Grassroots looks on with envy as England face Georgian scrum challenge

Mitch Phillips
·3-min read
Six Nations Championship - England Press Conference
Six Nations Championship - England Press Conference

By Mitch Phillips

LONDON (Reuters) - With the eventual return of English grassroots rugby likely to be an adaptive form shorn of scrums, the nation's amateur big beasts will watch on with longing when England and Georgia's scrums pack down at Twickenham on Saturday.

The unique nature of contact in rugby has meant the sport has remained on the sidelines as others have returned, and when it does come back, probably in the new year, it is likely to be without scrums and mauls, as tested in the women's elite game in recent weeks.

For gnarled England defence coach John Mitchell, who earned his stripes across the back row in his native New Zealand, it looks like something of a necessary diversion on the RFU's "return to play roadmap".

"I wouldn’t be sitting here now if it hadn't been for club rugby so I think we've got to get clubs up and going again," the former All Black coach told a remote news conference ahead of England's opening Autumn Nations Cup match.

"Should that be a modified game initially I'm all for it, but when the time is right to go back to the way rugby should be played – including the model that's always had scrums – then that's important."

It will certainly be important on Saturday as Georgia, who pride themselves on their scrum, face England outside a World Cup for the first time.

"We’re focused on working hard on all aspects of our game but obviously there are key areas around the scrum and we’re looking forward to that challenge," Mitchell said.

"It's a new tournament and we want to win it and build on our previous success, but that all comes down to making sure we keep our focus on our basics and trying to get better."

His boss Eddie Jones said last week that he had been toying with the idea of playing an extra forward, probably in the form of a powerful back, and Mitchell said he fully understood the thinking.

"It actually helps players within the squad understand that at any point in time, you might have to be adaptable," he said.

"You can go to a six-two split on the bench, or you can create that hybrid position in your starting selection. It's just something that our players accept and embrace because it's just another way of learning that you might be called upon in a different position.

"You only have to look at the number of cards that were presented say in the last Rugby Championship match between New Zealand and Australia -- there are so many situations now where you are without players in positions, and people have to be adaptable."

Mitchell confirmed that injured duo George Ford and Mark Wilson would not be available for Saturday's match, though they are "running around" but said returning fullback Elliot Daly was "flying and looking good".

Jones will name his team on Thursday.

(Reporting by Mitch Phillips; Editing by Hugh Lawson)