Rowntree will continue to demand excellence up front

  • England Forwards Coach demands another gear for RBS 6 Nations
  • Rowntree singles out skipper Robshaw for praise

Graham Rowntree says he is proud but not satisfied with his pack’s performance over the course of the QBE Internationals, insisting there will be “much more to come” from England’s front eight during the RBS 6 Nations when competition for places will be fiercer than ever.

Speaking shortly after the final whistle of his side’s 26-17 win against Australia, which was characterised by brawny set-piece dominance and dogged industry in defence, Rowntree first took the Wallabies clash in isolation.

A brace of tries from No 8 Ben Morgan eventually sealed matters, but in truth the hosts’ scrum set a domineering tone. While the likes of Matt Toomua, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Rob Horne looked dangerous out wide, the England pack secured a fine victory at Twickenham.

Following successive losses to New Zealand and South Africa to start the month, it was a welcome result to vindicate exacting preparation behind the scenes.

“I’m delighted with [the forwards],” said Rowntree. “I’m proud of them too, and I told them as much afterwards. It’s been a difficult five weeks, but I think today we got some reward for all the hard work they’ve been putting in.

“They are learning to solve problems. Australia were outstanding. They really challenged us defensively. If you give them enough quick ball, they are scary.

“There was a period during the third quarter of the game where I felt it could have got away from us. We just couldn’t get out of our own 22. But we worked it out, which was the most pleasing thing. A lot of guys are stepping up into leadership roles and we worked out how to win the game.

“We put a lot of focus this series on the basics. As I’ve always said, you want all elements available to you: the maul, the scrum and everything in between – the all-court game. To get reward is a credit to the lads. They drive it. I keep an eye on the detail, but they drive it.”

Even despite a pair of frustrating reverses, the England forwards controlled long periods of all four matches. And according to Rowntree, such collective ascendancy was borne out of some superb individual efforts.

Offering his general summation of the autumn, Rowntree gave a rundown of who had impressed him.

“They’ve gone OK. Not perfect, but I set them high standards. I’m really pleased with how certain people have stepped up. I’ve been pushing Courtney Lawes in a lineout leadership role and he’s been ably supported by Dave Attwood, who has been exceptional for us this series.

“George Kruis debuted against New Zealand and then you’ve got the likes of Kieran Brookes. He’s a relative unknown but he’s come on to make significant impact from the bench alongside Matt Mullan and Rob Webber.

“To top it all, there are our seasoned pros – the likes of Chris Robshaw, who’s been under some stick coming into this series. [Against Australia] he was outstanding, as was Tom Wood.

“Morgs [Ben Morgan] was man of the match and I love working with him. A summary would be that they did well and I’m proud of them, but there’s still a lot more to come.”

Stuart Lancaster and his coaches, including Mike Catt and Andy Farrell as well as Rowntree, will select their Six Nations squad following an “intense period” of European and domestic rugby either side of Christmas.

Given the first assignment is a trip to Cardiff to face Wales on 6 February, there will be no scope for complacency or slow-starters.

Indeed, with a raft of British and Irish Lions – Mako Vunipola, Tom Youngs, Tom Croft, Alex Corbisiero, Geoff Parling, Dan Cole – as well as Joe Launchbury to return to fitness, depth will breed intriguing selection dilemmas.

Acknowledging that “good headaches” lie ahead, Rowntree finished by singling out skipper Robshaw, who also excelled this weekend in Harlequins’ European Champions Cup victory over Leinster.

Winning numerous ruck turnovers opposite Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper – himself an extremely influential openside flanker – the England captain stood up when his side needed him most.

“We’ve been pushing that side of his game – the defensive breakdown. You saw how much ball pressure New Zealand and South Africa put on us. We want Chris doing that.

“He’s had all that going on and he’s still leading the team very well. His engine is immense and he tops the tackle counts and ruck effectiveness most weeks.

“I can’t speak highly enough about him. He is just such a positive leader within the group. He leads by example with his actions.”