England have urged officials to prevent scheming France deliberately slowing the tempo of Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations clash at Twickenham.
Eddie Jones has highlighted the difficulty of playing at pace against Les Bleus due to the variety of tricks they employ to reduce the game to a speed that suits their substandard conditioning.
It will be among the issues raised by Steve Borthwick when the forwards coach speaks with Nigel Owens at the customary eve-of-match referees’ meeting and England are confident the Welsh official will be alert to the threat.
“It’s up to Nigel Owens. Nigel’s an experienced referee who understands the ebb and flow of games. He’ll do the best to keep the game moving I think,” attack coach Scott Wisemantel said.
Former England prop Joe Marler has revealed the go-slow tactics used by France, which include: stopping to tie up shoe laces, resetting scrums, taking as long as possible to form line-outs and launching their gargantuan forwards into the breakdown in the pretence of competing for the ball.
Jones insists there are limitations to what England can do against the type of dark arts he claims are bad for the sport.
“It’s difficult – just look at ball-in-play time,” said Jones, who enjoyed the best result and performance of his three-year reign as head coach when Ireland were routed 32-20 last weekend.
“We have just had the Japanese coaches with us for the week – Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown – and they are aiming to have a ball-in-play time of close to 50 minutes. France average 30 minutes.
“They kick the ball out a lot and look for long stoppages before scrums. They are things we really can’t control, so it’s hard to get pace in the game against them.
“It is hard to get pace in the game now the way the game is being refereed because increasingly we are getting longer stoppages, which I don’t think is healthy for the game.
“There are a couple of ways we can get a bit of pace in the game on Sunday and we have investigated those. You know the referee we have got.”
Mako Vunipola, a star of the Aviva Stadium accomplishment, echoes Wisemantel’s confidence that Owens will punish France if necessary.
“For me as a front rower I would be happy if they slowed it down!” the Saracens loosehead prop said.
“But for us it’s about controlling what we can and making sure that we take care of our job. If it is ridiculous then I’m sure the right people will step in.
“Being focused for 80 minutes is the biggest thing because this team can score from anywhere in a split second.”
England are odds-on favourites to sweep aside France and Jones is convinced they can improve on a result in Dublin that sent shock waves across the game in World Cup year.
“I think we can get better. I always remember a press conference with Tiger Woods after he took 12 months to remodel his swing,” Jones said.
“The interviewer said to him, ‘can you be as good as you were?’ and he said, ‘the reason I have taken time off is to be better’. There’s no reason why we can’t keep on getting better, no reason at all.”