Clive Woodward was in an acerbic frame of mind when he spoke to Andy Howell of the Western Mail.
Woodward is quoted as saying Aaron Jarvis switching to hooker in the modern game is fanciful.
He has also stated that Australia are making a bad call for also including two hookers in their World Cup squad. But is he starting to sound out of touch.
In his column for the Daily Mail Woodward stated that the teams have only taken two hookers wouldn’t mind if scrums went uncontested against England.
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“It’s a scenario which I suspect neither Wales nor Australia would be unhappy with given their desire not to really engage with the England pack in the tight any more than they have to.
“What is going on here is open to interpretation, but it is just so wrong.”
Now as much respect as I have for Clive Woodward I feel this statement is naïve, if not actually out of touch. England’s pack is formidable, but it’s not the destructive force that it was in Woodward’s day. The England scrum creaked dangerously throughout the two tests against France and their line out misfired on several occasions.
At no point did the England forwards look dominant. In fact they seemed bullied especially in the first test, by the French pack. England were forced to play a more expansive game to account for this, which thanks to having Henry Slade, Danny Cipriani and Alex Goode in the first test they won as they had these players who thrive in an expansive environment.
However with Mike Brown and Luther Burrell and Jon Joseph coming in the second meeting in Paris, England played a tighter game and suffered for it as their set piece crumbled and their pack came off second best, Cipriani coming on in the centre in the latter stages of the game helped bring it back but the point is their pack stuttered badly.
On the other side of the coin, Wales’s pack have looked solid for the most part. A young and inexperienced pack in Cardiff misfired, but a first choice group were strong enough to see off Ireland in Dublin.
In the case of Australia their scrum has been the most robust of the Southern Hemisphere’s Rugby Championship. Dominating the All Blacks in Sydney and standing up against tough pressure from both Argentina and South Africa, who have tough packs whatever form their in.
So for Woodward to state that the Wallabies or the Welsh are in fear of an England scrum seems extraordinary. If England had their usual first choice hooker of Dylan Hartley available (He is currently banned for headbutting and Lancaster has stated his discipline is too much of an issue) there is a chance that they too may have only taken Hartley and Youngs. The reason they have taken Webber and George as well as Youngs is that the current first-choice is excellent in the loose but has his weaknesses at set piece.
Whereas Australia have their captain Stephen Moore and the experienced Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Moore is likely to play the majority of most Australian matches as captain if they can avoid injuries, as it would seem a waste to take a third choice who may well not see a game. In the same way Wales have Ken Owens and Scott Baldwin both of whom are on form and will probably be rotated.
Warren Gatland’s suggestion that Aaron Jarvis may be deployed at hooker in case of an emergency is something that prompted Woodward’s comments but why?
The rules of the game state you must have five trained front row players per game and in the modern game players must be versatile.
Flanker must be able to play all of the back-row or lock, fly-halfs at fullback or centre etc. I doubt Jarvis will be put at starting hooker against either England or Australia, he may be on the bench to cover hooker against Uruguay but with only 31 players allowed, all teams are shallow in certain areas.
New Zealand have only two specialist fullbacks and three second rows. Ireland have only two scrum-halves. Australia have only two scrum-halves. All the teams are shallow in one position.
England have only two specialist centres, Brad Barrett and Jon Joseph. Henry Slade and Sam Burgess may play there but Slade is a fly-half normally and League convert Burgess has played more at flanker than at centre.
It’s just fact of World Cup squads, like Lions tours, players are occasionally needed to play out of position.