- Rowntree talks of "selection headaches"
- Forwards coach ready for Scottish challenge
Graham Rowntree and the England coaching team faced tough selection decisions as they look to carry their form from the QBE Internationals through to today’s RBS 6 Nations opener against Scotland.
Speaking of the retention of Tom Youngs following four impressive performances in the autumn over Dylan Hartley, the Forwards Coach revealed it was one of number of tight choices in the lead up to today’s game.
“Dylan was unfortunate, that was a very close decision. We’ve had a few of those, some real selection headaches.
“With Dylan getting injured for the autumn series, Tom came in and he took his chance. But Dylan coming off the bench is equally important, with 42 caps and the energy he’ll bring, along with Mako [Vunipola], he’s got as big a role as Tom has starting. It was a difficult decision but we thought with Tom’s club form in recent weeks, in Europe in particular, and the job he did for us in his last outing here against New Zealand, he deserves to keep the shirt.”
Talking about the impact Youngs has had since his Test debut in November, Rowntree said: “He surprised a few people in the autumn series – we certainly were very pleased with how he went there – and he’s played well for his club so he deserves to start again.
Photo: Getty Images
On the loss of Alex Corbisiero to a knee injury, Rowntree said: “It’s unfortunate that we’ve lost Corbs but we’ve got Joe [Marler], who is up for the job massively. Joe was capped in South Africa last year, played very well in that test series and in my eyes quickly became a very trusted and accomplished international prop forward.”
Another of today’s starters, and a stand-out performer in the QBE series, is flanker Tom Wood, who Rowntree believes will bring a physicality and attitude that will help combat the passion and aggression he expects from Scotland.
“Tom plays in an abrasive manner, which is what we want from all of our forwards, but within the laws. He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the opposition in his tackle and in the breakdown, and he’s a real energy around the group in everything we do.
“He’s one of a good group of back rows that we have. I think all the back rows played well in that New Zealand game but Tom certainly took his chances when we brought him on against Australia, started him against South Africa and then against New Zealand. He comes off the back of nearly a year of disappointment with his injury. He took that frustration into the autumn series, and he put it into some cracking performances.”
There is traditionally little to separate the sides in Calcutta Cup encounters, with physicality to the fore, and Rowntree believes this afternoon will be no different. The fact that Scotland always seem to deliver performances at Twickenham that they don’t elsewhere hasn’t escaped him, either.
“We get a lot of that here, in terms of visiting teams. There’s definitely an old rivalry between the two nations. When I think of the games I played against Scotland when I played for England up there and here, there was certainly a bit of an edge to it.”
Today is the first outing in charge for interim Scotland head coach Scott Johnson and forwards coach Dean Ryan and Rowntree says this could signal a difficult challenge: “We went up there last year, not expected to win, and we won. I look at their group now with interim coaches, they’re coming down here with that similar lack of expectancy. They’ve got nothing to lose, that’s dangerous and we’re very wary of that.
“I think at Twickenham especially, the last couple of occasions they’ve been down here, they’ve all been narrow points margins. It’s interesting to see they’ve brought in Johnnie Beattie, specifically as a ball carrier. They’re an abrasive unit. Dean Ryan’s already said he’s going to come down and give us a bloody nose, so I think our lads are ready for that challenge.”