Autumn internationals: New scrum laws will suit Pumas more than anyone, claims Dan Cole
England prop ready for a mighty battle against Argentina as Corbisiero set to replace Vunipola
The rugby union lexicon is full of blood-curdling adjectives relating to life in the front row, "cruel" and "horrible" being among the milder ones. The England tight-head prop Dan Cole came up with a new and surprising offering as he girded his loins for this weekend's brutally hard set-piece contest with Argentina at Twickenham. "How do they go about their scrummaging? In a gentlemanly way," he said.
Come again? If you listened carefully, you could hear dozens of heavily bristled lantern jaws hitting the floor as tight forwards the world over were left wondering what the hell Cole was on about. Those long-standing members of the front-row union who had the misfortune to tangle with Diego Cash, Patricio Noriega, Roberto Grau, Mauricio Reggiardo, Omar Hasan or Rodrigo Roncero might have been charmed by their opponents' chivalrous behaviour during after-match drinks, but during the match itself? Please.
"What I mean by this," said the Test Lion from Leicester, by way of explanation, "is that they scrummage with a certain pride, a certain sense of honour. They don't like cheating. To the Pumas, the scrum is a pushing contest where the unit going back loses. The Italians have taken it on board to some extent, and it's always been there in French rugby. But for the Argentines, it's such a major point in their game – and they're good at it. Very good. Take a look at the footage from the southern hemisphere Rugby Championship and see them shoving the All Blacks around."
Cole was a part of England's starting front-row combination that laid the most solid of foundations for the victory over Australia four days ago, and like his colleagues and fellow Lions, the loose-head prop Mako Vunipola and the hooker Tom Youngs, he was well pleased with that aspect of the performance. But while Argentina may not pose a Wallaby-like threat in the back line – they have nothing resembling a Quade Cooper or an Israel Folau, especially as Juan Martin Hernandez, the "Maradona of rugby", is off-limits through injury – they will be approximately 100 per cent better at close quarters.
"Things are harder under the new protocols," Cole continued, referring to the recent changes to the set-piece process that forces props to bind on each other before engagement and then use their strength and technique to establish superiority once the ball is fed and the scrum is called active. "You're in there longer; there's more going on. The way the scrum is now, it probably suits the Argentines more than anyone else. They were never particularly massive on the old 'long-range hit' engagement: it's always been about what goes on after the engagement with them. To the Pumas, scrummaging is a matter of will."
Graham Rowntree, the former England prop who now coaches the red-rose forwards, believes the Pumas will look to "scrum long" at Twickenham. "The stats tell us that on average, their scrum lasts eight and a half seconds – a good two seconds longer than most others," he said. "We scrum long ourselves sometimes: we do it to tire opponents out, to hold the back-rowers in, to free up space later in the game. It's a big statement for a pack to make, so we'll have to match the Argentines there. If they want that battle, it's up to us to accept the challenge."
One front-rower who will not be meeting any sort of challenge this weekend, apart from the frustrating one of kicking his heels, is the aforementioned Vunipola. The Saracens prop picked up a knee ligament injury against Australia and has been ruled out of contention for the Argentina game.
He would probably have been relegated to the bench anyway: Alex Corbisiero, very much England's senior loose-head operator, is fit again after knee trouble of his own, trained the house down and is considered the hot favourite for a starting place, always assuming he shows no reaction of the orthopaedic kind. He was one of 27 players retained by the head coach, Stuart Lancaster, last night – an extended squad, reflecting the absence of Premiership rugby this weekend.
The heaviest loser was the Bath lock Dave Attwood, who travelled home after giving way to Geoff Parling, the Leicester second-rower. Parling missed the Wallaby Test after suffering mild concussion in training. Lancaster has hung on to the uncapped Northampton centre Luther Burrell, the Wasps wing Christian Wade, the Harlequins scrum-half Danny Care and the Bath hooker Rob Webber.
Argentina have named a side featuring half a dozen English-based players: the Bath wing Horacio Agulla and his clubmate, the hooker Eusebio Guinazu; the Saracens centre Marcelo Bosch; the Worcester lock Mariano Galarza; and two Leicester forwards – the prop Marcos Ayerza and the flanker Pablo Matera.
Wales opt for Walker to fill Cuthbert gap
Eli Walker, the Ospreys winger, will make his Wales debut against South Africa in Cardiff on Saturday after coach Warren Gatland picked the 21-year-old to replace injured British & Irish Lion Alex Cuthbert.
Rhys Priestland has been recalled at fly-half, having missed much of last season through injury. He comes in for Dan Biggar. Flanker Dan Lydiate also makes a return for the first time in more than a year.
The referee on Saturday will be Irishman Alain Rolland, who controversially sent off Sam Warburton during the 2011 World Cup semi-final against France in Auckland. "I don't think it will have any bearing on how I work with the referee," Warburton said.
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