ENGLAND’s defensive line speed has been outstanding so far in the Six Nations Championship – perhaps too outstanding. At least, that was Gregor Townsend’s implication yesterday as he subtly suggested that the match officials on Saturday had a particular responsibility for ensuring that the visitors stay onside.
Townsend’s remarks at the press conference which followed the Scotland team announcement were for the most part anodyne, designed to provide no material whatsoever for stoking the flames in the build-up to the Calcutta Cup clash. But, after playing a straight bat to every query, the head coach then took it upon himself to highlight the offside issue.
He did it carefully, almost neutrally, neither overtly accusing England of habitually being offside nor explicitly calling on the referee to monitor them closely. But, simply by raising the possibility of regular infringement, he has ensured that the issue will rise up the agenda between now and kick-off time, and possibly given his own players a minor advantage that they would not otherwise have had.
“It will be interesting to see whether they stay onside,” Townsend said when asked about England’s line speed. “We watched the game last year and we’ve watched their games over the last few weeks and to generate that line speed, especially off first phase . . . .
“You’ve got to make sure you stay 10 metres back off lineouts before the ball is delivered and you don’t get beyond the back foot of the ruck in phase play. If they’re able to do that and still generate line speed, then we have to deal with that with the way we structure our attack.”
Asked if he expected England to be offside on Saturday, he continued: “I can’t say in the future, but you’d need to look at their last few games to see whether they do come offside. That’s down to the refereeing team this week to see if it does happen.”
The coaching teams and officials will meet on the eve of the game, but according to Townsend he is by no means certain to raise the topic. “We don’t know that yet,” he said.
“We’ll meet on Friday, so we’ll see what we’re going to talk about over the next few days.” Given the publicity likely to be generated by the coach’s remarks, there may well be no need for reiteration in that meeting.