From the scrum to goal kicking: how to be the masters in Marseilles

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The Independent Online


Two years ago, Andrew Sheridan (below) made such an unholy mess of the Wallaby set-piece during a match at Twickenham that the Australians held what amounted to a formal inquest. The result of the process was a root-and-branch reappraisal of their approach to scrummaging, and a commitment to improving their work in this area by approximately 100 per cent. Michael Foley, a World Cup-winning hooker in 1999, was put in charge of the rebuilding and has made significant progress. But with Sheridan still in situ, England expect to dominate this phase and sap the Australian spirit.


Andy Gomarsall, the England scrum-half, had it right yesterday when he described his opposite number, George Gregan, as "the main man". Not for nothing is Gregan the most decorated player in the international game, and his talents are most evident around the tackle area, where he rules the roost with his clever distribution and sharp decision-making. As the Wallabies are adept at interfering with opposition possession on the floor, Gomarsall needs to match the master pass for pass and dart for dart. Slow ball against the Wallabies is the rugby equivalent of death by a thousand cuts.


Jonny Wilkinson is not quite the relentless gatherer of points he was in 2003, but the Wallabies will still expect to pay for any indiscretions they commit in their own half. Privately, they would also accept that their captain, Stirling Mortlock, is much the lesser marksman, even though he is third in Australia's all-time scoring list, behind Michael Lynagh and Matthew Burke. But shots at the sticks are only part of the story. To have any chance of making it through, England must win the territorial battle. That means Wilkinson – and Mike Catt too – hitting the diagonals with complete precision.