Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Scrum craft moving in the right direction, says Rowntree

While opinion fluctuates about England's firepower for the All Black series, both scrum coaches are in unison about their area of expertise.

They agreed something had to be done to fix that setpiece and believe the sequence of refereeing commands and altered techniques have created a much stronger contest.

England scrum coach Graham Rowntree felt his squad was more comfortable with the changes which his All Black opposite Mike Cron helped promote.

"They needed to do something," said Rowntree, "and I actually like the new scrum engagement. I like the close proximity and if you don't want to scrum it is very obvious early in the process."

The England assistant prefers to solve problems at live scrum sessions which England have achieved with their squad before their reinforcements arrive tomorrow.

Both sides competing at Eden Park on Saturday had positive attitudes towards their scrum work. That part of rugby was a real craft which rewarded players who understood the technical elements of their job and were able to implement that.

Rowntree is the only member of the touring group with a badge of victory in New Zealand after playing in the 15-13 victory in awful conditions at Wellington in 2003. He was part of the front row and six-man scrum that repelled the All Blacks after Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back were sinbinned.

That had been a special night in his career and he was educating the current group in that sort of self-belief. Much of rugby was about facing adversity and dealing with those challenges.

"Cheers," said Rowntree in mock salute to his teammates who got the yellow cards.

England's senior tighthead prop David Wilson said scrums had become a pushing contest with less scope to cheat or bail out of the contests. Large strong packs survived better.

"The strongest teams that push the hardest keep getting results," he said.

Rowntree said his forwards were good, keen young men who were up for the challenge of delivering a result to compare with 2003. Most had been involved in England's robust progress in the last few seasons. Confidence was high and their assurance was growing too.

There was a fine line, said Wilson, between respect and deference in the world of international rugby. Belief was a strong psychological weapon in test warfare and the squad was thriving on that challenge.

Starting a test against the All Blacks had been his dream since he was a teenager with several matches off the bench his best tilt so far.

Injury to props like Dan Cole, Alex Corbisiero and cup ties for hooker Dylan Hartley and lock Courtney Lawes have taken some tight five seniority out of England but for Rowntree, that meant an opportunity for others.

The team culture was primed to reward players who took those chances and were able to express themselves.

"We want that. They are all talented good young players. Expectation is on our own game," said Rowntree.

They had worked hard bolting players on to the England systems and they had enough to do without getting overawed by the All Blacks.

- NZ Herald

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