- Clarification from IRB referees chief Joel Jutge crucial for Rowntree
- “I need to tell the lads what to do better at scrum and breakdown” – Forwards Coach
Graham Rowntree will be seeking clarification from IRB referees chief Joel Jutge on the rules at scrum and breakdown after a series of penalties went against England in the record defeat to Wales.
But the England Forwards boss will not be discussing Steve Walsh’s performance through a burning sense of injustice at the 30-3 defeat at the Millennium Stadium; he is interested finding out how his players need to be coached to get better.
Rowntree grimly concedes England were comprehensively beaten by a powerful, professional and purposeful Wales but after reviewing the tape in exacting detail, wants explanation of what happened at two of his key departments – the scrum and breakdown.
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For example, England conceded five penalties in the end-to-end opening quarter and Rowntree said: “I need clarification over why those penalties were given at the scrum and breakdown because I need to tell the lads what to do better.
“I was dismayed after watching the game again but we’ll do that in the correct process with the IRB.”
With a constant introspective desire to get better, the first question Rowntree asks himself after a game is how can I get better as coach? Repeatedly referencing learning as his main priority, he says his experience with the current crop of England players is that they share a thirst for knowledge and will take the lessons from a chastening night in Cardiff.
“What we’ve shown over the last 15 months, not just the last eight weeks, is that we learn and we learn quickly,” he said.
“So we have to capture what we learnt on Saturday night in terms of pressure, being starved of possession and keeping hold of the ball in the right areas of the field. And knowing the players we will learn and we will move on quickly.
“Our ultimate aim is to win the world cup but we also want to win every game we play in, that’s a fact. It’s still sore at the moment, to go into game where we could’ve won everything and come away with nothing is disappointing but I know this group and we will move on.”
England suffered at the scrum on a number of occasions during the RBS 6 Nations – only winning one of four scrums on their own feed in Cardiff – and Rowntree admits they were under intense pressure.
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The game testified to the enduring importance of the scrum in international rugby, proving that solidity is a must to win at the highest level. With Wales leading 6-3 late in the first half, England relived a spell of concerted pressure by winning the put in to the scrum in their own half. But the pack were overwhelmed and conceded a penalty, presenting metronomic kicker Leigh Halfpenny with the chance to boot Wales further ahead, a significant psychological juncture in the match.
Vast swathes of experience were given away against England’s opponents up front during the tournament, with 10 cap Joe Marler and nine cap Mako Vunipola up against tight heads Nicolas Mas (61 caps), Martin Castrogiovanni (95 caps) and Adam Jones (90 caps).
While inexperience is a mitigating factor, Rowntree is not making excuses and says he has faith in the journey they are on as a group.
Highlighting their bravery, he said: “We were under a lot of pressure [at the scrum] but if you look at the experience that we put on the field compared to the opposition we were always inexperienced but the guys have got a lot of courage. We’ve had good times and bad times at the set-piece but in those bad we’ve learnt and backed it up with a good time. That encourages me but I know where we are as a group and I know where we need to improve."
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While Rowntree is off this June to pit his burgeoning reputation against Australia with the British & Irish Lions, England travel to Argentina for a two-Test, four game tour.
With a number of Rowntree’s England pack expected to make the Lions trip, there is the mouth-watering prospect of uncapped forwards such as Sale Sharks prop Henry Thomas, Worcester Warriors flanker Matt Kvesic and London Wasps No.8 Billy Vunipola making Test debuts against an Argentina eight renowned for their ferocity at the scrum and breakdown.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity,” he added. “For us as a group it’s a chance to look at another layer of depth because hopefully we’ll take some guys to the Lions. We know the players in our EPS group that we want to work with but there are a few positions where there are opportunities for us to look at a few other people.”
Whether it is with the Lions in Australia or England in Argentina, the players who suffered at the hands over Wales will have the chance to get over the defeat with huge individual and collective challenges this summer. Rowntree would not have it any other way.