It is a testament to Australia’s growing depth of test quality players that Wallaby coach Michael Cheika has been able to make key changes to the front row, the back row, and the halves without missing a beat for the upcoming test against Argentina.
His no nonsense, honest and no bs approach is endearing himself to many rugby supporters, including many former wallabies who have had a gutful of the shenanigans and off-field dramas that were once more the province of other codes.
It is obvious that he has thought carefully about the makeup of the Wallaby team to face Argentina.
Everyone on the planet that follows rugby knows that they play their best rugby at home – albeit ten man rugby that would even make the late Queensland Coach Bob Templeton look like a disciple of running rugby.
I remember playing a Test against Argentina in Brisbane in 1983 before which we had a scrummaging session against the Queensland Under 21 side, who quite literally dished us up. I said to my co-flanker and great friend Simon Poidevin when we left the training paddock – ‘We are in big trouble’. Actually I think I really said ‘We are in deep shit here’.
Sure enough, we spent 80 minutes with our props being rocketed into the sky by an Argentinian scrummaging outfit that was arguably the best in the world at the time. After the match at Ballymore, which we lost 18-3, I told Poido that it would be a race to the selectors to see who can blame who first – for I knew that the props would blame the back five in the scrum. After all, who else could they blame? In fact, I remember thinking when I was leaving the paddock with the props far ahead of me that it was the fastest I had seen them run all day.
The next training session as we prepared for the second Test at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Wallaby Coach Bob Dwyer pulled me aside and said that the Argentinian flanker on my side of the scrum had been sliding up and boring in on our prop in the first Test and this is what had destabilised our scrum.
I asked Bob whether he had observed this and he said no, but that he had been reliably informed by certain members of our front row. Bob then proceeded to tell me that the only way to prevent this was to be pre-emptive and when I asked him what that meant he said – “Well, you are going to have to slide off the side of the scrum first and head-butt the culprit”.
There were three major flaws in Bob’s plan:
1. No such sliding up and boring in by the Argentinian flanker, Ernesto Ure, took place. This was the highly imaginative explanation given by our front row for the Ballymore disaster.
2. I had never head-butted anyone in my life, and was philosophically opposed to foul play (particularly when it was based on this stupid and patently absurd assertion).
3. I was 178 centimetres tall and 79 kilograms. Ernesto Ure was a giant.
To say that I would have been eminently happy if we never had a scrum in the second Test is an understatement. I was experiencing what lawyers would call a ‘conflict of duty and interest’ – duty to my coach (as misguided as he was in this instance), and my interest in self-preservation.
Needless to say, duty won out and I found myself packing down in the scrum directly facing the omnipresent Ure staring directly at me.
I recall releasing my bind on the lock, and sliding forward and hitting Ure with my head. He simply tossed his head back and shook it much like a horse does with its mane, and grabbed me by the front of my jersey and smashed me with a fist to my jaw.
As I went sailing out of the scrum I can remember thinking that I hoped Bob had a better plan B, because plan A sure as hell wasn’t going to work.
We found out down the track that Argentina had a completely different method of scrummaging than we did (they actually had a system). While we were focusing on running the ball, they were focusing on the scrum – and did so from an early age, having been taught the ‘Bajada’ or ‘Bajadita’, a scrummaging system invented in the 60s by Argentinian scrum doctor Francisco O’Campo.
So what is the Bajada?
The central point to the Bajada is that all weight is directed at and transferred though the hooker, rather than through the props. That is why you will always see a very big hooker in Argentinian scrums.
This is achieved by:
1. The second row forwards binding with their external arms around the prop’s hip rather than between their legs.
2. The inside leg of the back five players was positioned to ensure all weight was directed though to the hooker.
3. The flankers actively pushing.
4. The halfback ensured there was a co-ordinated push, by giving a three part call after the ‘engage’. On ‘pressure’ all members of the pack tighten their binds and fill their lungs with air. On the call ‘one’ everyone sinks, the legs at this point should be at 90 degrees. On ‘two’ the pack comes straight forward while violently expelling the air from their lungs. A key note is that nobody moves their feet until forward momentum is established. If the first drive is insufficient the scrumhalf begins the call again and the opposing pack is usually caught off guard and pushed back.
While the Wallabies have brought in to the pack front rower Greg Holmes, flanker David Pocock and aggressive No 8 Ben McCalman, all eight Wallaby forwards and replacements must be on song even to gain parity with the Argentinian scrum.
There is no doubt that the Wallabies have the superior backline. I cannot imagine for one moment anyone getting out of bed to watch Argentina play a test match because of their electrifying backline, but there are plenty of grizzly old props and locks out there that still marvel at their scrummaging technique.
Will this be enough for Argentina – if they get field position and their share of the penalties – they can always cause an upset through penalty shots alone. No doubt they will use the driving maul off line-outs which we all know can be a very effective weapon. If they tackle their hearts out – then we have a game on our hands.
If Australia can hold their scrum, we should win this match. Cheika has again made sound selections and it will be a great opportunity for the players brought in to stake their claim in the starting fifteen.
However, all the forwards in the squad need to know and understand ‘Bajada’ – and how to combat it.