Test prop James Slipper insists the Wallabies’ scrum has improved since it was dismantled by the All Blacks last year, and might just be ready to put their Kiwi tormenters “under pressure”.
The Wallabies won just 60 per cent of their own feeds against New Zealand throughout last year’s Bledisloe Cup campaign.
However, that was the first time either side had competed under the new scrum laws – which minimises the force of collision and requires the halfback to feed the ball straighter.
With one year of rugby under their belts since the “crouch-bind-set” command came into play, Slipper insists the Wallabies pack will be a much improved outfit for the Bledisloe Cup opener in Sydney on August 16.
“In that first game, both teams were kind of feeling out the new laws,” he said.
“It was pretty scrappy. Both teams were guilty of feeding it in crooked.
“But over the last year, especially our spring tour and against France, we’ve really scrummed at a level we’re happy with.”
He added that he didn’t believe there was any major technique difference between the two sides, just that the New Zealand front rowers – especially Test centurions Tony Woodcock (now injured) and Keven Mealamu – had a lot more experience ahead of last year’s series.
“You can’t really replace experience,” the 52-Test veteran said.
“For us, we were coming through and were young, learning the hard way.
“But I feel like we’re starting to play at a level where we can put them under pressure.”
Yet there’s no denying the Wallabies scrum is about to have its depth tested.
Their two leading hookers Stephen Moore and Tatafu Polota-Nau are out injured – with third-choice rake Nathan Charles expected to start – while reserve prop Scott Sio has also been ruled out with an ankle injury.
“Both Moore and Polota-Nau have been huge contributors to this Wallabies team. They’re going to be sorely missed,” Slipper said.
“But in saying that, when you lose one or two players, it gives opportunities to young players.
“Nathan scrums well. And his work around the field is exceptional.”
There’s also plenty happening in the lead-up to the game, with the Bledisloe Cup Festival a chance for true rugby supporters to get together.