Front row seat gives Cole space to upset Wallabies

England's Dan Cole during a training session
England's Dan Cole during a training session
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Dan Cole is ready to make Australia hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau regret he ever claimed the Wallabies would dominate England’s scrum in Saturday’s Cook Cup showdown.

Australia were out-muscled by France at the weekend as they crashed to a 33-6 defeat in Paris and Polota-Nau was expressing his confidence that the wounded Wallabies could bounce back.

But the fighting talk did not go unnoticed at England’s Pennyhill Park headquarters this week and Cole is ready to open some of the Wallabies’ old scrummaging wounds.

Asked whether England will “pulverise” Australia up front, as they did in both Tests on the 2010 summer tour, Cole said: “We will attempt to.

“In any Test match you want that forward dominance and that set-piece dominance, especially at scrum time.

“Australia are obviously reeling from being beaten by France last week and they’ll come here firing. They’ve already mentioned that they want to dominate us – so bring it on.

“We respect the opposition we’re up against and we’ll do whatever we have to do to deal with the Australians.”

Cole’s calm and measured response reminded those in the room of Steve Thompson’s description of the Leicester tight-head as “the old serial killer – quiet but effective.”

The 25-year-old has rapidly become the cornerstone of the England pack, missing just one of the last 33 Test matches since his debut against Wales in 2010.

Cole tends to find himself in the spotlight either when England are playing teams renowned as mighty scrummagers – perhaps Italy or Argentina – or when they are playing Australia.

The scrum theme has dominated Cook Cup encounters for at least a decade. England demolished the Wallabies up front to win at Twickenham in 2005 and in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final.

On the 2010 tour, England were so dominant in the first Test against a greenhorn Wallaby pack that they forgot to do anything else, earning two penalty tries but losing the game.

England put that right in Sydney a week later and on Saturday they will be attempting to win the Cook Cup for a third consecutive occasion.

Cole looks on that backdrop of English scrum dominance as both an advantage and a disadvantage, because it means the Wallabies will have focused hard on it in the build-up to the game.

“There’s probably a small advantage in the fact that the Australians have to look at the scrum more this week and have to work harder on it than normal, so it detracts from other parts of their game,” said Cole.

“In a way what’s happened before is almost a disadvantage to us because the Australians will come out firing in the set piece at Twickenham, especially early on. That would put doubt in our minds and the minds of the crowd so we have to be respectful of that and not go into the game thinking ‘we’re going to smash these’ because at the first scrum we’ll come a cropper.”

Cole learned his rugby in a scrummaging hotbed at Leicester, an environment Tom Youngs credited with being integral to his rapid transition from centre to Test hooker.

The Leicester way is very different to the Australian way and Cole puts Australia’s history of scrum issues partly down to the culture of the Super 15 and, more recently, a lack of continuity.

“The way we play the game in England is set-piece dominant,” added Cole. “If you look at the southern hemisphere game it is less set-piece dominant, it is ‘get the ball in, get it out, play’.

“I think the Australians, about 10 years ago, struggled with the scrum. When they focused on the issue and realised they had to improve, they got a decent scrum and played well.

“At the moment they’re just struggling with injuries, which means they’ve been chopping and changing. A lot of players have been in and out of the side.”

England coach Stuart Lancaster will name his side today and it will certainly contain one change, with Chris Ashton back from suspension to replace Ugo Monye on the wing.