One of the gospel truths in rugby is how vital it is to have a solid scrummage in order to lay the foundations of a side's performance. The intricacies of the dark arts aren't easily deciphered however one individual that assists greatly in explaining this mysterious area is David Flatman.
Flats is one of the few people that has the ability to decode what's going on in front of him and explain it to the rest of us simply and clearly. Scrummages seem much less daunting when you are sat next to Flats or when you are hearing him speak as part of the BT Sport commentary team.
This week we have all turned our focus towards the forthcoming RBS 6 Nations tournament and throughout the coming 6 weeks England's pack and scrummage will come under intense scrutiny. In the Rugby World Cup we saw a previous dominance in this area being eroded. I remember running an eye over the statistics mid-way through the tournament and saw that, on their own put in, Romania had a greater scrummage success percentage than England.
At Accenture's recent data launch I took the opportunity to pick Flats' brains on England's scrummage and delved further into some of the detail;
"The main thing that didn't work during the World Cup was the relationship between Joe Marler and Tom Youngs. Both are very, very good players but they allowed tighthead props too much progress through that area and once you get a 19/20/21 stone guy moving forward with a 19 stone lock behind him it is hard to stop."
The natural question after that statement of course was what should the relationship be between the men wearing the 1 and 2 jerseys?
"You can make it as complicated as you want but if you look aerially, as we did during the World Cup when Joe Marler copped all of that criticism, it definitely wasn't all Joe's fault and it definitely wasn't all Tom's fault. There is also a lot to do with the back-rows and second-rows as everyone plays a part in it. But, when their hips come apart, you're in trouble because you want their hips to be as close together as possible."
"So just imagine that you are the second-row behind them... you've got a shoulder on Tom Youngs' backside and one on Joe Marler's and you lose one of them. Suddenly your power is halved and there is a gap there, which you often come through. On top of that you are then leaving a gap for opposing tighthead props, so you just want to keep the hips tight and that just didn't quite work when it came under a lot of pressure."
Obviously Tom Youngs' omission from Eddie Jones' opening EPS squad was the call that surprised the country the most. Tom has been in great form for the Leicester Tigers, leading them from the front and spent the Rugby World Cup as England's first choice. In Flats' mind he believed Youngs was 'un-droppable' but added quickly 'clearly I was wrong'.
"Everyone is talking about the fact that they've chosen Dylan Hartley over Tom Youngs, and they have in a sense because he is captain, but actually for me there are 3 hookers in that squad so actually they've chosen Luke Cowan-Dickie and Jamie George over Tom Youngs."
"In terms of carrying and tackling I don't think that there is a better hooker in the world than Tom Youngs, he's that good. Guilhem Guirado, perhaps, but Tom Youngs is a freak the way that he tackles and carries... he is a machine. Therefore the rationale behind it has to be his throwing and scrummaging..."
Obviously this opening weekend will not feature Leicester's hooker, and indeed the whole of this opening RBS 6 Nations tournament may not, however that will have no bearing on the level of scrutiny that England's pack will come under. Eddie Jones has been very clear that he wants his England side to return to their roots which includes having a 'highly dominant set piece' and on Saturday afternoon the work of Joe Marler, Dylan Hartley and Dan Cole in particular will be under the microscope. Will they cope with the pressure of a Scottish pack that are no longer slouches? Will they match Scotland's key men for power and ensure that they prevail when it comes to the dark arts? Only time will tell...
David Flatman is part of the Accenture Analysis Team during the RBS 6 Nations, providing fans with insight and analysis to #Seebeyond standard match data. Follow @AccentureRugby or visit accenture-rugby.com. Download the Official RBS 6 Nations app.