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By The Roar
Fan article originally published on The Roar's sports opinion website. Submit your own Rugby article to The Roar for potential publication on Rugby.com.au/Wallabies.
The Wallabies scrum has come under renewed criticism after the loss to the French last Saturday night.
I’ve reviewed every scrum from the game and although there were some serious issues, I don’t think things are as bleak as most of the comments make out.
The first scrum did not come until the 10th minute and was a Wallabies feed on their defensive five-metre line.
The Wallabies won the hit, Sekope Kepu in particular was all over loosehead Yannick Forestier, whose shoulders were rounded having been beaten on the engagement. Benn Robinson’s outside leg was not in a great position but the Wallabies pack was solid and going forward.
For whatever reason Nick Phipps looked like he fed the ball behind Robinson’s leg and referee Nigel Owens rightly ordered a new scrum and gave the feed to France.
In this new scrum, France got a much better hit and looked more stable but then Forestier and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski angled their drive up and popped. Kepu was worried about the ball coming out and defending so stood up as well.
Kepu would have been better served staying down and driving. The French went forward in the scrum and Owens penalised Australia. I believe this was an error but not a costly one as the French elected another scrum.
This third scrum of the game on the same spot saw both packs stay down and the Wallabies drive forward, however number 8 Louis Picamoles was controlled at the back, picked up cleanly and went on to score the try. There are questions of Nick Phipps and Dave Dennis being impeded but overall the defensive work from Australia was poor from a scrum going forward.
The next couple of scrums went with the feed but then the scrum battle began to change. The 18th minute saw the French win their own ball quite comfortably but the excellent camera angles showed the adjustments the French were making to counter the Australian pack.
An overhead shot before the put in showed that Forestier and Szarzewski were working together to provide Kepu with a minimal gap on engagement. As the French cleared the ball the overhead camera again showed that the entire French pack with the exception of Picamoles protecting the ball was angled to the left directly at Kepu.
During the scrum it was evident that Kepu was feeling the pressure, he had to move his feet back to correct his position and it was a warning sign of problems to come.
In the 24th minute the French won their own ball with a dominant drive, largely because Kepu missed the hit. He was noticeably slower than Forestier and I was wondering if under fatigue he had been thinking Owens was going to call the old Pause scrum sequence rather than the new Set one.
In the 30th minute a scrum needed to be reset after a collapse. Kepu looked like the culprit to me but Owens didn’t see a problem. During the reset scrum the French got a strong drive through their loosehead side.
The pressure on Kepu was telling. James Slipper had come on as a blood bin replacement and gave the penalty as he wheeled around trying to pull the scrum through ninety. It was a correct call by Owens.
The 33rd minute and the Aussies re-grouped for a solid scrum on their own ball. However it was a short lived recovery, in the next scrum in the 34th minute Kepu was late on the hit again, Forestier was able to angle in on Kepu and Kepu dropped his bind and was lucky not to be penalised.
The 42nd minute saw some Aussie respite with a solid win on their own ball but they had less success on their next feed in the 45th minute. The scrum had to be reset after a collapse and on the subsequent scrum Robinson was penalised for collapsing.
I suggest Owens missed a trick here, on the initial collapse Forestier had been boring in on Kepu and on the second scrum the replay showed Forestier angling up and in, the disruption to the scrum had come from Forestier on both collapses and he was fortunate that Owens penalised Robinson instead.
This proved to be Kepu’s last scrum as Slipper returned to the field this time at tighthead. The next two scrums both collapsed but Owens in a strange decision allowed them to be played on in both cases. I thought Slipper was open to be penalised in the second collapse but Owens disagreed.
Slipper was not let off in the 59th minute when he was correctly penalised for binding on the arm.
The 64th minute saw the biggest scrum of the game as from a French feed five metres from the Wallaby try line the French splintered the Aussie pack and earned themselves a penalty try.
A few comments here, the penalty try didn’t need to be awarded as simply playing advantage would have seen the French across the line under their own steam. Secondly the penalty was for standing up against Australia when the French had clearly come up first.
Finally, despite the incorrect penalty on standing up being awarded, I don’t have a problem with the penalty try result. Slipper for the second time in the match had rolled around trying to milk through 90 and I think he should have been penalised. Owens just picked the wrong reason for his penalty.
From here on out we only had a couple more scrums. Slipper moved across to loosehead and Paddy Ryan made his debut.
Ryan was penalised in his first scrum even though I thought it was the French loosehead dropping. Ryan was penalised in his second scrum as well for collapsing although I can’t say what happened as we got no replay. It did seem strange the penalty went against the Wallabies as they were going forward.
The final scrum of the game in the 77th minute Slipper, Stephen Moore, Ryan and the rest of the Aussie pack combined for the best scrum of the game, a clean tighthead. They drove straight under and through the French pack in an excellent effort.
So where does that leave the Aussie scrum? They gave away seven penalties including a penalty try and in return managed the lone tighthead steal of the game.
I disagree with two of the penalties, which I thought should have gone the other way, then again I thought that Owens missed two penalties against the Aussies he should have given so it balances out.
The Wallabies were generally good when the scrum stayed square and it was a straight pushing contest, they mostly came under pressure when they were a little late on the hit and when the French targeted Kepu.
The lateness on the hit is a concentration issue and should be easily remedied.
The counter to the pressure on the tighthead is trickier to solve quickly. It will take a co-ordinated move by all members of the Australian eight.
The pack is still not a fully co-ordinated eight as too often on Saturday the breakaways abandoned their posts. It showed the scrum still has some learning and maturing to do.
However the number of times the pack held strong and the tighthead at the end showed that the gap between this pack and the best sides around is not as stark as it has been.
England will be if anything an even sterner challenge and I’ll be watching to see if the Wallaby scrum can bounce back.
A final note on Nigel Owens, he stands on the wrong side of the scrum.
He invariably stands on the same side as the halfback feeding the ball when his default should be the opposite side of the scrum.
Looseheads generally have an advantage over tightheads. Owens stands on the same side as the LHP whose halfback is feeding the ball, this player is just seeking a steady platform to get the ball out.
The LHP on the opposite side is trying anything and everything to disrupt the opposition feed and try to pinch a tighthead, pull a penalty or pressure the ball at the back. Owens stands on the wrong side of the scrum to scrutinise what is the key battle in any scrum.