The news of Mario Ledesma’s impending departure from the Wallabies coaching set-up has sent the Australian scrum enthusiast community (all ten of you) in to mourning.
While no-one could begrudge the beautiful brute from Buenos Aires returning to his home country, for whom he passionately represented 84 times, it still doesn’t mean we can’t lament the loss of the big fella.
Cast your minds back to the pre-Mario Australian scrum and nothing but grim, grim memories come flooding back. It’s no coincidence that most of these memories involve the White Orc’s of England, with the dark November day at Twickenham in 2005 being the nadir.
Both the Wallabies starting props (Al Baxter and Matt Dunning) were bullied off the field by Andrew Sheridan and the England pack, resulting in the humiliating scene of uncontested scrums in a full international Test match involving grown, professionally paid men.
The disastrous quarter final in Marseille two years later was no better, with Sheridan once again Australia’s tormentor-in-chief, and on it went every year up until the 2014 Spring Tour, the Wallabies scrum folding like origami and putting up all the resistance of a soggy tissue in a tsunami.
Enter Ledesma, a man who looks like he eats, lives and breathes scrums, a man whose wife probably castigates him for sneaking off to watch black-market videos of underground and illegal scrummaging techniques, a man who wears the face of someone who has seen things, things that us mere mortals can’t even imagine (probably scrum-related things), and whose ears give him life-long rugby respect.
If someone told you Mario Ledesma had killed someone with his bare hands, you wouldn’t even think twice about checking the veracity of the statement.
The fact that three of the best Wallaby wins of the past decade happened after his appointment (New Zealand in Sydney 2015, England and Wales Rugby World Cup 2015) is no coincidence, as the previously powderpuff Aussie scrum was the bedrock of those victories.
Such has been the impact of Mario’s methods I no longer have to watch scrums in Wallabies games from behind the couch or through my pint glass.
The esteem which Mario is held in by the players and coaching staff is evident by the fact that Will Genia and Ledesma himself have admitted there were tears aplenty in the Mendoza dressing room where he announced his exit. Michael Cheika has stated he was “devastated” when Ledesma notified him, breaking up a working partnership that took them from Stade Francais to the Waratahs through to the international arena.
The man with the fantastic Argie-Aussie accent (look up Mario speaking at press conferences, it is a treat for the ears) will hopefully go down in lore as the man who allowed us to finally embrace the scrum, who allowed us to mature in the way we approach specialist coaching in this country and who injected ardour and rigour in to our forward pack.
The fear and trepidation has been removed, and Andrew Sheridan is no longer in our nightmares. Buena suerte Mario, te amamos.