SAPPORO, Japan (Reuters) - England must be disciplined and adaptable at the World Cup given a push to eliminate high tackles and ongoing debate over the rules of the breakdown, defence coach John Mitchell said on Thursday ahead of their opener against underdogs Tonga.
Governing body World Rugby’s new guidelines have put referees under scrutiny over how they deal with high and dangerous contact, and led to concerns the tournament may see a shower of red cards.
The changes have already had an impact.
New Zealand’s Scott Barrett was red carded, and subsequently banned for three weeks, for a high tackle on Australia’s Michael Hooper in a test last month, a decision England coach Eddie Jones called “ridiculous”.
Mitchell, speaking in Sapporo ahead of the Pool C clash on Sunday, said his side’s discipline should keep them on the right side of the law regardless of refereeing interpretations.
“At the end of the day we are very strong on discipline ... and the elements that referees talk about and focus on, we are very clear on those areas,” he told a news conference.
“So what’s important to do is to make sure your own strengths can still come out but be prepared to adapt as well, and recognise what referees are addressing, and the opposition are doing, in the course of a match.
“You have to be careful not to premeditate and be flexible.”
The New Zealander added that referees had been collaborating closely ahead of the tournament, which should help consistency.
Mitchell said there was a real danger of overloading the players in terms of second guessing how referees will act and approach issues such as letting a tackler stay in the game at the breakdown.
“The world is full of lots of information,” he added. “You have to be very, very careful that you do not cloud your players.
“We feel we consistently train the right action but this is a game of force and speed, and timing is not always right.”
As for England’s opponents on Sunday, Mitchell said Tonga would play high on emotion because simply playing at the World Cup would lift the Pacific Islanders to a new level.
But England, who were knocked out in the Pool phase on home soil four years ago, were ready for anything.
“Rather than focusing on the technical and the tactical, I think it’s what it means to them,” he said.
“What’s important for us is to get the right performance and clearly win, and getting the right performance to make sure our strengths come out and that we feel good about ourselves getting started in the tournament.”
Reporting by Peter Rutherford; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne