WALES TO TRAIN WITH ENGLAND
Old rivals join forces as referee Owens oversees set-piece battles ahead of autumn internationals
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 Owens...so 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