Dan Cole: first name on the team sheet, the last man Aussies want to see

The first name on England's team sheet nowadays is Dan Cole.

It reflects two things: the value of a good tighthead prop and Cole's soaring reputation in his brutal trade. As Australia are about to discover at Twickenham, the only desperate thing about Dan is his desire to propel the visiting pack backwards faster than they can cry: "What happened to Andrew Sheridan?"

Of course there is more to Saturday's game than scrummaging but, from Cole's perspective, it is the only place to start. While it is now seven years since Sheridan and company took the Wallaby scrum apart in south-west London, old habits die hard. Asked if he plans to "pulverise" the Australian forwards, there is a thin-lipped smile. "We will attempt to. Any time you go into a Test match or any game of rugby, you want that forward dominance. They've already mentioned they'll be looking to dominate us, so bring it on."

There is not an ounce of bombast about the 25 year old from Leicester, which makes his quiet confidence all the more striking. When people talk about England's wider ambitions in attack, they often forget where it all begins. Is there a danger of England over-obsessing about scrummaging? Not according to their forwards coach Graham Rowntree or, indeed, Cole: "No, if it's a close Test match and you're getting penalties from it, you've got to drill home any advantage you can. Yes, when you're 30 to 40 points up there might come a time when you want to play the ball so the rest of the side gets a view of it." Stick it up your jumper, in summary, until antipodean pips start to squeak.

It is a time-honoured English formula, as Ireland also found at Twickenham last March. Cole was magnificent and the scrummaging mismatch determined the outcome at source. Australia, reckons Cole, are not bad scrummagers per se but simply do not attach the same significance to it.

"It's probably a cultural thing. The northern hemisphere is set-piece dominant, while the southern hemisphere is more 'ball in and play'.

"The Aussies went away from it 10 years ago but when they realised they needed to look at it they brought together a decent scrum. At the minute they're struggling with injuries and are chopping and changing. Locks make a difference as well. You struggle, you get a reputation and refs start to notice."

So do opponents. Australia's travails in Paris, where they lost 33-6 to France last Saturday, have not gone unnoticed across the Channel. As it happens, though, Cole feels the Wallabies were slightly unlucky. "Their scrum was rough at times and the French did get on top. But at other times they caused France problems. Look at the try Louis Picamoles scored. The scrum before that the Aussies get hoofed. France opted for another scrum from the penalty and the Aussies actually walked France backwards. It was only because there was a block that Picamoles had a big hole to run through. If we switch off, they'll cause problems."

The imminent return of Ben Alexander will alter the front-row dynamic slightly but England's new hooker, Tom Youngs, is proving another solid scrummager alongside his Tigers team-mate. Joe Marler is still only 22, Alex Corbisiero is 24 and Mako Vunipola 21; the foundations of a strong English set piece would appear to be in place for another decade or more. The present, though, is what matters more to Cole. "We can't go in thinking 'We're going to smash these' because at the first scrum you'll come a cropper. There probably is an advantage in that the Aussies will have to look at their scrum more and work a bit harder which might detract from other parts of their game. On the other hand, it could work as a disadvantage because the Aussies will come out firing."

Having played in 32 of England's last 33 Tests, the Leicester man speaks with increasing authority. It will not have escaped his attention, either, that Saturday's game will be refereed by France's Romain Poite, renowned for rewarding teams who gain a scrummaging edge. If the Wallabies can escape the clutches of Cole, Monsieur Poite, myriad injuries and their own inner demons, they will deserve their Houdini-style success.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Robert Kitson, for The Guardian on Wednesday 14th November 2012 22.30 Europe/London

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © unofficialenglandrugby