Head coach Eddie Jones has lit the fuse under England’s likely Six Nations title decider against Wales at Twickenham on Saturday by accusing their rivals of illegal scrummaging.
Jones marked the end of his self-imposed media ban by claiming that Welsh forwards pre-engage at the scrum in the hope that referees will tire of penalising them for fear of being criticised for stifling the game.
Shortly before the Australian’s outburst, Wales assistant coach Robyn McBryde pointed the finger at England loosehead prop Joe Marler for frequently adopting a questionable scrummaging technique.
“What Wales do, they play the laws very well,” said Jones. “I’m quite upset about the way they scrummage. They scrummage illegally. Terribly illegally.
“They pre-engage all the time which is against the laws of the game. They pre-engage because they don’t want to contest at the start of the scrum.
“They do it and they consistently do it, but they only get penalised at the start of the game because if you’re [referees] Wayne Barnes or Craig Joubert and you keep penalising Wales for pre-engaging, then what will all the smart guys in the commentary box say?
“They’ll say the referee is ruining the game, but the referee isn’t ruining the game, it’s the team that is scrummaging illegally that’s ruining the game.”
The Welsh camp felt their forwards were harshly penalised on a number of occasions during last September’s 28-25 World Cup victory over England at Twickenham, and McBryde believes that Marler’s angle of scrummaging is more deserving of scrutiny.
“He [Marler] definitely needs to scrummage legally, otherwise we will be pointing a finger,” said McBryde.
“We have a very experienced referee in Craig Joubert. He’s an extremely good communicator with the players and [Wales captain] Sam Warburton enjoys working with him.”
Jones yesterday named an unchanged XV for the clash, although powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi, who has not played for England since June 2014 due to injury and disciplinary issues, has been named among the replacements.
Grand Slam-chasing England will be crowned Six Nations champions for the first time since 2011 should they defeat Wales, and then Scotland beat France at Murrayfield on Sunday.
England will remain in the driving seat even if Les Bleus prevail, as long as they defeat Wales, and skipper Dylan Hartley has urged his side not to blow their unbeaten start to the championship.
Hartley said: “It has been a nice start for us, the journey’s been good, but if we don’t get it right this weekend it all comes undone.”