Around the Cup: England prop Cole has inside scoop on Argentinian scrum

Rugby World Cup
by RUGBY.com.au staff

The World Cup just keeps on rolling on.

Check here for all the news throughout the week.

For a wrap of all the weekend's matches, click here.

THURSDAY OCTOBER 3

ENGLAND

England prop Dan Cole says he has an inside understanding of Argentina's scrum and it all comes down to breathing.

Argentina will play England this Saturday and the scrum is expected to be a critical battle in that clash with both sides bringing formidable packs.

Cole has played with Argentinian prop Marcuz Ayerza at Leicester and said his teammate had given him some insight into their scrumming secrets.

"They pride themselves on their scrum and they have certain things they do and Marcus Ayerza, one of the world's best loose heads at Leicester, told me about they had certain breathing techniques in the scrum," he said.

"You breathe out when you lift a weight and if eight people breathe out at the same time then it is a way of making eight people come together as one.

"Well, that is what he told me anyway."

Pumas coach Mario Ledesma has improved his side's scrum this season after an inconsistent Rugby Championship, and coach Eddie Jones expected it to be a major test this weekend.

"It’s a part of their culture," he said.

"Like anything in life you can have dormant periods but when it’s a fabric of your rugby. It’s quite easy to reignite. Mario (Ledesma Argentina coach) has done that particularly well. It’ll be a massive test on Saturday.

"They haven’t scrummed against us yet and we believe our scrum can be a real weapon for us, so hang onto your seats.”

WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 2

ENGLAND

England's players have hit back at accusations by Argentina that they play "boring" rugby before this weekend's World Cup clash in Tokyo, refusing to get drawn into any mind games.

Earlier this week, Pumas hooker Agustin Creevy tried to get under England's skin in the build-up to the crunch Pool C game, taunting: "They always play the same way -- sometimes it's boring. Saturday is going to be like a war, it's like a final for us."

But Saracens hooker Jamie George hit back on Wednesday.

"I don't think we do play boring rugby," he said. "I'm not overly surprised he's tried to say that, but he's entitled to his opinion.

"Hopefully we'll prove him wrong on Saturday," added George. "I don't think it's very justified and I'm sure he's just trying to rattle us a little bit.

"He's more than welcome to try."

Flanker Sam Underhill chimed in that there were "no prizes for style -- just trophies", before attack coach Scott Wisemantel also brushed off Creevy's jibe.

"He might have been at a boring club, I don't really know," Wisemantel said of Creevy's two-season spell in the English Premiership with Worcester.

"I don't think that's the case and he obviously hasn't been watching much of the Premiership," added the Australian.

"It's a bit like me making a judgement call on the Jaguares. (England's game) is varied and can be very structured at times -- but in this tournament a third of our tries have come from unstructured play, so I don't necessarily agree."

England have opened with victories over Tonga (35-3) and the United States (45-7) in Japan following a horror 2015 tournament when they became the first World Cup hosts to crash out in the pool stages.

ARGENTINA

Argentina hooker Agustin Creevy warned the Rugby World Cup clash with England will be like a "war" on Tuesday as Los Pumas prepare for a thumping battle of the forwards.

The former Worcester Warriors player said he was well aware of England's strengths but added that Argentina's pack has made vast improvements under coach Mario Ledesma, a former hooker himself.

Saturday's game in Tokyo could be pivotal for Pool C as England look for their third win and Argentina scrap for their second, following a nail-biting defeat by France.

"They always play the same way -- sometimes it's boring. Saturday's going to be like a war, it's a final for us," Creevy told reporters.

"But maybe my experience with Worcester will help me a lot, to see the way that it's going to play out."

He added: "I think the battle's going to be in the forwards. We need to win the scrum, we need to win the lineout, the maul and the breakdown."

Creevy, now with the Jaguares in Super Rugby, said he admired England's structured game, adding: "Sometimes it's boring but I think it's good for England. It works for them."

"We train a lot in scrum skills and our mentality," he said. "I think we are improving a lot in the scrum. We feel really, really good now but we need to continue. The England scrum is really good."

Creevy, who will earn a record-extending 88th cap, said Argentina draw strength from their emotional bond, largely forged in the Jaguares which provides the bulk of the national side.

"When we put this shirt on we feel something different. It's our country, it's our family... we love playing together," he said.

"The group is really bonded, we love each other. I think it's different to other teams because we are friends, we are brothers, on the field and off it."

TUESDAY OCTOBER 1

URUGUAY

Uruguay's Facundo Gattas has been suspended for three matches for a dangerous tackle, becoming the fifth player suspended in this Rugby World Cup.

Gattas was sent off in Uruguay's loss to Georgia last weekend, automatically sent to the tribunal in the wake of the red card.

The judicial panel upheld that red card and deemed Gattas's tackle had a mid-range entry point of a six-week suspension, halved to three weeks because of his character and clean record.

Gattas joins Reece Hodge, Rey Lee-Lo, Matu Matu'u and John Quill in being suspended for three matches for a high tackle while England's Piers Francis was cited but cleared to play.

NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand flanker Ardie Savea is set to don goggles for the All Blacks' clash with Canada on Wednesday night.

"A couple of years ago I realised I had bad vision in my left eye. Everything's kind of blurry," he said.

"I told All Blacks doctor Tony Page that it was getting worse and now we're doing something about it.

"Doc notified me that World Rugby had some goggles that were approved and everyone has been really supportive.  In terms of vision and seeing, it's pretty sweet, and it's now just a matter of getting used to them."

World Rugby approved the use of goggles at all levels of rugby in May this year to open the game up to visually impaired players.

Savea has worn the goggles in training this week and the aids have been tested in a number of conditions to ensure they are safe for both the wearer and any players they come into contact with.

Italy's Ian McKinley was the first player to wear goggles in international rugby, earlier this year.

Savea said he wanted to ensure he didn't incur any further damage to his eyes playing rugby.

"I've got my little girl and hopefully future kids and a bigger family, so I want to be able to see," he said.

I'm just thinking of the bigger picture and trying to protect my eyes."

RUGBY WORLD CUP SUPER FAN

Japan's rugby super fan, dubbed "Bak-san" has been painting his body in different teams' jerseys through the World Cup. Photo: Getty ImagesA Japanese rugby superfan is making a splash at this year's Rugby World Cup by having his upper body painted in the colours of all 20 competing teams.

Hiroshi Moriyama, 53, said he got the idea from an Auckland Blues fan who had covered himself in blue paint and wanted to spice up the often passive atmosphere at Japanese club rugby games.

"In the Top League games we go to watch regularly, the crowds are often very serious and watch the matches in silence," he complained. "I wanted to do something to change that."

Moriyama plans to attend 27 of the 48 Rugby World Cup games, getting his wife to daub his upper body with special paint to make it appear as if he is wearing the team jersey.

"My husband is very attentive to detail and I have to admit I'm still struggling to draw the smaller letters and precise patterns," said Rika Moriyama, 54.

It was rugby that brought the Moriyamas together -- they met at the university club where Hiroshi played and Rika managed.

Like many veteran rugby players, he has moved forward in the pack as age catches up with him.

A former number eight, he now packs down in the second row for an over-50s side. He took several years out of the game and "when I came back, I couldn't run at all", he laughed.

He was initially worried Japan would not embrace the World Cup and wanted to contribute in his unique way to the atmosphere.

But he said he doesn't know now why he was even worried, seeing the packed stadiums for the games.

"I am impressed with the number of people who are coming to games. Of course, there are a lot of foreigners but also a lot of Japanese," he told AFP.

"What a joy to see such enthusiasm."

He hopes Japanese rugby will be able to convert this enthusiasm into "taking root as a culture in Japan."

Rika Moriyama shrugged off concerns about the cost of travelling to the games and buying tickets.

"We're really just here to have fun so we're not too hung up on the amount," she said.

"When I see the smiles of people when they see my husband, I say to myself that it's really worth the effort and gives me strength for all the jerseys I've still got to do.

ENGLAND

Billy Vunipola says England has worked on the mental side of its game since 2015. Photo: Getty ImagesEngland's rugby players have been engaging in uninhibited psychologist-led honesty sessions to help heal the wounds of the 2015 World Cup debacle.

Billy Vunipola has revealed there were "handbags thrown" as the squad gathered to exchange candid views during training camps that took place in the build-up to their latest quest to lift the Webb Ellis Trophy in Japan.

Four years ago England crashed out of the World Cup they were hosting at the group stage following successive defeats to Wales and Australia, plunging Twickenham into crisis.

And it took a mental toll on the players that Eddie Jones addressed before departing for Japan by tasking psychologist Corinne Reid to run group therapy sessions.

"Eddie has definitely got the baggage out. It was something that was very important to us and it has probably freed us up a lot in terms of our relationships," Vunipola said.

"There were a few bumps in the road but like anything in the world - with your family and things like that - there are always mishaps.

"I think this is the first team that is willing to go deeper than saying 'I think you should have hit this ruck.' We have got down to it - and it has been good.

"You know Eddie will always look for things to improve us and that was probably the biggest thing we needed to improve - how together we can be.

"There were a few handbags thrown around but it was really good. She (Corinne Reid) gave us the platform to do it."

Captain Owen Farrell has said players dealt with the fallout from 2015 in their own individual way and for Vunipola it has been a galvanising force that he has taken to the Far East.

"And 2015 was massive because we went in with massive expectations on our backs and we didn't deliver. We've been a bit quieter coming into this tournament and hopefully for us as a group that's a positive thing.

"We know what the feeling of 2015 is like and we don't want to feel like that again."

Should England top their pool, they are likely to meet Australia in the quarter-finals as the Wallabies went down to Wales on Sunday.

But first Jones' men will have to beat Argentina and are considering fast tracking Mako Vunipola for Saturday's pivotal clash.

Vunipola has completed only 17 minutes in four-and-a-half months since damaging his hamstring on Saracens duty on May 11 after being forced to abort his comeback against Ireland in August.

"Sometimes you're better off starting with the adrenaline pumping rather than sitting on the bench," said scrum coach Neil Hatley.

"We'll know more Tuesday or Wednesday where Mako is. He needs to be the best version of himself and we know what he is capable of."

MONDAY SEPTEMBER 30

NEW ZEALAND

Steve Hansen speaking to media on Monday. Photo: Getty ImagesAll Blacks coach Steve Hansen has appealed to rival coaches and pundits to lay off referees at the Rugby World Cup as match officials continue to face strident criticism.

Even the sport's controlling body lambasted referees in a public statement after the first weekend, complaining that performances "were not consistently of the standards set by World Rugby."

But Hansen leapt to their defence on Monday, saying they were under enough pressure in the World Cup cauldron and publicly criticising them did not help.

"I talked before we came to this tournament about how pressure can affect rugby teams that are under pressure and referees are no different," Hansen said.

"So, there's no point everybody climbing into them because it's not going to do anything other than put them under more pressure and that's not going to fix the problem."

Following Ireland's shock loss to Japan, coach Joe Schmidt indicated he had issues with Australian whistleblower Angus Gardner and would possibly lodge an official complaint.

Schmidt said he could understand the "frustrations" of his players and that he felt some penalties for offside were "pretty tough" and "could have gone either way."

Australia's Michael Cheika complained it was "us versus everyone" after wing Reece Hodge was suspended for three weeks for a dangerous tackle in their win over Fiji.

He continued to fume after his Wallabies' narrow loss to Wales on Saturday, claiming referees had been "spooked" by a directive to crack down on high tackles.

His sense of injustice was further fuelled by news that England's Piers Francis had escaped suspension for a high shot.

"I just don't know the rules anymore honestly. Our guy makes that tackle he gets suspended -- the English guy gets off."

Social media has lit up after almost every game with fans, generally from the losing side, criticising the officiating.

When the All Blacks beat the Springboks 23-13, the penalty count favoured them 9-4 but according to South African critics, French referee Jerome Garces missed at least three incidents that should have seen All Blacks yellow-carded.

Meanwhile, halfback Brad Weber made a somewhat sheepish admission in his press conference on Monday.

Asked about his halfback idol growing up, the Chiefs no. 9 revealed something he wasn't sure he should.

"I don’t know if I really should be admitting this but when I was a young fella, I really enjoyed George Gregan (AUS), he was a pretty good halfback, played well above his weight and was one of the best in the world," he said.

Asked why he was a bit hesitant about sharing that information, his answer was simple.

"Well, 'cos you know, he's Australian, I suppose," he said.

GEORGIA

World Rugby were forced into making an awkward apology to Georgia after playing a Russian song in the aftermath of their win over Uruguay last weekend.

"We want to make it clear that Russia is not Georgia," Georgia coach Milton Haig fumed after Sunday's Pool D game in Kumagaya.

"They were playing a Russian song, sung by a Georgian singer -- but it's a Russian song."

The gaffe was particularly embarrassing given the tense relations between the two countries.

Georgia fought and lost a short war with Russia in 2008, prompting the countries to sever diplomatic ties. Russia has since recognised the independence of two breakaway Georgian regions, where it now has troops stationed.

As Georgia's players celebrated a bonus-point win that lifted them to third in their pool behind Wales and Australia, they were stunned by the faux pas.

"(Georgia has) a different language, different culture, different everything," added Haig.

"So World Rugby, please make sure you get these sorts of things ironed out for us."

Captain Jaba Bregvadze, meanwhile, reacted with admirable diplomacy.

"I want to take this moment to ask the person who played the Russian music, next time don't make the mistake again please," he said.

A World Rugby spokesperson offered "sincere apologies to our friends from Georgia for any embarrassment caused."

"We have discussed the matter with the organising committee to ensure no such issues occur moving forward."

FRANCE-USA

UPDATE: World Rugby released a statement about the France-USA game on Monday afternoon, clearing concerns about a typhoon affecting its schedule.

"World Rugby and the Japan Rugby 2019 Organising Committee have confirmed that the France v USA match will be played in Fukuoka on 2 October at 16:45 JST as scheduled," the statement read.

The decision has been taken following consultation with our weather information experts and the Japan Meteorological Agency, which confirms that Typhoon Mitag is lessening in strength, tracking further westward away from Japan’s coastline and therefore will not impact the match.

ENGLAND

England's PIers Francis was cited after England's win over the USA. Photo: Getty ImagesEngland centre Piers Francis escaped a ban on Sunday for a high tackle at the Rugby World Cup, avoiding the fate of four other players who were suspended for illegal hits.

A disciplinary panel found that Francis's tackle on USA fullback Will Hooley, which went unpunished at the time, did not warrant a red card and so did not deserve a ban.

Francis is therefore free to play in England's next game against Argentina in Tokyo on Saturday.

The policing of high tackles has been the biggest point of controversy at the World Cup, with referees seemingly confused by the issue despite World Rugby's new guidelines on how to deal with them.

Australia's Reece Hodge received a three-match ban for a tackle that didn't trigger any action on the field, before the disciplinary panel also gave three-game suspensions to Samoa's Rey Lee-Lo and Motu Matu'u, who had both been yellow-carded.

American flanker John Quill was also banned for three games for a high shot on England's Farrell that earned a red card, and Francis was widely assumed to be heading for the same punishment.

But the panel said there were mitigating factors in deciding not to hand out a ban for Francis's hit on Hooley from the opening kick-off.

Hooley had dropped down just before the tackle, the panel decided, while Francis also attempted to avoid contact with the player's head, taking much of the force of the blow with his own head.

"The committee weighed up the factors for and against mitigation and on the balance of probabilities, decided that the mitigating factors outweighed the factors against mitigation and so the appropriate on-field sanction was a yellow card," a statement said.

"Since the threshold for upholding a citing is 'red card', the Committee did not uphold the citing and the player is free to play again immediately."

FRANCE vs USA

A tropical storm could affect the scheduling of this week's Rugby World Cup game between France and the USA, organisers warned on Sunday.

Tropical Storm Mitag could bring high winds and heavy rain to the southern Japanese island of Kyushu on Wednesday, when France play USA in Fukuoka, World Rugby said.

"The latest information indicates that the (tropical storm) is moving further away from Japan's coastline than originally predicted, and the impact risk is reducing," it said.

"However, in the best interests of the teams and the integrity of the tournament, we have informed France and the USA of the contingency plans in the event that adverse weather means that it is not possible to play the match in Fukuoka on the scheduled date."

Extreme weather has already caused minor disruption at the World Cup when Typhoon Faxai barrelled into Japan less than two weeks before the start, affecting the travel plans of England and Australia.

"Fans visiting from outside Japan are reminded that while typhoons can vary in terms of strength and intensity, they are a normal occurrence in Japan and the vast majority have minimal impact on daily life," World Rugby said.