England prepare for heavyweight encounter

England’s coaches are certain Australia will not be a soft touch during the scrummage battle in next Saturday’s World Cup quarter-final in Stade Velodrome, Marseille.

The reigning world champions head to Marseille on Monday, after booking their last-eight place with a 36-20 victory over Tonga that secured runners-up spot in Pool A.

Unbeaten Pool B winners Australia now await them, desperate to avenge the dramatic 2003 World Cup final defeat when Jonny Wilkinson’s late drop-goal saw England land the Webb Ellis Cup.

England, notably two years ago at Twickenham, enjoyed a domination of Australia in the scrum, putting a huge onus on Saturday’s likely front row trio Andrew Sheridan, George Chuter and Phil Vickery.

But forwards coach John Wells and scrum specialist Graham Rowntree believe it would be a dangerous game to write off the Wallabies in that key contact area.

“There is no doubt their scrummage has taken a good turn,” Wells said.

“Before the tournament, people pinpointed it as a potential weakness, but their scrummage and driving play has come on immensely.”

And Rowntree added: “Australia are better in that area than when we played them in 2005, and I genuinely believe they are looking to scrummage.

“I have a lot of respect for Michael Foley [Australia forwards coach]. He is one of the best front-row coaches in the world.

“The scrum is no longer just a restart for them. They are looking to take teams on.

“They looked to take Wales on in that area [earlier in the pool stages], and I was disappointed in how Wales reacted to that. It became a penalty competition.”

England head coach Brian Ashton is likely to announce his starting line-up on Tuesday.

He will hope that full-back Jason Robinson (hamstring) and flanker Tom Rees (thigh) are available for selection after they were sidelined for the Tonga clash, but England look to have emerged from a punishing encounter without any major fitness scares.

Several of the squad spent Saturday’s day off at Disneyland Paris before reconvening on Sunday to begin the task of plotting Australia’s downfall.

“Over the last two weeks there has been a lot of criticism and the players have had to handle that, but they have dug in and worked hard,” Wells said.

“The two wins over Samoa and Tonga have given us a lot of confidence, but we will have to continue to work hard to improve for the next fixture.

“We have been pilloried in the press, probably at times quite rightly, but we have come through two difficult games against very tough opposition.

“We have achieved our first objective, which was to get out of our group.

“While you are in it you can still win it, and I am confident that if we are on top of our game we can give a good account of ourselves.

“Our confidence is good. Yes, we still need to improve, we know that, but if we keep chipping away and are on top of our game, then I would like to think we could be very competitive.”

In Foley and head coach John Connolly, however, the Wallabies boast a coaching set-up that possesses a detailed knowledge of the English game following their time at Guinness Premiership club Bath.

And it is a fact not lost on Wells.

“Mike and John have got a good understanding of English players,” he added.

“I know the Bath lads hold Mike in high regard as a coach, and he has taken Australia forward.”

 

365 Digital

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