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Battle of Bristol? More like a calmness in Clifton

England and Wales' scrum session did have "a bit of an edge" about it, but it didn't boil over. Simon King - CameraSport via Getty Images

BRISTOL, England -- It was billed as the 'Battle of Bristol', but in truth England's set piece training session with Wales ended up being more a cordial calmness in Clifton. There were no scraps, but instead those involved talked of it being pleasantly competitive, a "training tool" and even though there was a "bit of an edge", it did not boil over.

The basic figures saw England and Wales contest 12 scrums and 15 lineouts as they prepare for Saturday's Tests against Argentina and Australia respectively. Nigel Owens presided over it, but the Clifton College turf gave way after the first nudge and the official party line was the contest ended in a "draw".

"Unfortunately the pitch gave way," England tight-head Dan Cole said. "The pitch was quite heavy so after the first engagement, as soon as there was any movement, it gave way. Every team won their ball and I'm sure they'll be happy with what they did.

"Nobody got pushed off their ball. It was fairly difficult to take the opposition ball because you couldn't really chase your feet. We got what we wanted out of it in terms of set-up and engagement. Up to the point where you have to move your feet, it was good."

So there was no throwback to the amateur days of full-bore scrum sessions ending with the front-rows exchanging right hooks, instead of attempting to hook the ball. But that is not to say it was not competitive.

"There was intent there, definitely," England lock George Kruis said. "I'd say we were professional enough to control ourselves and understand it was a training tool rather than a smash up on a Monday of a Test week.

"The main thing was to get as much as we could out of it for ourselves. We wanted to win every scrum and wanted the intent, but it also gave ourselves the opportunity to trial a few things and see where we're at."

A video seemingly filmed through the fence at Clifton College saw England drive Wales back after getting the nudge on the loose-head side of the scrum. Interestingly, the England pack had Chris Robshaw packing down at No.8, suggesting a fall-back option at the weekend if Nathan Hughes, who is expected to start at the back of the pack, is forced off.

The session only lasted 40 minutes with England and Wales returning to their respective training bases as preparations for the opening weekend of the autumn internationals. Both parties were pleased with the outcome and are open to repeating it in the future, while England may also look to Georgia as a potential training partner in the future.

In the good-natured spirit of the exercise, verbal-sparring was kept to a minimum, according to Cole, but the local hero was Ellis Genge, who grew up in Bristol. "I don't think he is from the Clifton part," Cole said. "We asked the schoolkids if they knew which postcode Gengie was from and no one had been to those parts."

With Joe Marler and Matt Mullan both sidelined for Saturday's Test, Genge is in pole position to start against Argentina at loose-head with Mako Vunipola likely to be rested for part of the autumn programme after playing a dominant role in the summer's British & Irish Lions series. Cole has seen Genge develop both on and off the field since he swapped Bristol for Leicester Tigers back in February, 2016.

"He's always been able to carry and he's always had that abrasive edge, but I think he's more controlled now in what he can do and how he can channel his physicality," Cole said. "I think he's got better as a defender too and his scrum has come along significantly as well."

Cole sees Genge as one of the top two or three loose-heads in England and says he has also controlled his temperament so he can toe the disciplinary tightrope. "He plays on edge but rarely goes over it. He brings physicality. He chats in scrums with the opposition, he is vocal around the field. That is his mentality, how he plays the game. As long as it doesn't distract him -- that's the job we have, to make sure he is on task."

After this exercise in Bristol, England's focus is now purely on the Pumas. Argentina's pack is wheld in high esteem in world rugby and for England's scrum coach Neal Hatley, he will be taking as much away from Monday's session as possible as they fine-tune preparations for Saturday.

"It [the set piece] is their way of getting into the game," Hatley said. "They've prided themselves on their set-piece and what they've been doing from a scrum point of view. Sessions like today are invaluable because we know how important the prep is to make sure we match that on the weekend."