Old ri­vals join forces as ref­eree Owens over­sees set-piece bat­tles ahead of au­tumn in­ter­na­tion­als

Wales On Sunday - - SPORT - BY DELME PARFITT delme.parfitt@waleson­

OLD en­e­mies Wales and Eng­land have ar­ranged a show­down with a dif­fer­ence... a scrum­mag­ing and li­ne­out bat­tle un­der the charge of Nigel Owens.

The clash will take place at Clifton RFC in Bris­tol next week as a means of help­ing both na­tions im­prove at the set-piece ahead of the au­tumn in­ter­na­tional se­ries and next year’s Six Na­tions.

In a rare ex­am­ple of co-op­er­a­tion and open­ness be­tween his­tor­i­caly fierce ad­ver­saries, War­ren Gat­land has agreed to take his troops across the bor­der at the re­quest of his Red Rose coun­ter­part Ed­die Jones.

The plan is to have a face-off of about 12 scrums and 15 li­ne­outs a week on Mon­day be­fore Wales kick­off their au­tumn cam­paign against Aus­tralia, mir­ror­ing the num­ber of en­gage­ments you might ex­pect to see over the course of a Test match.

But, while Jones sug­gested English ref­eree Wayne Barnes was the ideal man to over­see the ses­sion, Wales have dug their heels in and in­sisted on their own man Owens.

Jones ex­plained: “We’re go­ing to scrum against them (Wales) on Mon­day week. Be­cause we need to pre­pare for Ar­gentina.

“It will be bril­liant, ex­actly what we need. New Zealand have got the best scrum in the world and we haven’t. So, how do we im­prove? We’ve got to scrum against sides that are bet­ter than us. You can’t im­prove scrum­mag­ing against each other.”

Jones re­vealed he made his ap­proach to Wales after he had dis­cussed it with for­wards coach Steve Borth­wick and scrum doc­tor Neal Hat­ley and re­alised it could be an ex­tra­or­di­nary way of driv­ing im­prove­ment in such a key area of the game.

“Steve (Borth­wick), Neal Hat­ley and I were think­ing about ‘right, how can we take this onto the next level?’” Jones ex­plained.

“(Let’s) scrum against a bet­ter team. Who’s got a good scrum, who’s close to us?

“We thought about Ge­or­gia, but it’s a bit far to go to Tbil­isi for a day.

“So then Steve gave War­ren a ring (to see) whether he was up for the idea. War­ren was keen, so then we worked out we’d go halfway to Bris­tol to do it. They will do a match of scrums. About 12 large scrums and 15 line-outs. Rip­ping!

“We wanted Wayne Barnes, but they wanted Nigel we’ve bowed to their wishes. It’s a great place and Nigel will do it. He’s one of the best ref­er­ees in the world, so we’re lucky.”

In a warn­ing to Wales and other na­tions, Jones un­der­lined just how much em­pha­sis Eng­land are put­ting on im­prov­ing at the scrum. He added: “The scrums have gone from ba­si­cally a penalty shoot-out to one of the best set-piece pos­ses­sion to break the line.

“Scrum, a penalty, kick to touch. It’s where you can now bust a team open.”

Jones stressed he is aware of the risk of in­juries, but said that will not pre­vent his play­ers from go­ing full throt­tle against their Welsh coun­ter­parts.

He said: “It will be more of the phys­i­cal stuff against Wales in Bris­tol. Get stuck in! Who’s got the big­gest chest!

“There’s al­ways a risk of in­juries but we need to im­prove our scrum­mag­ing.

“And, you know, if I see you ev­ery day, there’s a cer­tainly fa­mil­iar­ity that grows. And that’s what hap­pens when the play­ers scrum against each other. We need to ex­pose them to dif­fer­ent ar­eas.”

St­eff Evans dives over for Scar­lets’ bonus-point try in their Guin­ness PRO14 vic­tory over Cardiff Blues last night PIC­TURE: Huw Evans Agency

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