The secrets of England’s record-breaking set piece game

Forwards coach Louis Deacon during a Red Roses Rugby World Cup in England – Secrets of England’s Free Kick Game – GETTY IMAGES / Phil Walter

He’s the brains behind the Red Roses’ thunderous free-kick that beat the teams at the World Cup, but Louis Deacon wants to clarify one thing. “I’m not a throw-in nausea,” he says, with a straight face. “My idea on Friday night is not to look at repeated lineouts.”

It’s a surprising revelation of the former Leicester lock, as it has spent the last year meticulously fine-tuning England’s greatest weapon – their lineout mace – a white bullet weapon that has become the envy of others.

Deacon, who came on board as England’s forward coach in August 2021, watched with pride, satisfied that he had fulfilled his term. He joined the Red Roses squad after a stint as a manager with England’s under 20s and was given a challenge: to shape the most dominant set piece ever seen in women’s play. Having been part of the iconic Leicester group that dominated in the 1940s, the six-time Premiership winner looked like the perfect candidate.

“We took the old lineout completely apart and put in a new one,” he says. “We took a walk and the next day we did it in a live training session and they are filming it. I’m going to Midds [England head coach Simon Middleton], ‘I can’t believe how quickly they picked it up.’ It had to be a new beginning. I don’t think that as a coach, to go in, to manage the lineout of a previous manager, you should do it. I gave the girls a new structure and they used it to grow it. “

Deacon is more like a director than a forward specialist, working with top actors to ensure the script matches the Red Roses’ creative vision for success. When we sit down for an afternoon chat in the England hotel in central Auckland, four days before the World Cup semi-final against Canada, he has already previewed the match with the protagonists of the all-powerful England pack.

“I select the lineout leaders and then they go through the whole footage with me and we come up with a plan,” he explains. “I will not show it to all forwards. We have a lineout strategy group – it’s me, Abbie Ward, Zoe Aldcroft and a couple of others – we work out a strategy for the game and how to defend ourselves against opponents. There are a lot of moving parts. The players have the final say because they are the ones who will. If I don’t think it will work, then I’ll make my point. “

England's Sarah Hunter wins lineout during Rugby Women's World Cup quarter-finals - England's Free Kick Game Secrets - AP / Andrew Cornaga

England’s Sarah Hunter wins lineout during Rugby Women’s World Cup quarter-finals – England’s Free Kick Game Secrets – AP / Andrew Cornaga

His hands-free approach is definitely working. England have destroyed teams on set piece in the tournament and have mauled more than any other team with devastating effects: 70 percent of their tries were scored among forwards. Such a strategy has drawn criticism in some quarters for being overly simplistic, but Deacon acknowledges none of it.

“You look at the men’s game, it’s so dictated by the set piece now,” he protests. “If you don’t have a set piece, you’re not going anywhere. The women’s game is like this. The teams are improving, but it is so technical and detailed. It takes a lot of time. That’s why England is where it is now, because it’s professional. “

The synergy does not end there. Deacon was part of Martin Johnson’s squad during England’s disastrous 2011 World Cup campaign, which was tarnished by off-court antics and marred by disciplinary issues that reached a low point when some players engaged in a drunken evening of high profile in Queenstown. Activities inside the Red Roses camp have been much more civilized, with Deacon counting a recent sea fishing trip off the coast of Auckland, organized by propeller Hannah Botterman, as one of his personal highlights. .

“When I played in the Men’s World Cup in 2011, I didn’t really appreciate it at the time,” he says. “Obviously it’s the pinnacle of your career, but I was so engrossed in the game, I didn’t really take all the outside parts and enjoyed it as much as I probably should have. This time, I’m definitely enjoying my time here. “

His trip to New Zealand this time was made even more enjoyable by England’s ruthless pursuit of perfection. “I was just blown away by their desire to improve,” he says of the England forwards. “We are quite relentless with the details of their roles and responsibilities. Even though these things are going very well, we always say how much better we can be. It’s pretty exciting, even at this stage. But sometimes it’s just a matter of keeping it in check. It’s a bit like a pressure cooker. ”If they manage to win the World Cup, maybe only then Deacon and his troops can let off steam.

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