The man who took charge of the Lions’ scrum on the recent tour of South Africa has spoken of his respect for Australia’s set piece.
Graham Rowntree, who is preparing his England side to face Australia at Twickenham this Saturday, has dismissed any suggestion that the Wallabies remain a weak touch at scrum time.
England have twice destroyed the Australian front-row in crucial fixtures (most notably the 2007 World Cup quarter-final win in Marseilles) but Rowntree is expecting a much-improved Wallaby side this time around, thanks in no small part to the form of loosehead Benn Robinson.
"Robinson is a world leader. He was the standout loosehead in the Tri-Nations,” said Rowntree, who was part of Ian McGeechan’s Lions coaching staff this summer having previously toured South Africa and New Zealand as a player in 1997 and 2055 respectively.
"The balance of power at the scrum shifted throughout the Tri-Nations. I have a lot of respect for Australia. And we are preparing for a good scrummaging contest.”
While the Australians have finally found some continuity with the form of Robinson and hooker Stephen Moore, England are in the midst of an injury crisis that has ripped apart their front-row options.
The 2009 Lions trio of Phil Vickery, Lee Mears and Andrew Sheridan were in pole position to start the autumn internationals but injury has ruled all three out of contention.
The same fate has been suffered by 2005 Lion Julian White who looked set to step into the breach until he too was forced to withdraw from selection.
Instead, Rowntree and England team manager Martin Johnson have selected fellow Lion Tim Payne, World Cup winning hooker Steve Thompson and the inexperienced Bath youngster David Wilson for the first of three November Tests.
But despite the enforced reshuffle, Rowntree has no qualms about the abilities of his new-look front row.
”David is still young but we believe he’s still up to the job,” added Rowntree.
"We want him to come through because he’s got all the attributes. He’s technically excellent in what he does.
"He’s developed as a character and is performing more of a leadership role.
"I’ve been very impressed with Steve Thompson. One thing he has done really well for Brive has been scrummaging. He’s a big man and I’ve been very impressed with his attitude.
"We watched him closely in Brive and he’s actually flowered in the environment we have in place here."