London – England coach Eddie Jones ended his “self-imposed media ban” in typical fashion on Thursday by saying Wales were guilty of scrummaging “illegally”.
After England’s 21-10 win over Ireland last time out, Jones said he would not talk to the media again until he announced his team for Saturday’s potential Six Nations title showdown with Wales at Twickenham.
The Australian kept his word but, having complimented Wales, Jones — renowned for pre-match mind games — questioned the legality of Welsh play at the scrum.
Teams are not supposed to push until the ball has been fed in but Jones is convinced Wales shove early safe in the knowledge that referees will stop awarding penalties rather than face criticism for slowing down the game.
But England’s scrum play was also called into question on Thursday, with Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde insisting England prop Joe Marler “definitely needs to scrummage legally, otherwise we will be pointing the finger”.
Jones did not single out a particular player but instead told BBC Radio Five: “They (Wales) scrummage illegally. They pre-engage all the time, which is against the laws of the game.”
The comments from both camps added to the pressure already on referee Craig Joubert.
Saturday’s match will be the South African’s first Test in charge since he sprinted from the field after awarding a late penalty that Australia kicked to snatch a dramatic World Cup quarter-final win over Scotland at Twickenham — a decision World Rugby chiefs later said had been a mistake.
Referees have been criticised this Six Nations over the sheer length of time taken by scrums, which rarely get completed at the first attempt.
But Jones said Wales played on a referee’s insecurities.
“You’re not allowed to pre-engage, that’s part of the law,” he said. “But they (Wales) do it and they consistently do it.
“But they only get penalised at the start of the game because if you’re (English referee) Wayne Barnes or Craig Joubert and you keep penalising Wales for pre-engaging, then what will all the smart guys in the commentators’ box say?
“They’ll say the referee is ruining the game, but the referee isn’t ruining the game, it’s the team that is scrummaging illegally that’s ruining the game.”
While Jones was speaking at England’s Bagshot training base, McBryde revisited the issue of Marler’s scrummaging at Wales’s camp.
Prior to the 33-13 defeat by Australia that condemned hosts England to a group stage exit at the World Cup after they had lost to Wales the week before, former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer singled out Marler for illegally scrummaging at an angle.
“Marler got found out against Australia,” said McBryde. “There was a big focus on the loosehead’s angle going into the World Cup.”
For McBryde this was justice of a sort following Marler’s display against Wales.
“It’s very hard for me as a coach when the players are saying, ‘Listen, they are doing it, they are getting away with it, why have we changed?’ The tables did turn somewhat in the game against Australia.”