Eng­land’s scrum needs to re­gain hos­til­ity

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

JOHN WELLS, the Eng­land for­wards coach, used the word “turgid” to de­scribe some of the things he saw from his charges against Aus­tralia a week ago.

Martin John­son might have gone for “in­sipid” had he wanted to be equally blunt, but he stopped well short of overt crit­i­cism.

But the man­ager did tac­itly ac­knowl­edge that the red-rose pack has been strug­gling with an ag­gres­sion deficit – a sub­ject he is likely to ad­dress be­hind closed doors ahead of to­day’s meet­ing with Ar­gentina at Twick­en­ham.

Asked if he had seen any sign of the con­trolled yet ut­terly ruth­less hos­til­ity that char­ac­terised Eng­land’s ap­proach to the for­ward ex­changes when he and the likes of Neil Back were do­ing their thing for the na­tional cause, Jonno replied: “I think there’s a lot more to come out of this pack in that re­spect. The play­ers recog­nise that.” In other words: “No, not re­ally.”

Quite whether the Pu­mas will fret over the hard-nut el­e­ment in the Eng­land eight is a moot point – they have, af­ter all, armed them­selves with the likes of Rodrigo Ron­cero and Martin Scelzo, not to men­tion the im­pla­ca­bly com­pet­i­tive Juan Martin Fernardez Lobbe.

In­deed, it is gen­er­ally as­sumed that if Eng­land man­age to win, it will not be by beat­ing up the tourists at scrum, ruck and maul.

It is the sort of as­sump­tion that gets on the nerves of play­ers like Dun­can Bell, the tight-head prop re­called to the start­ing line-up for the first time since 2005.

“It’s true to say that the Pu­mas bring a high de­gree of phys­i­cal­ity to their game – that when they pull on the shirt, they rise to the badge, as it were,” said the 35-year-old Bath front-rower. “But so do we. We’re pas­sion­ate peo­ple as well, and we want to win as badly as any­one.”

No one doubts the level of English de­sire – the Six Na­tions matches in Wales and Ire­land ear­lier this year were not lost through a lack of ef­fort.

But with very few ex­cep­tions, most notably the World Cup wins over Aus­tralia and France two years ago, there has been pre­cious lit­tle sign in re­cent times of the hard-hit­ting work at close quar­ters that de­fined the pack in which John­son played. Un­less Eng­land make big strides in this area, an­other home de­feat at the hands of the South Amer­i­cans will be on the cards.

Dis­con­cert­ingly from the view­point of the cur­rent coaches, it might be ar­gued that the last time a red-rose pack per­formed with a re­as­sur­ing de­gree of fe­roc­ity for more than half an hour at a time was back in the au­tumn of 2005, un­der Andy Robin­son.

Over three ex­cit­ing weeks, they put 40 points on Samoa, beat the Wal­la­bies with plenty to spare and stood toe to toe with the All Blacks in a bru­tal game at Twick­en­ham be­fore los­ing 23-19.

Robin­son is now in charge in Scot­land, who play their first game un­der his stew­ard­ship against Fiji to­mor­row. The Scots have not al­ways pos­sessed the most in­tim­i­dat­ing pack, but the new coach has some use­ful for­wards at his dis­posal now and is well ca­pa­ble of mould­ing them into an ef­fec­tive fight­ing force.

“There’s pres­sure from Andy to get things nailed down,” said John­nie Beat­tie, the Glasgow No 8, yes­ter­day.

“The way he coaches, the play­ers are re­ally hands-on and are ex­pected to take own­er­ship on the pitch. We know we have to match Fiji and look to dom­i­nate. We need to win those phys­i­cal en­coun­ters.”

That will be the very least Robin­son ex­pects. It should be the least John­son ex­pects, too. – Belfast Tele­graph

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