England's 'very illegal' scrum forces change for Scotland game

England scrum down against Wales - Charlotte Wilson/Getty Images
England scrum down against Wales - Charlotte Wilson/Getty Images

England will deploy a new-look scrum against Scotland in their Six Nations opener after their previous set play was described as "very illegal" by referees.

It is understood that the legality of England’s scrummaging came under heavy scrutiny during a conference call between match officials and the scrum coaches from each of the Six Nations teams last week.

The presentation included explanations of several incidents when the England scrum was penalised.

England’s scrum was the worst in the world in 2022 according to official statistics, completing only 85 per cent on their ball and. It was also heavily penalised throughout the autumn Test series that culminated in just one victory, against Japan and led to the sacking of head coach Eddie Jones.

The low point came in the final defeat against South Africa when England conceded a total of four scrum penalties. Jones said at the time that he had “grave concerns about how the scrum was refereed” but the video analysis was damning.

The match officials are understood to have raised a number of issues surrounding the ‘fairness’ of England’s scrum at the meeting, a situation that was not helped by a complete absence of any recent dialogue between Jones and his coaching team and the World Rugby referee department.

Steve Borthwick, who takes charge of his first England match in the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland at Twickenham on Saturday, has moved swiftly to address his side’s scrummaging problems – both the reality and perception of their illegality.

England scrum in training - Dan Mullan/Getty Images
England scrum in training - Dan Mullan/Getty Images

Former scrum coach Matt Proudfoot was let go following Borthwick’s appointment, with Richard Cockerill taking charge of the scrum.

England have spent a significant portion of their preparation time over the last two weeks rebuilding their scrum and overhauling previous techniques.

Borthwick’s coaching team has also moved to address the issues raised at the conference call with discussions with World Rugby, with the aim of demonstrating that the legality of their scrum has improved when they face the Scots.