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England keen to draw line in the sand after Italian breakdown furore


England’s Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Ben Youngs listen to head coach Eddie Jones during training. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

England’s Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Ben Youngs listen to head coach Eddie Jones during training. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters


England’s Mike Brown, Owen Farrell, Anthony Watson, Elliot Daly and Ben Youngs listen to head coach Eddie Jones during training. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images via Reuters

Ben Youngs is not interested in dwelling on the ruck controversy that overshadowed England's victory over Italy at Twickenham last Sunday. The Leicester scrum-half had one of the best insights into the first-half chaos that undermined England's performance when he watched from the sidelines as his team-mates struggled to adapt to Italy's tactic of not contesting the breakdown.

There was a rare moment, too, when Eddie Jones, the England head coach, came on to the pitch five minutes before the start of the second half to speak to Youngs directly before he was sent on as a replacement for Danny Care.

Yet when Youngs sat down to share his thoughts about the visit of Scotland on Saturday, he insisted that a line (and he was not talking about an offside line) had been drawn in the sand on the matter at a senior players' meeting with the coaches last Monday night before their three-day camp in Oxford.

After the meeting, the message that was filtered back to the squad was to look forward, not back. The only thing that mattered now was beating Scotland to set up a shot at another Grand Slam on the trip to Dublin for the final game of the Six Nations on March 18.

But before Youngs moved on, there was, however, a warning to Vern Cotter's side - and any other opponents for that matter - who might be tempted to try a similar approach against England.

"If Scotland come with a similar tactic, then yes we have a plan," revealed Youngs, who is expected to return to the starting XV on Saturday. "We know what we need to. If it happens we'll be in a great position to combat it."

Was that central to the message he received from Jones?

"He was just making sure we were all aware that when we came on we had got to bring a good energy and impact," Youngs added. "He is very good at tapping into boys and telling them what he wants.

"And we will need that again next week because the Wales game against Scotland was tight for 60 or 55 minutes then Scotland went away. It will be no different next week. Every time you come off the bench, whenever it may be, you need to bring an impact. If we need to change something in the first 20 minutes against Scotland or in the last 20, we have the squad of boys to do that and adapt. Every time we train we're exposed to different scenarios. We're always trying to get better at managing ourselves."

You wonder what Cotter will make of it all. The Scotland coach is understated in comparison to Jones, but the two share an acute tactical awareness of the game. The game against Italy was the first time under Jones that England had looked rattled against inferior opposition, even if ultimately they still cantered to a bonus-point victory.

As Youngs conceded, Scotland, pumped from victories over Ireland and Wales and a narrow defeat in Paris, will pose much tougher questions than the confusion Italy caused. And a fierce competition at the breakdown is expected .

"Finn Russell has been in good form, Stuart Hogg ignites them in the backfield - Glasgow have been very strong and certainly put us at Leicester to the sword," Youngs said. "There is strength there. They have great height in the line-out with the Gray brothers. The back row are efficient, they effectively have three sevens, which means they go hard at the breakdown.

"They pose different questions to those that we've been asked in the first three games. After beating Ireland and Wales, they're coming down as a confident side."

Youngs believes Scotland also have the incentive of playing for Cotter, who will leave at the end of the season to become head coach at Montpellier. Yet he wonders just how the Scots, who have not won at Twickenham since 1983, will cope themselves with the pressure of travelling to London this time with expectation, rather than hope.

"Vern has obviously done a terrific job and also the fact they have beaten Ireland and Wales, two strong contenders for the title, gives them confidence," Youngs said. "There is that expectation and there is that confidence that they are coming to Twickenham and I am sure they will feel they are able to get a result. They've had some good performances at home, so there's an expectation over them. That's good and exciting for us. We were ramping it up yesterday in training.

"Every time we play a team they are going to raise their game - they don't need much more motivation than playing England and, number two, that they can end this run.

"They want to be the team that does that. We are coping well with that and really starting to understand that and are working to bring that extra bit. It brings excitement because the public have expectation about this England side. People have confidence in us, which makes us feel confident."

Perhaps ominously for Scotland, Youngs claims to have picked up a vibe in training in Oxford that suggests England are on course for their best performance yet in the defence of their Six Nations crown.

"For us that is great - it has given us a real motivation, it has given us a real something to look forward to," Youngs said. "There has been a certain edge this morning within the forwards, which I haven't seen for quite a while.

"Sometimes you get a sense that there is a big game coming and you can feel that in training. You can sense that and feel that and the forwards are already on it. That's good.

"It is exciting - the coaches have probably got to manage that a bit because we don't want to peak early - we have still got a week to prepare, but the boys are certainly building it up very nicely."