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Scrum must 'step it up' - Mears

Venue: Twickenham Date: Saturday, 22 November Kick-off: 1430 GMT Coverage: Live on Sky Sports and BBC Radio 5 Live. Highlights on BBC Three (Saturday, 1910 GMT) and BBC Two (Sunday, 1510 GMT), BBC Red Button and BBC Sport website. Live text commentary on BBC Sport website

By Phil Harlow

England's front row of Lee Mears, Phil Vickery and Andrew Sheridan
Mears (left) and his fellow front rowers had a tough time against Australia

Hooker Lee Mears admits there needs to be a marked improvement in England's scrummaging after their disappointing display against Australia last week.

A revitalised Wallaby pack got on top of England, and Mears said he and his team-mates would have to make amends against South Africa on Saturday.

"They got the better of us, so we deserved the stick," he told BBC Sport.

"It was disappointing, but South Africa will pose a different problem. We know we're going to have to step it up."

England went into last week's game with many fans expecting a repeat of last year's 12-10 victory in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, when a heroic scrummaging display by Andrew Sheridan, Mark Regan and Phil Vickery put Australia under the cosh.

But the much-maligned Wallaby scrum has come on leaps and bounds since that game in Marseille with new coach Robbie Deans bringing in Mears' former Bath coach Michael Foley in to help with the rebuilding.

"Australia had their back to the wall," said Mears.

606: DEBATE
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"They had a bit of a hiding the last time out against England and the press said England might do it again - but you're very na´ve if you think any international team is going to let you do that to them again.

"They had a few different players, and Michael Foley has done a very good job at sorting things out.

"We were frustrated because we didn't really get going in the scrum. We've come in for a bit of criticism and rightly so.

"It was one of the better scrums I've faced at Test level, but it was very difficult because a lot of scrums went down and the referee had to take it into his hands and he gave some free-kicks and penalties against us."

Many of referee Marius Jonker's decisions went against England at the scrum, with Matt Giteau kicking two of his six penalties as a direct result of infringements at the set-piece.

The scrum was a messy affair for much of the match at Twickenham with numerous set-pieces ending up on the floor.

Why do scrums collapse?
One or more members of the attacking or defending front rows goes down deliberately for tactical reasons. The defending team may want to neuter the opposition's power or the attacking side may want to con the referee that the defenders can't or won't stay up
One or more members of either front row is unable to stay up physically. Feet can slip, or shoulders may be below hips before engagement. Props may bore in with the aim of forcing the opposition down, or may drag them down with their arms (illegal). Modern tight-fitting shirts make it more difficult to bind correctly (on the opposition's back), making it harder to stay up
Working out who is up to what is the tricky bit!

Scrums can collapse for a variety of reasons with the force of the collision between the two packs sometimes resulting in the players losing their feet, while the difficulty in the four props "binding" onto each other - holding each others' shirts, effectively - can also be a contributory factor.

Former England hooker Brian Moore has called for front-row forwards to have to wear old-fashioned shirts rather than the skin-tight style favoured in the modern game.

"Designed to hinder the would-be tackler, they have the unintended effect of also making it much harder for props to bind in scrums," Moore wrote in The Daily Telegraph.

England coach Martin Johnson suggested Australia had adopted streetwise tactics to get the better of their opponents.

"Last week every scrummage seemed to end up on the floor," said Johnson.

"I think it will be a different game this time (against South Africa) - we'll have a contest at the scrum."

Interview - Martin Johnson

And Mears agreed that Saturday's Test against world champions South Africa should offer a different - but no less difficult - challenge.

"The Springboks love to scrum: they take it as a pushing contest, and that's exactly what we expect," said Mears.

"South Africa love their props and hookers, whereas in England a lot of the time we love our golden boy sexy fly-halves... But I'm quite happy for them to get the plaudits as it usually means we've done our jobs properly."

South Africa have delayed their team announcement until Thursday after injuries to prop Gurthro Steenkamp and hooker Bismarck du Plessis stretched their front-row resources to the limit.

But Mears insisted whoever pulled on the green jersey at Twickenham would pose a formidable challenge.

"If John Smit (who has been playing at prop) comes back to hooker he's a World Cup-winning captain so it's hardly weakening them in that regard," he said.

"They always have strength in depth at prop and hooker - they'll be fine."

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see also
Flanker Haskell back for England
18 Nov 08 |  English
South Africa postpone naming team
18 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
Jeremy Guscott column
17 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England drop to fifth in rankings
17 Nov 08 |  Rugby Union
England 14-28 Australia
15 Nov 08 |  English
Cipriani told to improve defence
13 Nov 08 |  English
England 39-13 Pacific Islanders
08 Nov 08 |  English
England 6-15 South Africa
20 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union
England 12-10 Australia
06 Oct 07 |  Rugby Union


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FROM OTHER SPORT SITES
ABC Online Wallabies forwards delight Deans - 16 Nov 2008
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