Joe Marler has revealed that England have been encouraged to use the scrum as an attacking weapon by the man who plotted their downfall in last autumn’s World Cup final.
Matt Proudfoot’s arrival as forwards coach has brought a renewed emphasis on the scrum that has been evident in dominant set-piece performances so far in the Guinness Six Nations.
Proudfoot performed the same role for South Africa during their march to World Cup glory that ended with a 32-12 victory in the Yokohama final, with Eddie Jones’ men being taken apart in the scrum.
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Marler’s arrival on the pitch early in the second half steeled England and the Harlequins prop’s career has been rejuvenated by a renewed emphasis on his area of expertise.
“Steve Borthwick (the outgoing forward coach) had turned us into a world-class outfit in the line-out, particularly in the way we maul,” Marler said ahead of Saturday’s game against Wales at Twickenham.
“But Matt has come in and added a different mindset and mentality to the scrum and a little bit of licence to attack there more. Which is always nice for a prop to hear!
“I like the way Matt Proudfoot works. He’s a very emotive character and places a huge amount of pride and respect on the set-piece still, which is great for someone who enjoys the set-piece.
“In terms of mindset, he’s taught us that the back five stay on longer, particularly on defensive scrums, as opposed to what most back-rowers do which is periscope. You can’t blame them because they’ve got another job to do.
“But they also have to back themselves that if they stay on the scrum and we get a result there, or make an impression there, then they will have an easier job getting off to make a tackle because it’ll be that much further behind the gain line.
“It’s about trying to get the back-rowers to buy into loving scrummaging, as much as we do. It’s been quite noticeable so far – we’re seeing back-rowers smiling for a scrum session!”
“We have always seen the scrum as being important, but Matt has probably come in and placed a greater importance on it with both sides of the ball – when we have it when the opposition puts in,” Itoje said.
“It’s the responsibility of not just the front row, but everyone in the pack. When the scrum is getting marched forward, front-rows get massive pats on the back.
“But as a second-row and someone who can also play in the back row, I get just as much enjoyment out of winning a scrum penalty as I do a maul penalty. They are both massive parts of the game.
“I have experienced being on the other side of a team where they have a dominant scrum and it is not nice and it is not comfortable.
“We like to use our scrum as a weapon and when you can’t use your scrum as a weapon it is almost seen as a weakness and it is not a place you want to be in.
“Every pack would say the same thing in terms of trying to have a dominant line-out, maul, but when you are on the receiving end of a pack that is coming at you, marching over you at the scrum, marching you backwards, it’s not nice.”
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