Rugby Union: Creaky times for front row

David Llewellyn finds that, when push came to shove, England took a scrum lesson
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The Independent Online
IT WAS the afternoon when an irresistible force (the Australian scrum) met a moveable object (England's eight). The England front row had two neophytes - Andrew Long at hooker and Will Green at tighthead. Neither of them let the side down, but, equally, neither covered himself with glory. But since that was much the same for many of their team-mates, ancient and modern alike, there was nothing to be ashamed of.

It was not a complete disaster. The conditions were not the best. A greasy ball and a tricky surface underfoot meant that set scrums in particular were something of a lottery. The inexperienced England front row was giving away two stones on paper, but at times on the pitch it looked more like an avalanche against the boulder-like Richard Harry, Andrew Blades and Michael Foley. The pack creaked a great deal, they might not have been pulverised, but there were times when the England scrum threatened to crumble.

The scrum-half Kyran Bracken was all too often trying to use ball that had emerged from a scrum that was in reverse. He and his fly-half Mike Catt did admirably under those circumstances in getting any ball out wide. If the forwards can't control things everything else goes awry. But it has to be remembered that the Australians had a distinct advantage in experience. Although the Wallaby trio's caps total of 45 fell 10 short of Jason Leonard's personal haul of 55, at least they had all tasted Test rugby. They are all on or around 30 appearances.

Green is 24, and Long barely 20. As Long said later: "It was a baptism of fire." And the Wallabies certainly fanned the flames. They made everything as difficult as they could. "They were no pushover," added Long.

More often than not it was Green's side of the scrum which was targeted for some softening up, the Wallabies driving through their loosehead on to the right-hand side of the England scrum. They wheeled left, they crabbed, they did everything to keep the pressure on at every opportunity and the England front five began to wilt.

But at least Long managed his throw-ins a little better than his opposite number Foley, particularly in the first half when the burly, near 17st Aussie hooker just could not seem to get the ball to go straight.

Long was eventually replaced at half-time by Richard Cockerill and things did seem to settle up front a little with his arrival. "I was disappointed to be taken off at half-time," admitted Long, "but at least I have that first cap out of the way and I now know what to expect at this level. I feel I have learned a hell of a lot today. It just shows that no matter how much you practice against a scrum machine there is no substitute for the real thing."

Cockerill added: "It was very difficult for Andy and Will today, but I think they did themselves proud." Cockerill may only have three caps now but the chirpy Leicester hooker has a wealth of experience and England were more able to hold their own.

The line-outs were also looking good with Garath Archer in fine form; sadly outside the pack things did not go so well; spilled ball, ball lost in contact, wrong options and a hungrier opposition told its own story.

The England coach Clive Woodward admitted afterwards: "It was disappointing.

"They scored two tries to nil. But we created some great chances, it was unfortunate that the last pass would go adrift. But it was not a great day out for the spectators."

The England captain Lawrence Dallaglio said: "I didn't think it was a great game of rugby. We did not play as well as we can, but Australia did not play all that well either."

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