All Blacks vs Wallabies forwards review
Scrums in the weekend’s Test between New Zealand and Australia proved interesting viewing, with both sides seeming to be evenly matched in an otherwise lopsided contest.
New Zealand earned one penalty, Australia won a penalty and a free-kick and all other scrums went to the team that fed them. If I’m facetious then Australia can claim victory in that area of the game having earned an extra free-kick.
In reality the ball that New Zealand won on their own feed was textbook perfection. They were low and tight, drove forward one or two steps and looked like they were packing against a scrum machine.
On the Australian side of the ball, things were a lot more disrupted.
The New Zealand scrum looked to assert dominance early and gave up their free kick in the first scrum of the game getting pinged for an early engagement. From there they settled into their work.
Alexander was clever against Crockett. He set his mark further back than Crockett wanted him and did not chase the hit. Basically, Alexander dictated the distance they met at and ensured that he was in good position, while Crockett overextended.
This is where the Aussies received their penalty as Crockett wound up shoulders below hips on a scrum collapse. Crockett is a tall prop and likes a larger distance on the hit but this night Alexander was making him reach even further than he wanted.
Late in the game Joubert made Alexander come much closer when Franks came on and the scrum momentum went New Zealand’s way. Kepu got popped quite badly in one scrum but the Wallabies were able to clear it effectively.
New Zealand earned their penalty when Alexander stood up under pressure in a scrum that was a bit of a dog’s breakfast. It was a five-metre scrum on the Aussie defending line and New Zealand’s feed.
For the only time in the match New Zealand attacked on their own feed. With New Zealand trying to drive on their own ball, Alexander got turned in and Franks angled in his drive – but the Aussies were under pressure and duly penalised when Alexander stood up.
I’d probably have liked to see a reset – throughout the match at different times Alexander and Crockett were both guilty of standing up but this was the most blatant case, it occurred under pressure and I can’t really complain about the penalty.
Earlier in the match Australia had the same situation a scrum attacking five metres out on their own feed.
The scrum on its first engagement looked like it was dropped by Franks, before a reset saw the Aussies win a stationary scrum and put that stupid cross kick in – what a low percentage play – they had the ball, five metres out, a stable platform and the entire field from right to left to play in and came up with a kick?
That was the go-to move they have been practicing since getting together in camp? What a waste.
All in all, there was some gamesmanship from both sides. The All Blacks showed their ability to apply pressure through power, while the Wallabies showed better strength in resistance than they have previously without being able to put pressure on themselves.
Instead it became a battle regarding the height at which scrummaging took place and control of the distance between the packs prior to the hit.
For the All Blacks, I think the fact that the scrum went so much better when Franks came on will see Crockett under pressure to be the fourth prop for the World Cup.
For the Aussies, what we have always known is that Slipper, Polota Nau and long shot Robinson are needed if the scrum is to become more of a weapon – the good news was that in this area, although under pressure – they did actually manage to win their own ball, even if some of it was going backwards.
So the scrum although under pressure for the Wallabies achieved parity. Where then did it go wrong?
We have told ourselves for a decade that if we just managed parity in the scrum then our sensational backs would carve up. There is more to the game than just scrummaging though and it was proved on Saturday night.
I was always coached that you have to earn the right to go wide. The Wallabies looked like they just wanted to shuffle it out to the wing and hope.
Where was the midfield penetration followed by quick ruck ball to create space? Where was the kicking game to push the wingers back and put them in two minds?
Why do so many of the Wallaby forwards not like rucking? Vickerman (although clearly still working on his fitness) at least showed an understanding of breakdown work with the lines he runs. It is easy if someone makes a break to run behind them, then clean out when they are tackled.
It is harder if the tackle takes place laterally from you, or even behind the advantage line. Then as a forward you need to run to a point a few metres behind the breakdown so that you can turn and explode into it.
Too many of the Wallabies forwards, and I’m looking particularly at Alexander and Elsom – run directly to the last man’s feet – they then tend to go to the post position or if they do go into the breakdown, enter with no momentum and get knocked backwards.
Sharpe is another criminal in this area and his normal style of play would not have helped the Wallabies on the weekend.
There is a more I’d like to say but will try to keep it focussed. The Wallaby scrum is much improved but still defensive rather than offensive.
The Wallabies’ ruck works fine if someone has broken the line but not good enough when they do not, as players are not cleaning out from a point of depth behind the breakdown well enough.
Both teams tend to leave their feet when cleaning out – I’d really like to see this fixed, with players fight to keep their feet, binding as their mates arrive and actually having a contest over the ball at the breakdown.
These days it is much more knock the other bloke away and the ref will adjudicate that your halfback has rights to the ball.
Wallabes vs Wales - Scott Allen's match highlights -