It was less than a year ago that England’s previously much-vaunted pack was put to the sword at the set-piece by Australia in the World Cup, ending the host nation’s chances of moving on to the knock-out stages.
Yet within seven months Eddie Jones and his new coaching team have completely turned around England’s forwards to the point that their dominance at scrum-time has led to accusations of ‘boring in’ and cheating by several prominent Australian rugby pundits, including former Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer (via The Daily Mail):
“How anyone could have allowed Dan Cole to scrummage the way he did was absolutely beyond me. How two assistant referees and one referee on the pitch could allow him to consistently and blatantly break the laws of the game, I’m not sure. I couldn’t say that Dan Cole’s experience and ability didn’t play a big part in his clear points win over Scott Sio, but we do expect some semblance of accuracy in accordance with the laws of the game.”
It’s further evidence that Eddie Jones is living up to his early promise of building a successful England team based on a powerful set-piece platform, which is further aided by captain Dylan Hartley’s excellent lineout throwing and the athletic magic of Maro Itoje and George Kruis at not only winning their own ball, but stealing it off other teams. As well as winning thirteen of their own throws, England stole two from the Wallabies.
And although Australian commentators can continue to complain about the referee and his decisions, there was a clear disparity between the discipline of the hosts and the visitors. Whereas Australia picked up fifteen penalties throughout the match, England leaked only eight and one free kick.
The poor performance from the men in gold in that department ensured England could keep the scoreboard ticking over and maintain a comfortable points cushion despite conceding two second half tries.
Dwyer went on to add (via The Daily Mail): “On one occasion Cole’s backside was out of the scrum facing one sideline and his head was in the scrum facing the other sideline.
“His most consistent offence was angling in, but on other occasions he managed to roll his right shoulder and give nothing to push against, causing Scott Sio to roll in as well.
“People will say it’s sour grapes and I don’t mind that but before they do I hope they have a good look at the video of the game and make their judgement on the facts.”
All these accusations are all pretty common and rather basic when it comes to the ‘dark arts’ of the front row and any team worth their salt – particularly one led by such a set-piece legend as Argentinian Mario Ledesma – would be using all these and more to gain an advantage.
Whether Cole is guilty of them or not is for the individual fan to decide, but regardless no international team should be so naive not to think teams will try anything to gain the upper hand.
However, the fact that the likes of Dwyer and Kearns feel the need to highlight such issues in the press shows them to be grasping at straws and genuinely concerned that England’s scrum power might just see them win a first ever series in Australia.
Whilst the backs can enjoy the three opportunistic tries that were such a crucial part of England’s win on Saturday, the pack’s ferocious dismantling of Australia’s scrum coupled with the reaction Down Under will genuinely be the sweetest victory for them. Bring on Saturday’s rematch.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena