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Prop idols look to provide x-factor

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Tom Fordyce | 19:08 UK time, Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It's become a familiar story in the British sporting autumn: just after the clocks go back, so will the Wallabies' scrum.

The simple reading has it that Australia's pack has been in reverse since Andrew Sheridan saw off both his opposite number Al Baxter and replacement Matt Dunning at Twickenham five years ago. With the Welsh front row performing a similar demolition job in Cardiff last weekend, it might seem like the script remains unchanged.

Except, with the Wallabies limbering up for their annual visit to Twickenham this Saturday, it's not quite so straightforward. England might have rumbled their old rivals in the famous World Cup quarter-final win in Marseille three years ago, but 12 months later Baxter and his front row comrades returned the favour with interest as the Wallabies triumphed 28-14 and Sheridan was forced off injured.

Even when Australia have struggled in the set-piece, it's often made little difference to the final score; despite being mangled in Perth and Sydney in the summer, they won the first by a street and were a missed Matt Giteau penalty away from claiming the latter.

All of which means that, down at England's training headquarters at Pennyhill Park, the unsung heroes of the front row are enjoying their annual excursion into the spotlight.

Props being props, the mood is businesslike, the language unfussy.

"That's what I get paid for - to scrummage, not to run about and kick goals and stuff," says Dan Cole, nailed on at tight-head despite only having made his senior England bow off the bench in February this year. "We've just to do the job."

No-one is crowing; no-one is taking anything for granted.

"I respect their players and I respect their coaches," says scrummaging coach Graham Rowntree firmly. "We saw what happened in Wales. Will that happen again for us? I'm not so sure.

"They're a very smart and well-coached outfit, and I'm sure that all week they'll be looking to address what went wrong in Wales. I respect that. All that I can do is make sure our guys do everything in their power to make our scrum dominant.

"And when I say dominant, to make us pro-active, to make the scrum stay up. I don't want a load of collapsed scrums, because that embarrasses me."

Andrew Sheridan receives treatment in the 2008 clash

Sheridan receives treatment during the 2008 Cook Cup match

In his role as Lions scrummaging coach, Rowntree played a part in forging that Welsh front row of Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees and Adam Jones into the formidable unit it is today. But he now wants his England forwards to go even further than Wales did last weekend.

"You talk about the Welsh dominance last week, but you still had their tight-head prop Ben Alexander scoring tries on the wing. I'd love for that not to happen this weekend. I'd love him to be blowing and puffing all day because of the scrum.

"I want us to be a strong, dominant scrummaging unit that allows us to deliver quick ball. But I also want us to be the best ball-carrying pack around. And I want us to be a scrum that can really pound the opposition, really take their legs away."

In Cardiff the Wallaby front row of Benn Robinson, Saia Faingaa and Alexander was in trouble from the start, and went on to concede seven penalties at the scrum.

At training this week, on the same west London pitches that hosted the All Blacks seven days before, Aussie assistant coach Jim Williams has been cracking the whip to ensure the same does not happen again.

"The guys know it is a big challenge," he admits. "England really got stuck into us during the Test series in June and the boys have learned a lot from that. Obviously it was difficult last weekend but the boys have been working on staying tight, and working together as an eight, making sure we are leading from the front.

"We know it is going to be a massive challenge but our strength lies in these guys working together as an eight."

The man hailed as the architect of that Wallaby win two years ago, forwards coach Michael Foley, is now with the New South Wales Waratahs. As concern has mounted in Australia about green-and-gold pack, he has suggested bringing 33-year-old Baxter and 31-year-old Dunning back into the fold to help out the current crop.

Head coach Robbie Deans, always with an eye on youth, has resisted. The expected return of Stephen Moore at hooker will bolster his resources; a focus on technique, always as important as raw beef and aggression, should stiffen his side's spine.

Just as Linford Christie used to talk about exploding from his blocks on the 'b' of the bang, so Rowntree has been schooling his white-shirted charges on reacting to the 'e' of the referee's 'engage'. That issue of timing has been on Deans' mind all week.

"(In Wales) we were getting beaten on the hit on numerous occasions," he admits. "That was our greatest problem, and we will need to re-visit it this week."

England loose-head Sheridan is a veteran of these clashes. Cole, third choice for his club Leicester at the start of last season, has yet to play the Wallabies on home soil. But despite his relative inexperience, Rowntree sees in him a prop of enormous potential.

"For a 23-year-old he looks so old. I've known him since he was 17 - I've spent hours with him watching (All Blacks legend) Carl Hayman - and he's a pleasure to coach.

"Is he the finished product? No. But he could be world class. He's not there yet. That is defined by his consistency. And it's up to me to drive that consistency."

Dan Cole takes a breather in training

Cole is cut from the same hard-wearing cloth as Leicester legend Rowntree. Despite sustaining a nasty cut to the head in the first five minutes of the summer Test in Sydney, he stayed on the pitch throughout, even when his left eye closed up almost completely.

"I'm expecting us to take the game to them and them to front up and come back, because they've copped a lot of flak about the summer and the Wales game," says Cole.

"If we were them we'd come out guns blazing. It won't be as one-sided as everyone thinks - it'll be a competition, and that's what we want."

What does it feel like to be in the middle of the maelstrom that is an international Test scrum?

"Painful," he says, deadpan. "The lungs are hurting, the legs are hurting, the back's hurting - you're just hoping that they're feeling worse.

"It's funny - you watch a scrum on tape afterwards and you've only gone forward or back an inch, but it feels like a mile when you're in there.

"You're closed off to the world when you're pushing in the scrum. When you're going backwards it's not good. But when you get that forward surge, it's a good feeling. Your body is saying no, but the mind is saying you've got to. And that's a bit of a buzz."

You can hear more from the England and Australia camps on 5 live Rugby with Matt Dawson and Alastair Eykyn on Thursday night at 2030.


  • Comment number 1.

    Can't wait for the British Bulldog Front-rows to crush the wallys!!

  • Comment number 2.

    I think they might miss Wally. He really rubbed them up the wrong way in the summer and is a better scrummager than Hartley.

  • Comment number 3.

    I played with Cole from 15-18, and he was impressive then too, a step above other props on the circuit. It was always great to be in a scrum that you knew had very little chance of going backwards.

    I can't understand how Wales managed to be quite so dominant at scrum time and yet came away with a fairly convincing loss. I hope that England don't just focus on smashing the Aussies at the scrum and look to work with that predicted dominance to keep the Aussie backs on the back foot and release Foden and Ashton.

    My reading of it is if our backs can defend this week, we've got a very good shout. If out backs defend as poorly as they did last week, the Aussies will run in a lot of tries - in my opinion their back line is the best in world rugby at the moment.

    Cant wait!

  • Comment number 4.

    Ahhh, the overblown and vastly exaggerated legend of Andrew Sheridan's ability continues... He's strong, yes; he's a tidy scrummager, yes; but nobody outside of England bangs on about him as if he's the best loose-head in the world. 5 years ago saw the worst Aussie front row ever; they were pushed about by everybody - it wasn't "a job" done on them by Sheridan. And I see that you're trying to give all the credit to the Welsh front row to Graham Rowntree... why is the frst letter of the BBC a "B"?

  • Comment number 5.

    Southern hemisphere rugby simply has too much in the tank for you European plodders. NZ never got out of second gear last week.

    Wallabies by 14 (that's in lots of 7 for those of you who've forgotten how much a converted try is worth) ;)

  • Comment number 6.

    Good stuff boys, setting yourself up for another fall. I think it must be your favourite past time. The English will dominate the scrum, no doubt. But the Aussies have the best backline in the world and will be able to score trys at will.

    FYI: 5 points is more than 3.

    I think you need to progress and see the way the modern game is played, by scoring trys. Why are the English always so retrogressive in their outlook on sport and reflect on past glories.

    Hey, remember in 1966 when…

    Also, how about an article every now and again about the other British sporting nations. I don’t understand why you have to use the Welsh’s good performance in the scrum to big up England.

    FYI: Britain/England are not synonymous.

  • Comment number 7.

    We don't need to worry about the scrum, Wales have got a great front row but I don't exactly rate the locks behind them come scrum time. England on the other hand match Wales front 3 (at least in the scrum) imo and have the likes of Lawes and later Shaw to drive the engine room. Scrums should be no problem.

    The problem will be stopping that backline which is arguably the best in the world. But if we play like we did in the second half last week and keep them on the back foot they will struggle and even the best team struggle to score from insdie their own half.

    What we need to do is be clinical in the red zone. Squeeze them at scrum time for points and take our tries when the chances come. Frankly that is not going to happen if Tindall plays as poorly as he did last week. Nearly everytime he had the ball he either drove straight into contact and was turned over, threw a bad pass, held the ball to long before passing or dropped the ball. I seriously think that the worst he's ever played in an England shirt and I think he struggled to keep up with the pace of the rest of our backline! I'm keeping my fingers crossed that was just a bad day at the office but if he plays that badly again he needs to be replaced either by Waldouck or Armitage (depending on wheather Johnson feels Waldouck is ready for Test rugby).

    My only other concern is Hartley. Good player though he is he has a nasty temper which he can't control and was lucky not to be sent off or banned after elbowing McCaw last week. If he doesn't buck up his act soon hes in danger of becoming England's new Danny Grewcock.

  • Comment number 8.

    I think the main point out of all of these are England are showing signs of getting better and for an Englishman we haven't had any good news for near 7 years (bar the world cup).

    I hope England win, but the Wally's are coming to the end of there season and have had a lot of internationals with the new rules. England on the other hand have now had 1 and we are at the beginning of our season.

    What I'm really hoping for is if we play well in these Autumn internationals our players will have some positive inspiration for the Six nations and world cup, all I want is to see some good rugby from England!!

  • Comment number 9.


    I remember '95, '03 and '07 as well as '66. Famous victories in the world cup over Australia in each one my friend.

    Note: England are the first NH team to score a try against NZ in their last two tours north of the tropics, something none of the other home nations have managed - not sure how that is backward looking, smells more of the usual envy the poms have to endure from the less succesful nations.

    I think MJ is on the right track, there are now some really promising younger players in the fold, and in Foden and Youngs some attacking quality to go with the power players.

    We'll see how it goes, but I for one proud Englishman am very much looking forward to the future.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hookers_armpit - yup, I like starting with Thompson and then using Hartley's energy and mobility in the loose off the bench. Guess Johnno now has his eyes on RWC first choice XV.

    0darroch - entirely agree re Wallabies' backs. Sensational attacking threat. Interesting that you played with Dan. Strikes me as a smashing chap.

    bob_loblaw - did you see anything in the performance against the All Blacks to make you think England might be heading in a better direction, or are you unconvinced?

    Swanny_Wilkinsom - would you have stuck with Tindall? if not, who would you bring in?

    oadbywygg1 - score prediction for the weekend?

  • Comment number 11.

    Why the hell are we focusing on the scrum?

    We will look like arses if we're not able to convert from this platform. They have arguably the best backline in the world.

    Can we please pay attention to;

    1) how we stop their backs
    2) how we execute (unlike last week)

    Only if we win can we start having a laugh at them.

  • Comment number 12.

    #8 Dom. I agree. This england side is the best looking one for a while and performed well against new zealand. despite losing we performed well and it was only a short lapse before half time that let us down. If we tighten up at the breakdown and defend well against their back line we should be able to beat australia. last weekend they ripped wales to shreds at times because they have a backs division that is both young but mature. i dislike australia (they rather than scotland are my auld enemy) but i have a huge respect for their style of rugby. in the nice weather of the first few rounds of the premiership this season i noticed a lot of players running the ball where over the last few seasons we saw a lot of kicking. our winters can be restrictive as to how prem teams play sometimes and i while i would never advocate a summer season i think this is possibly part of the reason for some of our so called negative rugby recently. In wet/frosty/snowy conditions 20-25 yard passes aren't a good game plan. Long live our forward orientated game where conditions are restrictive and when the weather is good lets throw it around and score some great tries. saturday looks to be a wet one so the strength of the pack might be a huge factor

  • Comment number 13.

    Agree that the English scrum will be dominant but you are not going to win any game playing the two dumplings you do at centre! Tindall and Hape showed very little if any creativity in the game last week. Engerland need to pick rugby players in their midfield and not just two big lumps who have little to their game other than crash balls. Shame really given the class of youngs and foden who must be getting pretty fed up witht the rest of their backs!Modern game is a 15 man game and the Aussies will dominate the running game!

  • Comment number 14.

    oadbywygg1 @ 9

    I think you just made bob's point for him. Focusing on past glories.

  • Comment number 15.

    I agree with dpedin(13), with Tindall and Hape we won't be winning anything. Tindall has been around for years and last weekend he couldn't draw his man and throw a pass to an unmarked Moody outside him. Honestly, it beggars belief - an international center that can't execute a simple 2-on-1. All the scrumming in the world won't sort the backline out.

  • Comment number 16.

    I was pleasantly surprised by englands performance last week, I would always prefer to us play a lesser side as the first game to get up to speed with international rugby and I can see us playing better this weekend. And the mental battle has shifted where the Aussies feel the pressure of having to beat us, despite being the better side. England to win by 4.

  • Comment number 17.

    This is a step on the way to next year at the RWC. Shame the draw means we can't inflict a customary quarter final defeat on Australia and will have to wait till the final.

  • Comment number 18.

    For me, it's all about momentum, we are turning the corner and a resounding defeat against the Aussies on Saturday will do us no favours. Therefore, a solid front line is vital.

    One or even two victories in the AI's, a solid 6N (I expect us to go close), and a decent world cup (semi-finals?) are realistic expectations for this team.

    We should be planning now, how to win the world cup in 2015.

    As for all the anti-English sentiment - I'll take your concerns as a form of flattery.

  • Comment number 19.

    Tom - I'd have stuck with Tindall for at least the Australia game but if he had another shocker like that I'd take a gamble on Waldouck and let him run out against Samoa and South Africa and give him a chance to prove himself at test level before the 6 nations.

    The centres at the moment are a problem. I think once we discover who our best partnership is we can get serious about being competitive. At the moment I'm pretty sure its not Hape and Tindall.

  • Comment number 20.

    How about this strategy? Put the talented but very cocky Quade cooper on his backside in the first 5 minutes

  • Comment number 21.

    Tom there is no doubt the aussie forwards are rattled about tomorrow - they've wheeled out that clown, sorry 'gentleman,' Campese to spout his usual rubbish, sorry 'wisdom' (Hmm! I wonder if this tune is any different to the one in '91?). Let's do what we should have done then - crush them, starve them of the ball, push them back, whatever is necessary (within the rules though Kiwis)! This is Rugby UNION and let's revel in the joy of all facets of the game. I would love to see us chuck it about the way we did in our heyday of the early noughties (when us European Plodders took you apart Deano_27 [6 times in a row culminating in RWC on your patch]). Please though let's not play the so-called 'welsh-way' - chuck it about pretty pretty for the sake of it and lose - yet again. Lets be pragmatic until we have the confidence to throw it about to real effect.

  • Comment number 22.

    Bob_loblaw the other aussie asks "Why are the English always so retrogressive in their outlook on sport and reflect on past glories?" Hmm I wonder if it's got anything to do with the ability of you and such as you not to have the sportsmanship or plain good grace to give credit where due and to accept when you have been squarely beaten (on the rare occasions when it happens to you Gods of sporting endeavour of course). We take pleasure in our achievements when we can and for as long as we can because we know there'll alway be a bob_loblaw looking to take the gloss of it instead of keeping quiet and letting us have OUR moment.

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 24.


    Lets argue for a fifteen man forward game! No backs would ensure English dominance at a world level. We could revel in the sight of two rucks endlesslely testing each other for strength and endurance. Points could be awarded for scrum dominance, for example pushing the opposing team back 5 yards or more could be rewarded with 2 points, and the ultimate prize could be 7 points for a pushover try. This would make the aussies and kiwis irrelevant.

  • Comment number 25.

    As much as I enjoy seeing England lose at any sport I do believe that the club is going in the right direction...and even if they lose today making progress is important. If I were an Aussie I would wait until after the match to beat my chest. Here's to a great day of rugby. Cheers!


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