Why is Wallabies’ scrum falling apart again?
The Wallabies scrum is under pressure again. The Welsh were able to re-expose the Wallabies Achilles heel on Saturday, and it was not pretty.
A number of posters have indicated that they thought the Wallabies were dominant until Stephen Moore came on for Tatafu Polota-Nau. This is incorrect.
While Polota-Nau was on the field there were three scrums. The first saw the Wallabies win their own feed confidently driving forward, the referee missed Benn Robinson scrummaging with a hand on the ground though.
The second scrum saw the Wallabies win their own feed but under intense pressure and the front row was badly buckled before the ball was cleared.
The third scrum was a Welsh feed but finished with a free-kick to Wales as the Wallabies drove early.
There is no Wallaby dominance there, if there is a slight edge it is to Wales.
In the second half the scrum battle clearly went to the visitors, as well as Moore coming in for Polota-Nau, we saw Robinson replaced by Ben Alexander and Simmons’s scrummaging position taken by Dave Dennis.
Sekope Kepu had more and more trouble with Gethin Jenkins as the match progressed and Adam Jones had a field day.
Why is this happening again? Dan Palmer scrummaged very well in his debut Test match against Scotland. We saw the scrum deteriorate when he was replaced by Alexander. A scrum penalty against Australia led to Scotland winning the match, yet it is Alexander who stayed in the team for Wales.
With James Horwill injured, no driving second rower has been included in the match day 22. Rob Simmons and Nathan Sharpe are both predominantly lineout forwards; their scrummaging is not as good as Horwill, Sitaleki Timani or Kane Douglas.
Timani was injured against Scotland but I’ve seen newspaper photos of him involved in contact at Wallabies training since then. Timani, unlike, say, Quade Cooper, hasn’t been released from the Wallaby squad suggesting he is available. Kane Douglas was released from the squad but in my opinion should not have been.
Robbie Deans has been electing to cover the bench second rower position with Dave Dennis, who is predominantly a number 6. Deans appears to have wholeheartedly embraced the practice that has plagued Australian rugby for over a decade and is selecting players who are mobile while allowing the scrum to suffer.
This selection policy has brought a series win against Wales but by the narrowest of margins.
So how do we fix this? The immediate selection decisions that should apply for this week are to return Alexander for Palmer and to bring in Timani and Douglas at the expense of one of Rob Simmons and Nathan Sharpe. Based on current performance, I’d keep Sharpe.
If Deans is prepared to go with a 5-2 split on the bench he can keep the rest of his pack the same, if he wants to retain a 4-3 split then Michael Hooper has to make way.
Hooper is the one to make way not due to the knock-ons he made when he came on last week but due to Dave Dennis being the reserve lineout caller if anything happens to Sharpe.
Timani and Douglas have their doubters but playing half a game each is well within their capabilities. There is a risk if Sharpe gets injured early but the option to still use Dennis as a second row back up exists to ensure that the big boys aren’t too slow to play the game that Deans wants.
I know that Caderyn Neville and Hugh Pyle have their fans but both have issues in contact where they are a little high. This is in both the tackle and at the breakdown. I’d like to see them improve this before they get higher honours.
Also, the Rebels scrum is the worst of the Australian clubs in Super Rugby by a large margin, Neville and Pyle have to shoulder a large piece of that responsibility. Based on the performance of the Rebels scrum we have no evidence to believe that Neville or Pyle can help improve the Wallaby one.
The Wallabies may have won this series but they haven’t dominatede. The scrum woes are a huge concern as the Rugby Championship looms later in the year.
The scrum has been a problem for a decade now, unlike prior years there are some obvious selections available to fix it.
Will Deans make those selection decisions for this final Test?