Wallabies vs Wales: Game 3 scrum review
Adam Jones delivered a tighthead master class during the third test between the Wallabies and Wales.
Benn Robinson has scrummaged well all year at Super level besting most opponents but he gave away two penalties for collapsing on the weekend.
Ben Alexander and Sekope Kepu gave away a penalty each, one for collapsing and the other pulling around on the wheel.
Coupled with three free kicks for early engagement, the Wallabies gave away seven scrum infringements on the weekend. In contrast, Wales gave up one penalty when Alexander got a good drive on Paul James and James countered by angling in.
There were eight scrums awarded in general play and a further eight due to resets or Wales seeking to press their advantage by re-setting scrums from free kicks and penalties. It is fair to say it was a mess.
The question needs to be asked why the scrums degenerated as much as they did. I have to start by giving credit to the Welsh and to Adam Jones in particular. Jones’ body height is exceptional. Benn Robinson usually gains a lot of advantage by being shorter than most opponents and scrummaging lower than them.
Although both listed in the team program at 183cm, it is clear that Jones is taller than Robinson but he still gets lower pre-engagement. Robinson also thrives against taller opponents by closing the gap pre-engagement. Jones was able to negate this by getting into near perfect scrummaging position before engage was called.
Matthew Rees, Ryan Jones and the rest of the Welsh scrum are to be commended in assisting this. Rees takes a lot of weight in helping hold up Adam Jones pre-engagement. Ryan Jones and the second row are working together as well. Ryan Jones was very evident using his own body weight to hold the Welsh locks back as they assisted in holding their front row in position.
None of the above is terribly cutting-edge front row play, it is the basics executed very well.
Of the sixteen scrums packed on Saturday, the Wallabies would only really be happy with three of them. In the thirtieth minute they won a scrum on their own ball nicely and moving forward.
In the 55th minute, after packing four scrums on their own five metre line, Robinson managed to get the upper hand and drive up on the left hand side and forced the Welsh to play the ball as the scrum wheeled.
In the 67th minute, Sitaleki Timani and Dave Dennis got a great shunt on Ben Alexander to win their penalty against James. Apart from those three, the other 13 scrums were either resets or in Wales’ favour.
The high number of free kicks against the Wallabies in this series is an indicator of how much pressure they were under. The three this week followed on from a similar number last week. The Wallabies were trying to pre-empt the referee’s call to negate the pressure from the opposition. It was a direct result of the Welsh dominance.
So where do the Wallabies go from here?
We have issues with players playing out of position in our Super squads.
Ben Alexander is a tighthead and needs to play there at Super level. Unfortunately with Dan Palmer in place he is not the best tighthead in the squad.
James Slipper’s performance at loosehead against Scotland was a pass. It was not as good as his 2010 performance against Martin Castrogiovanni but Euan Murray is no slouch.
Unfortunately for Slipper, his Reds teammates Ben Daley and Greg Holmes are both looseheads meaning he spends all his time at tighthead for the Reds. Making him switch for Internationals is slowing his development.
For the sake of Aussie rugby, I’d like to see Alexander and Holmes swap teams. They are similar ages and both have Wallaby experience. Both squads would be left with their younger developing props in Daley and Ruaidhri Murphy as well as their young test props in Slipper and Palmer.
This would allow Alexander and Palmer to stop robbing each other of minutes at THP, while Holmes and Slipper both got time at LHP.
The other option which would achieve a similar result is for Palmer and Slipper to swap.
Meanwhile, in Waratah land we have highly competent bench players not getting enough match time. Paddy Ryan and Jeremy Tilse would make the Rebels starting side yet are biding their time from the bench behind Robinson and Kepu the test incumbents.
Tilse in particular has spent five or six years on the bench, the Rebels should be looking to lift these two as their current scrum is not getting the job done. It is impossible to assess at the moment whether their young second rowers are causing some of the problems as they’ve never had a decent pair of props in front of them.
Is central contracting from the ARU something that we need to look at?
We have an issue when Wallaby players are out of position at the Reds and Brumbies, meanwhile the Waratahs are blessed with depth while the Rebels send out a lifeline to Jono Owen. This is not good for our scrummaging development as a nation.
The Force are the only Aussie Super Rugby team with a good balance in their propping ranks. Salesi Ma’afu and Pek Cowan have recent Wallaby experience and are being pushed for their spots by Kieran Longbottom, now due to injury Salesi Manu is coming on as well. They are the only squad I think has its balance right.
Finally the Wallaby selectors need to look at what they value.
Dan Palmer played well in his debut test and the scrum went to pieces when he left the field. Alexander needs to play tighthead to a good standard at Super level before he should be considered in front of Palmer for international caps.
Greg Holmes also should be looked at further. He is the strongest challenger to Benn Robinson as a Wallaby loosehead scrummager but didn’t even make the Wallaby’s broader squad. He should not be ignored.
We need to give these props every chance at Super level to succeed and then create an environment where there is genuine completion for places and reward for performance. Continually just picking Robinson, Kepu and Alexander regardless of performance will not see us make the improvements we need to.
Alexander in particular is on borrowed time if things don’t change.
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