O'Connell hails England scrum
Published 20/02/2014 | 16:07
Ireland captain Paul O'Connell believes England still boast the strongest scrum in the RBS 6 Nations, even with a mini injury crisis at prop.
England only have two tighthead props in their Six Nations squad now Dan Cole has been ruled out for the season with a bulging disc in his neck.
David Wilson recovered from calf trouble just in time to make one Bath appearance before being catapulted back into England's number three jersey.
The former Newcastle Falcon will start against Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday, with Sale's green 22-year-old Henry Thomas the bench cover.
Paul Doran-Jones' neck trouble and injury to Harlequins youngster Will Collier have exposed England's tighthead depth, with Newcastle pair Kieran Brookes and Scott Wilson potentially now next in line.
Alex Corbisiero is missing with knee trouble on the loosehead, but Joe Marler and Mako Vunipola offer more than adequate cover.
Munster talisman O'Connell is full of praise for Ireland's scrum but remains wary of England's set-piece prowess, even accounting for their high-profile absentees.
"Our scrum has been strong but this is probably our biggest challenge in the championship now," said O'Connell.
"They have an excellent scrum: they are heavy, very strong and powerful.
"Graham Rowntree, I've worked with him on two Lions tours and he's obsessed with the detail of the scrum.
"It's a big part of his coaching philosophy, dominating the scrum, so it's something we've worked on this week and it's something we're very aware of that will play a massive part in the game this weekend.
"If you've ever sat beside Dave Wilson at a dinner, he's an incredibly big man. He's the perfect shape for a prop forward.
"I think England have a lot of players in that position so for him to be straight back in is a big compliment to him. I don't think he'll weaken the side."
Ireland's devastating rolling maul forced Wales to buckle in Dublin two weeks ago, but O'Connell does not expect a repeat on Saturday.
Praising England's forward power, O'Connell said disciplinary indiscretions from the likes of hooker Dylan Hartley are a thing of the past.
"I think they will be very well-prepared for the maul," said O'Connell.
"I'm sure it isn't something we'll be able to use as much this weekend as we did against Wales.
"At the same time their maul has been incredibly good at recent times, so we've got to guard against that ourselves.
"Under Stuart Lancaster England are incredibly disciplined, incredibly hard-working and also very honest.
"You could point to Dylan Hartley's record but since the summer I think he's been incredibly well-disciplined, he's been playing some brilliant rugby and he's just a very physical, hard player."