David Flatman: Sorry, Mike Ross is not the weak link. England beware

Last year I went to Twickenham and saw, with lust in my eyes, the England pack steamroller Ireland's scrum into the ground. It was as brutal an international dismantling as I have seen and shocked the rugby public. Those of us with cauliflower ears and cricked necks, however, knew what had really happened, and it was not all Ireland's fault.

Mike Ross, the Irish tighthead prop and the man on whose shoulders a nation's scrummaging hopes rested, left the field injured and did not return. This left a hole on the right-hand side of the scrum and Ulster's Tom Court was drafted on to do the job. I felt for the bloke. Court, you see, is an excellent loosehead but, despite it only being three feet away, the other side of the scrum may as well be in a different universe.

I was a loosehead and, begrudgingly, covered the tight in extremis. If it meant I was chosen on the bench over someone who refused to put his hand up for the 'other side', damn right I would step in. But this never meant I was any good at it. I survived a few entire games on the tight but there was one afternoon at Franklin's Gardens where I did not. Steve Thompson, a good mate, realised I was putting my hand down to keep myself low enough not to be lifted off the floor and he stamped on my hand until I stopped cheating. Quite right, too. When I was forced, with a sore hand, to scrummage at a legal height, I was butchered. The next day I read in the papers that "an international prop should be able to hold the scrum up on both sides".

For the vast majority of props, that is tosh. How many times have you seen Carl Hayman, Julian White or Dan Cole playing loosehead?

There has been talk, although not from Camp England, of targeting Ross this afternoon, No, they know the rule: never give an opposition forward pack any extra motivation. After last year's humiliation, Irish motivation will be at fever pitch come that first scrum. And anyway, every half-decent scrum in the world targets the opposing tighthead, so what's new?

A loosehead and a hooker ganging up on a tighthead is as predictable as it is vital. A retreating tighthead prop presents his team with a problem. The defending scrum-half will be following his opposite number around the scrum and therefore leave a natural numerical advantage to the attacking side, should they pass the ball right from the scrum. If this side is moving backwards, the defending scrum-half is brought naturally closer to his opposite number and the defending left-handside flanker (generally the openside, but not always) moves up into a far more dominant defensive position, while the attacking flanker moves backwards. Advantage lost. So the value of a top tighthead is not just the demolition job, but what he can offer his side in terms of attacking options. After all, a team that can only attack one way from the scrum is not terribly difficult to defend.

Irish forwards coach Gert Smal has, quite cleverly, put a little more pressure on England by announcing their supposed intentions to the world, while no doubt stoking up his own gorillas in the process. But while England's one and two are targeting Mike Ross, what do we think Cian Healey and Rory Best will be up to? Exactly.

It will be great to watch, especially as Ireland will have born this grudge for a year. With Brian O'Driscoll back on top form, and Jonny Sexton keen to show that, despite agreeing to play club rugby in France, he is Ireland to the core, this will be a tough game to win. England have not won there in a decade, but this team stand a chance. A victory today would, in my view, be every bit as gargantuan as the one over the All Blacks. With a full front row now obligatory on the reserves bench of any international team, there are not likely to any major mismatches there which might mean less drama. So this one might not be all about the scrum. Shame, really.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable