Dan Cole reflects on a job well done rather than catharsis after his first act since emerging from England exile was to force a scrum penalty.
Three years after becoming the fall guy for England’s set-piece disintegration against South Africa in the 2019 World Cup final, the stars aligned against Scotland on Saturday to enable Cole to address that fateful night in Yokohama.
No sooner had the Leicester prop stepped on to the Twickenham pitch as a final-quarter replacement than he was packing down in a scrum that ended with him driving through Pierre Schoeman, securing a penalty.
Although his 96th cap concluded with the Calcutta Cup being taken back to Edinburgh, Cole has taken satisfaction from a first involvement full of poignancy.
“It was quite nice! Any time you come off the bench you want to make a positive impact with your first involvement, so to be able to get a penalty at the scrum….it’s what I’m designed to do,” Cole told the PA news agency.
“Obviously the last time I was in the England scrum it didn’t go so well. I’m not going to say that the Scotland game in any way compensated for what happened previously, but to get that penalty and go forward in the scrum was quite nice.
“I wouldn’t say it was frustration coming out, but you’re there to do a job and you want to do it well.
“I was at peace with what had happened in 2019 and thought that was the end of my international career, but you never give up hope because you always want to play for England.”
Even at the age of 35 Cole is the Gallagher Premiership’s form tighthead but his international career has also been given a shot in the arm by Steve Borthwick, his former Leicester boss, replacing the sacked Eddie Jones in December.
By the end of the Six Nations he could become only the fourth England player to reach 100 caps and it is conceivable that he will be involved in this autumn’s World Cup.
It poses the question of how long one of the English game’s finest set-piece exponents can continue and Cole’s own outlook is optimistic now that Leicester’s infamously confrontational training sessions have been replaced by a more scientific approach.
“I haven’t looked at the end, so to speak. Rugby, through its coaching and conditioning, does a good job in looking after players for the weekend these days,” he said.
“If we trained now like we did earlier in my career, I probably wouldn’t still be playing. We used to play on Saturday, but also Tuesdays and Thursdays because we had internal games.
“It wasn’t as intense as it is now, but when I started there was me, Julian White and Martin Castrogiovanni at tighthead prop.
“The hookers there were George Chuter, Mefin Davies and Benjamin Kayser – all internationals. Across a lot of positions we were two or three deep.
“We were all training against each other, fighting against each other, and if anyone got injured then we had someone else who was really good that can come in to play.
“Now you try and have as much depth as possible, but squads are smaller so you have to look after the players you’ve got and that’s where the science comes in. Now you train intensely, but it’s a lot more specific.
“There would be a weekly fight, or someone would do something and get whacked, whereas now you can’t do that in a game because of TMOs etc, so you don’t do it in training.
“Now it’s ‘you’re hurting the team, what are you doing?’, whereas before it was ‘if you want a fight, please go ahead and fight’.”
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