got a 10 who wants to put his body on the line and wants to be physical. It’s a great message for our younger players around the country. He wants to tackle. The challenge for us – and across the squad – is to ensure that we don’t cross that line of legality,” noted Sinfield.

Sinfield is a technical master of coaching tackle legality. The current framework that World Rugby use is, ironically, Sinfield designed from a couple of years back when it was decided that the law makers needed to act.

“Yeah, I think it was Ollie Chessum who was the first one on the course when he got sent off for a tackle against Clermont at home. It was basically about getting an understanding of how and why the tackle happened, the body position he was in and then understanding the ramifications of getting it wrong, not only for his opposite number but for himself,” he confirmed.

“The safety measures are the priority, but secondly it’s about the damage it does to the team. In club rugby, it’s really difficult to win with 14 men and Test rugby is a step up. We need all our players on the field at all times. So the priority is players’ safety, but number two is that we need 15 players on the field at all times.

“You go through a series of drills, starting very basically, then you build them up so you almost replicate the tackle that they got sent off for. It’s about having an understanding as you work your way through the process; how you got there, what is effective and legal, and how you’re going to try to avoid it in the future.

“If you had come into Leicester at any point, we were working on tackle height. We did so much on it right from that first conversation with Steve, or the second conversation with him in my kitchen. I knew it would be an issue, especially when you’ve got such a difference in the height of players – guys who are 6ft 10in up against guys who are 5ft 8in. It’s an inevitable situation so it’s something we had a real focus on and hopefully it’s come across.

Support safety measures in rugby

“Both Steve and I fully support the safety measures in the sport. We understand that referees have to make decisions and hopefully we’ll give them less decisions to make about players in white shirts. We’ll get bits wrong – players do, we all do, as humans – but we’ll do our very, very best to ensure that we are legal.”

Wise words from the Tackle Master, but how does he ensure that this is continued and monitored into a game situation and how much data is he gathering?

“If we go off tackle skill to start with, everything we do is of a legal tackle height. We never practice anything high. We monitor it in every game, I go through every single player and if we’re noticing a trend – every bit of tackle-tech we do in the week then – I’ll review it. If there’s anywhere where we’re starting to get too high – and too low as well, because we don’t want to be tackling around bootlaces – getting a knee in the face is just as dangerous as a head-on-head or shoulder-on-head – then we’ll understand that and be able to coach players as we see it and be right across it,” he said.

“The difficulty with the tackle area, and sometimes the breakdown, is that it happens so quickly that you are asking players to make decisions in a really short space of time. It’s understanding how to be legal at all times and how we continue to work on that and show examples of it and try and coach it.

“Everything I brought across you could say was rugby league because I didn’t really know what was being coached at Leicester before me. I did have an idea having spoken to Phil Larder and understood the way he built his week and how he went about different things and it was a really important conversation for me. I think rugby league is on a similar journey as well, lowering tackle height is key there too. We have got a sport where participation numbers are really important for the future and we have got to encourage more kids to pick a rugby ball up whether they are male or female.”

He continued: “The players are already at a great starting point – they all hit, they are all physical, they are all athletic, the obvious combination question is around 10 and 12, I understand that, but the combinations we have got in the back-row are mouth-watering and we are just blessed in this country with unbelievable back-rowers.

Back-row depth impresses Sinfield

“You could probably put a fourth or fifth strength combination of a back-row and go ‘that is something like we want’. There are some guys who have missed out unfortunately but it is an area where we are particular strong. We have got some players who want to run and we have got some guys who want to tackle hard and as a defence coach that is really warming to see,” he admired.

“Steve is great in allowing me to develop my thoughts, and having spent the last 18 months having worked alongside him now I understand his take on selection. He will always listen to my opinion and at the same time I always understand that his head is on the chopping block and he has to make the final call if there is any difference in opinion.

“I said last time I spoke to you at Gloucester, part of my role is to challenge, part of my role is understand the rationale, part of my role is to check he has got all bases covered. If he misses anything it is my job to remind him and support him. It has been a really good process to go through. I had some experience in the other code when I worked with the England team back there, I understand how selection works, I understand how you spend most of your time on the last three or four picks.

“I think we are both looking forward to getting back on the grass, we miss that bit, we are looking forward to working with the quality players we have got.

“It is a really exciting time for us, when you look at that squad, there is a fantastic mix of everything and I can’t wait to get going and I can’t wait until the Scotland game,” Sinfield concluded.

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The article England: Kevin Sinfield on tackle technique and a positive catch-up with Owen Farrell as Six Nations looms appeared first on Planetrugby.com.