Simon Hardy watched England Saxons overwhelm Tonga at the scrum and lineout and admitted: “As a forwards coach you couldn’t ask for any more.” The Saxons booked their place in next weekend’s Churchill Cup final against Canada with a 41-14 win against the islanders at Kingsholm.
They were awarded three penalty tries by referee Romain Poite as Tonga’s scrum was dismantled ruthlessly – and dominated the lineout to such an extent that they stole the ball on seven successive occasions. Captain Jordan Crane scored one try and made another for Leicester Tigers teammate Billy Twelvetrees with Harlequins fly half Rory Clegg adding 16 points with five conversions and two penalties.
“I’ve never seen a game with three penalty tries where we’ve been so dominant,” said Hardy, who oversees the forward operation under head coach Stuart Lancaster. “As a group we did our homework, looked at what they did and how they scrummaged. We talk as a front row, then get the rest of the forwards to buy into it and then it becomes an eight-man operation. It was one of those lucky days when it all went right.
“The lineout is down to hard work, looking at how we’re going to defend, looking at how they throw, their options and movements, putting the right people in the right places.
“James Gaskell was just phenomenal in terms of his movement and you’ve got to have two guys to put him up in the air. In the morning we were in a corridor in the hotel just rehearsing the movements – where we say ‘If they go here, we’ll go there’ and speeding reactions up. In all we had a magnificent day and as a forwards coach you couldn’t ask for any more.”
Worcester Warriors prop Matt Mullan, London Irish hooker David Paice and Saracens’ Matt Stevens faced France-based front row trio Tonga Lea’aetoa, Semiei Telefoni and Kisi Pulu Mullan said: “It was slightly unexpected. We knew it would be tough up front and it was physical – there are a few sore bodies around – but to come out on top was very pleasing We watched them on Wednesday and you pick up a couple of things you think might work. It’s nothing too secret – you have things that you work on as a pack and pick up on things that they do or don’t do and take advantage.”
Exeter Chiefs flanker Tom Johnson – playing his second game on the open side – hopes to continue his progress against Canada next weekend.
Johnson said: “There’s a nice balance to the back row and I’m enjoying playing seven at the moment. It’s just all carried on from the way the season’s gone with the Chiefs. The coaches have helped me massively to get me to where I am and these boys here are a real good bunch and it’s just about fitting in with everyone’s game plan. [Head coach] Stuart Lancaster has a real good philosophy on how we’re going to play and we’re all buying into it.
“Canada will have had two games to look at us and I’m sure they’ll be up to speed and prepared for what we can bring. You’ve seen two styles of rugby in two games from us.”
The Saxons – 87-8 winners against the USA last weekend – top Pool A and meet Canada next Saturday at Sixways (4.30pm). The USA face Russia in the Bowl final (12pm) and Italy A meet Tonga in the Plate final (2.15pm).