Payne expects an improved Australia

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Tim Payne knows exactly how the Wallaby front-rowers are feeling, not that he has the slightest sympathy for them. Sympathy has no place in the scrummagers' code - the set-piece world is too harsh and punishing to embrace any virtues beyond raw courage and honour - and as far as England's loose-head prop is concerned, what goes around comes around. Payne suffered his share of humiliation during his Premiership campaign with Wasps and had his issues with the Australian first-string at Twickenham last November. If their second-string are the ones suffering now… well, how tragic.

Seven days ago, Payne joined together with the World Cup-winning hooker Steve Thompson and the increasingly impressive new tight-head prop Dan Cole to scrummage his opponents clean off the field in Perth, securing two penalty tries in the process (not that it did the tourists much good in terms of the result.) Whatever the callow Wallaby front-rowers attempted to do, the Englishmen strong-armed them into doing the opposite. Their domination was as comprehensive as anything yet witnessed in the professional age of international rugby. Can we expect more of the same at the Olympic Stadium today?

"The Wallabies will be better at the scrum, without a shadow of a doubt," the Wiltshireman insisted after England's one serious training of the week. "They'll have worked really hard on the machine, and as we demonstrated at Wasps last season, it's possible to turn things around in a relatively short space of time. I've been on the receiving end and it's not the greatest feeling on earth, but you get over it. How long does it take? Exactly a week, or however long it is until the next game. When I was younger, I thought about the rough times more than I do now. You can dwell too much on these things. Move on, is what I say."

Like most members of the front-row union, Payne would rather not admit to being turned over at the set-piece: generally speaking, there is more chance of an apology from Tony Blair than an acknowledgement of defeat from a fully paid-up member of the scrummaging society. When Payne and his fellow Wasps suffered the full range of purgatorial indignities at Leicester in January - many of them inflicted by Cole, as coincidence would have it - much was said and written about their display, none of it remotely complimentary. Payne was rather prickly about this at the time, but the span of weeks and months has had a calming effect.

"That was one game out of many," he said. "Leicester are the best-drilled side in the Premiership when it comes to the set-piece and we had so many props injured, especially loose heads, that we were down to our fourth choice. What did we do? We went to work and pieced things back together. Trevor Woodman was particularly effective in introducing something new to our scrummaging and by the end of the season we were back in decent nick. He's a good bloke, Trevor. If there was any justice, he'd still be playing."

Woodman, who played alongside Thompson on World Cup final night in 2003 before retiring depressingly early on account of injury, launched his coaching career in Australia - his work with the Sydney University club was of a sufficiently high quality to interest the Wallaby hierarchy - before accepting Wasps' strategically-timed job offer. An excellent technician during his playing days, he will perform his country another very considerable service if he can push Payne towards new levels of performance in the continuing absence of Andrew Sheridan and the uncertainty over the likes of David Flatman, Jon Golding and Matt Mullan, who may or may not emerge as serious contenders for the next global gathering in 2011.

Today, Payne can reinforce his position with another breaking of the Australian front row. He has the right referee in Romain Poite of France - "In so far as any refs are accurate when it comes to the scrum, the French seem to handle it better than most, perhaps because in their country the props are as famous as Jonny Wilkinson" - and, in Thompson and Cole, the right men alongside him.

"We feel comfortable together, although as a player you never feel comfortable in yourself because of the competition for your place," he said. "It's not just about winning the scrums, though. It's about winning the match, 100 per cent. When you come from the Wasps culture, that's drilled into you. I'm in it to win it, as always."