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Analysis: The Irish scrum must deal with Dan Cole's short binds

Romain Poite needs to keep a close eye on the English tighthead’s binding.

JOE MARLER HAS often been the thorn in the Irish scrum, but since his much-publicised issues during the World Cup, we’ve seen him scrum much straighter in the opening two games of the Six Nations.

He’s on the pitch a small bit less, playing just over 40 minutes in the opener against Scotland, before coming off the bench for the second half of the game against Italy, and although he’s starting, expect to see Mako Vunipola playing at least 30 minutes this Saturday at Twickenham.

With things much more stable on that side of the scrum, it’s Dan Cole who has the potential to disrupt Ireland this Saturday.

With back-up Paul Hill still very raw at 20-years-old, there’s been a heavy reliance on Cole in the opening two games. Against Scotland, he played the full 80 minutes – almost unheard of for a tighthead at test level – while against Italy Hill was brought on for his debut for the final 10 minutes.

It’s not to say that Hill isn’t up to the task; he’s been performing excellently in a Northampton scrum that’s been one of the best in Europe so far this season.

However, Cole will have a big say in this weekend’s game, and specifically for one aspect of his game; the bind.

Against both Scotland and Italy, Cole has consistently been getting away with a clearly illegal bind, latching onto the shoulder of the loosehead and applying downward pressure, which has so far been missed by both John Lacey and Glen Jackson.

On Saturday, Romain Poite will be in the middle. Let’s hope he’s been doing his homework.

The important thing to note about Cole is that while his bind has more often than not been illegal so far, he’s made up for it by driving straight (mostly), which is probably convincing referees that everything is above board.

The most obvious example is this scrum late in the victory over Italy.

Note in the picture below the position of Cole’s elbow, which is pointing up in the air, while his hand is bound to the left shoulder of his opponent Andrea Lovotti.

In an ideal world, Cole should really be bound closer to the back of the Italian flanker’s head, which in turn would cause his arm to be flatter and more extended.

10 Cole bind

The result of his shorter bind on the arm/shoulder of Lovotti means that he’s pushing downwards.

He pushes and pushes and pushes, and eventually you can see how Lovotti collapses under the pressure.

10 Cole drops scrum

England won a penalty on this occasion, but it was a very harsh call on Lovotti.

If the referee isn’t spotting Cole’s bind, patience is a must for Jack McGrath on Saturday.

When a player is binding on the arm or shoulder, the more the loosehead tries to drive, the more likely it is he will collapse.

Against Scotland, Alasdair Dickinson had to deal with Cole binding on his arm for most of the game, and because of a good body position and good composure, he ensured that the damage was kept to a minimum.

In the second scrum of the game, he also had to deal with Cole boring across him, but this isn’t something that Cole does a lot.

The aerial shot shows how Cole tries to attack the gap between Dickinson and Ross Ford at hooker.

He uses the short bind to squeeze in on Dickinson, forcing his shoulders to close, which leaves Dickinson’s left shoulder much lower than his right.

1 Cole squeeze

With Cole finding a gap in between Dickinson and Ford, we can see how he’s taken the Scottish looshead out of the game. Watch how Ford and his tighthead WP Nel are scrummaging with their shoulders in line with each other, while Dickinson’s shoulders are around half a foot back.

1 shoulders

In the build up to England’s first try, we can again see how Cole shortens his bind onto the arm of Dickinson.

Circled, we can see that he’s clutching the shoulder rather than the side of the body (x), or at the very least under the armpit. His elbow pointing up in the air should have been a dead giveaway, and as a result he’s using his bind to push down into the ground.

5 Cole bind

However, Dickinson is very patient, and doesn’t try too hard to counter, knowing that the more he pushes, the more likely he’s going to be forced into collapsing and risking a penalty try close to his line.

Even a full eight seconds later, we can see how Cole is pushing as hard as he can down on his shoulder, but a good straight back and solid footwork means that the scrum remained stable.

5 cole bind again

In the end, Dickinson’s work is all in vain, as England went over the tryline two phases later, although their scrum can’t be blamed.

In the following scrum, we can see his bind hasn’t changed, although once again a textbook body position from Dickinson means that it isn’t as effective as Cole would like.

6 bind

It’s a messy scrum and is caused by Joe Marler angling into Nel at the other side of the scrum. While Marler has pretty much cut this from his game, this is a rare occasion in the opening two Six Nations matches that he’s been tempted to go back to his old trick.

6 marler

It actually has a negative impact for England this time though, with the scrum sliding across the pitch so quickly that Billy Vunipola has difficulty cleanly getting the ball out the back, and England concede a penalty a phase later.

Cole is finally penalised for his bind on the tenth scrum of the day, and as we can see from the aerial shot, it’s as obvious as it had been all afternoon.

10 Cole bind

While Cole had the biggest say in the day’s scrummaging, Mako Vunipola was very impressive from the bench, winning a big penalty towards the end of the game, taking advantage of substitute Zander Fagerson.

In the initial shot, we can see how Vunipola sets himself up well with a good body position; head in line with his hips, and a good bend at the knees.

12 Mako initial

He gets the initial shove, and begins to make some straight yards, all the while keeping his back straight, and pushing off his legs.

12 Mako 2

Eventually, the Scottish second and back rows whip the scrum around, and England win the penalty. However, we can also see how Vunipola has remained straight and square to Fagerson all the time.

12 Scots wheel

The overhead replay gave us the best shot of how Vunipola managed to take him apart.

Fagerson tries to angle into the scrum and close the bind, but Vunipola keeps his head on the outside, extends his bind, and eventually pushes off, leaving Fagerson powerless.

12 Mako overhead

The strong performance off the bench was enough to get him a start against Italy, and while Vunipola performed well again, Joe Marler made just as big an impact off the bench, which has put him back into the starting side this weekend.

It’s something Ireland have to be wary of, especially with Mike Ross likely to be substituted around the 50-minute mark, having only played two Pro12 games since his return from injury. In each of their games so far, England have brought fresh legs on at loosehead just after half time, and on each occasion, they’ve made a big impact.

In the last couple of years, the English scrum has been hit or miss. Sometimes it’s been destructive, while other times – like against Australia at the World Cup – it was their downfall.

Now it seems somewhere in between. They probably won’t dominate you, but it’s unlikely you’ll dominate them.

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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