Unless you’re living under a rock, 2019 is a Rugby World Cup Year, but firstly we have the much anticipated Super Rugby season to get through before Rugby Championship and then onto the RWC. Super Rugby can take away from the necessity and importance of developing a strong Test scrum so what better way than to analyse and break down the Australian Franchises scrum stocks (specifically front row) as we progress throughout the Super Rugby season and ask the Question, Is the Australian Scrum solidified for the first World Cup Game or is there a bolter that unexpectedly gets called up in the Green and Gold to represent Australia in the Rugby Championship or more importantly, The Rugby World Cup.
I for one am hoping that regardless of making it through the Pool Stages (of course we will) that our set piece, especially the scrum, sets up the platform for an exciting Aussie backline that given the right setting can deliver the excitement and flair we know they are capable off, so let’s look at the match ups from the weekend and identify Standout Scrums and our most impressive front rower for the week.
ACT Brumbies v Melbourne Rebels
Our first Australian game was the much anticipated ACT Brumbies verse The Western Force Rebels (I know it’s time to get over it) at GIO Stadium in Canberra and the selection of James Slipper over Scott Sio locking horns with the promising 1 Test Wallaby in Jermaine Ainsley. From the outset Slipper had a point to prove and this point was made relentlessly against Ainslie resulting in over 4 penalties that went the Brumbies way. Where Tetera Faulker and Allan Alaalatoa were unable to budge the other, Slipper continued to claim Penalty after Penalty by dominating his opposite number carrying on the form he brought from the NRC into the 1st round of Super Rugby. I was very impressed with Slipper after his year off and am going to go out on a limb early and say he is an absolute chance to make it back in the Wallabies side even if it’s starting with the Rugby Championships.
The 2nd half was a little better for the Rebels after the scrum got into better shape allowing the backline to attack for a total of 3 times of the back of the scrum as opposed to the Brumbies who didn’t have 1 scrum in the 2nd half that was fed in and won to launch their backline. Robbie Abel and Sam Talakai also joined Faulkner in stabilising the Rebels scrums in the later parts of the game resulting in strong platform for attack and earning some Free Kicks for territory.
In conclusion to this game, The Rebels had 5 opportunities to attack off the back of scrums that were fed in a won. The opportunities the Rebels got off these scrums resulted in better attack and the ability to launch the Genia / Cooper combination. The Brumbies only had 1 scrum throughout the game that was a platform for attack with the majority of their scrums being Penalties or Free Kicks. The Brumbies opted to kick for touch providing a get out of jail free card or better field position which did provide the opportunity for the driving maul, a strength of the Brumbies.
A special mention must go to Anaru Arangi who played extremely well around the park, scored a great Front Rowers try with a fantastic running line but I think again considering the depth with Jordan Uelese, Hugh Roach and Robbie Abel, Arangi showed he is solid in the set piece and earned his starting position considering the murmurs of Jordan Uelese being the up and coming Test Hooker.
Stand Out Scrums:
At the 10 minute mark of the 1st half, Slipper earned a penalty by completely eradicating the Rebels Scrum which resulted in a Penalty that the Brumbies kicked for touch, took the lineout which was brought down into a well-established maul and drove the ball over the line for the entitled hooker’s try to Folau Fainga’a. This set the stage well for the day with 7 Penalties against the Rebels for early engagement, angling in and collapsing but the Rebels maintained better shape as the day went on and secured the win.
NSW Waratahs v Wellington Hurricanes
The 1st Australian game against our neighbours across the ditch was held at a Sold out Brookvale Oval with the NSW Waratahs playing the Wellington Hurricanes.
With injuries to Shambeckler Vui and Tom Robertson, it gave an opportunity for Chris Talakai to come onto the bench with Sekope Kepu starting without having played any warm up games.
The 1st half saw a strong Hurricanes scrum maintain the ball on their feed giving them the opportunity of attacking 4 times off their ball as opposed to the Waratahs that had no opportunities in the 1st half to attack off the back of the scrum. The only opportunities the Tahs had to attack on their feed had been around the 20 minute mark where the Hurricanes applied the pressure and demolished the Tahs, but more on that below in Stand Out Scrums.
The 2nd half saw the Hurricanes get rewarded with 3 penalties all for early engagements which you could forgive for debutant Chris Talakai’s nerves, but discipline needs to improve here to prevent opposition teams getting a free pass. The scrum feed to the Tahs around the 58 minute mark showed Talakai getting his bearings and splitting the bind between Dane Cole and Chris Eves. The forward momentum allowed the backline to let it sing wide coming back inside for the 2nd phase to a rampaging Jed Holloway through a nice gap. The following Tahs scrum again was solid allowing Jack Dempsey to pick and punch 10-15 meters up field with the last 2 scrums showing what the Tahs are capable of with some solid platform at scrum time.
The last scrum of the game was also a debatable decision. Chris Talakai and Rory O’Connor who were on for the Debut games were earlier being penalised for early engagement’s but the scrum just to the left of the posts returned a favourable decision when the front rowers heads drove up. The problem is that when a front rows heads pops up it is due to pressure being implemented from the opposition and like a pressure valve releasing up they pop. Angus Gardner ruled that the ball was out but must have received a radio message from the AR that Hurricanes front row stood up giving a long arm penalty to the Waratahs and we all know how that went. The 1st heads to pop were the Tahs with all three popping up and only Dane Coles coming up at the end but I feel this decision was made with the momentum of the Waratahs pack going forward that Gardner ruled in their favour. I think the Tahs were lucky here but was a confidence builder to the new front rowers of Talakai and Rory O’Connor.
In conclusion the Waratahs had 3 opportunities to attack off their own feed in and the opportunities that arose delivered exciting play from the likes of Dempsey and Holloway however the Hurricanes got 6 opportunities to attack showing the stability of their scrum and also 1st phase opportunities that saw Jordie Barret slice through a gap setting up an indefinite try bar a knock on.
The scrums throughout the game were very consistent and I was impressed with the 21 year old Harry Johnson-Holmes who maintained his side of the scrum and was very good around the park clawing down one TJ Perenara on the burst. Johnson-Holmes was caught a couple of time binding onto the loose Jersey of Jeff Toomaga-Allen bring his elbow and bind to the ground and was lucky to not have a decision made against him but he did very well in maintaining his height and not collapsing under. With the Waratahs injury list for front rowers I’m looking forward to see how he progresses through the season.
The Johnson- Holmes held up try resulted in good attacking opportunity for the Waratahs but the Hurricanes came up with a penalty for Kepu angling in and a get out of jail card on the 5 meter. If you look at the scrum, Kepu and Chris Eves are both mirroring each other angling in and the fact that the Hurricanes back five maintained pressure and drove forward and around resulted in Angus Gardner awarding the penalty against the Waratahs. It’s evident when Ardie Savea drives Michael Hooper backwards that the Ref is only seeing positive momentum from the Hurricanes scrum. The Waratahs need to be better in this area and come away with points or maintain pressure. The back view shows Rob Simmons losing complete contact and needs to have better shape and engagement to keep Kepu square.
Did we find a dark horse for the Wallaby selectors to keep an eye on, in my opinion I believe James Slipper, the Brumbies Loose Head put on an experienced display and warranted keeping a close eye on due to his Test experience and enthusiasm throughout the 1st round as well as Anaru Arangi, the Rebels Hooker seems to get better each game he plays. Considering the Rebels depth with Hookers, there is some serious competition in this spot so can’t imagine that Arangi will rest on his laurels.
Props to You:
My Most Impressive Front Rower of the week goes to Harry Johnson-Holmes who consistently held his shape in the scrum and his work rate was impressive for the 1st round of Super Rugby. Look forward to seeing him progress throughout the season.
Let me know what you think, Agree or Disagree?