Why are England's rugby players practicing MMA?

Eddie Jones' side have decided to try something new ahead of their Six Nations Championship defence

England, Jack Nowell, Rugby, Six Nations

Image: Rob Griffith AP/Press Association Images

The Six Nations is fast approaching and as squads are finalised for the championship campaign beginning next month, training camps have just gotten underway.

Players from each of the six countries competing will taken from their club sides and brought up to test match fitness. England begin their preparation in Portugal this week and head coach Eddie Jones has decided to try something new in their training.

The players will be trained in some aspects of mixed martial arts in order to improve their movement and tackling.

Wing Jack Nowell explained the benefit of trying out the new programme ahead of their campaign opener against France. 

"I think it's one of those things that is added to the squad to make us better players," he said. "Everything that Eddie and the coaches do is designed to make us better. 

"We've learned different skills, different things to do with hand-eye coordination that we'll be doing. UFC, judo, it's all making us better players at the end of the day.

"There's a lot of grappling, as a sport we are grappling boys quite a bit. Movement on the floor and trying to get out positions if we're pinned down in a ruck. We're working on different body parts and different muscles to enable you to get loose or grab someone."

England defence coach Paul Gustard said that against Australia, England were "physically controlled on occasion" and sees aspects of MMA and judo as ways to better equip his players. Image: David Davies PA Wire/PA Images

Speaking yesterday, defence coach Paul Gustard told the Express: "We went on a journey, to New Zealand, to Wigan, to Warrington, we had British Judo come in, went to a couple of MMA centres and then got Jason Ryles [defence coach] in from Melbourne Storm.

"There are lots of things we can take from mixed martial arts. It is about improving certain aspects around the contact area, around the maul and about getting back to your feet post-tackle."