Finding Front Rowers: Super Rugby Scrum Scrutiny 17 - Green and Gold Rugby
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Finding Front Rowers: Super Rugby Scrum Scrutiny 17

Finding Front Rowers: Super Rugby Scrum Scrutiny 17

The Reds and the Brumbies were the only Aussie winners on the weekend with the Rebels suffering a hammering at the hands of the Crusaders.  But what happened up front in the important spots? Let’s check it out to find out.

REDS V BLUES

The Reds played the Blues at Suncorp Stadium in the final home game of the season with the Reds coming away with the win 29-28. The Reds starting front row of J.P Smith, Alex Mafi and Taniela Tupou and the Blues starting with Alex Hodgman, James Parsons and Ofa Tuungafasi.

The Reds scrum performed well tonight against a strong Blues Pack. The Reds winning 3 scrums to the Blues 1 with the Blues conceding 3 penalties to the Reds 1 scrum penalties.

The Blues were winning the set call with all eight sticking after the engagement and the experienced James Parson setting the scrum low challenging Alex Mafi. Early in the game when Parsons engages low on Mafi and aims down, the Blues scrum starts to inch forward with Taniela Tupou getting turned in results in a penalty against the Reds.

The Reds did respond well later in the half when after taking two and a half minutes to pack the scrum the Reds held their shape on the set call and had a second shove with JP Smith leading the charge with small steps driving through the Blues and earning a penalty. JP Smith was strong on the loosehead side in this game and I enjoyed watching his aggression at scrum time.

The Blues came out in the second half with a huge scrum that sees Alex Hodgman using everything he has to drive through Tupou and though he comes in at a slight angle to get under Tupou the intent of going forward was there with the referee allowing the ball to be played. The pressure from the resulting scrum had the Reds under pressure and a turnover at the next ruck occurred.

At the 62 minute mark the Reds earned a penalty with another excellent scrum. JP Smith gets under Tuungafasi again and drives through with the Reds pack inching forward. The last scrum of the game had the same result but with Blues front rower dropping his knees to the ground, the AR called the infringement into the referee for another penalty.

Alex Mafi had another excellent game with a great run down the wing early on in the game. He had 12 runs for 24 meters as well as making 6 tackles. Mafis running game is improving as well stealing the hard metres to build phases and earn the opportunity out wide. Tupou also is Mr Reliable with 1 try, 9 runs for 16 metres and 4 tackles. Tupou scrumming is improving every week but has moments where he gets himself out of shape which could be for various reasons. I’m sure Hodgman and Parson are working hard to put weight down his side but alternatively Smith at Loosehead dealt with Tuungafasi on the opposite side the majority of the night.

On a side note; before the match, Jim McKay the Reds attack coach mentioned they would try and contest the ruck and slow the ball down but I found the Blues did this expertly tonight. From contesting to rolling and lying in the ruck, the Blues delivered a master class in how to slow the Reds attack down.

OUTSTANDING SCRUM

via GIPHY

The outstanding scrum is the Reds resisting the Blues drive and then inching themselves forward to earn themselves a penalty with JP Smith leading the charge.

CRUSADERS V REBELS

The Rebels headed to Christchurch to play Canterbury after the Crusaders were defeated by the Chiefs in Fiji last week. This was going to be a tough game and tough it was with the Crusaders winning easily 66-0.

The Rebels starting front row off Tetera Faulkner, Jordan Uelese and Sam Talakai against the Crusaders front row off, Joe Moody, Andrew Makalio and Michael Alaalatoa.

I was watching with a keen eye on Uelese to see if he could bring an extra element to the Rebels considering the depth at Hooker and he contributed to the first scrum of the day. It looked like the Crusaders won the set call with Faulkner in an awkward position which is difficult to correct under pressure but once the ball was fed in the Rebels held the ball at Naisarinis feet to have a second bite with Faulkner driving through Alaalatoa and winning a penalty. You can see Alaalatoa getting driven back and squeezed up with his legs to far under his body to correct himself and once he lifts his feet, Faulkner has him. Excellent scrum.

The second scrum of the game again has the Crusaders win the set call but Faulkner again seems to get the rub over Alaalatoa who ends up collapsing after trying to maintain his body height. The referee asks for the Crusaders to play it with Mo’unga placing a cross field kick to Reece to score the Crusaders first points. By Alaalatoa collapsing, he has prevented the Rebels opportunity to challenge or put the Crusaders under pressure and I believe should have been a penalty against the Crusaders and potentially prevent those first points of the night.

Jermaine Ainsley comes on to replace Sam Talakai at the 55 minute mark and has to pack down against Joe Moody with excellent body shape on a defensive scrum. Setting the scrum square give Ruru the opportunity to pass out cleanly but passes to the ground with Haylett-Petty picking it up and flicking out the back into touch for a net loss off a bout a metre. This sums up the Rebels performance throughout the night.

All in all, a game I’m sure they’ll not want to remember but should never forget. The Rebels won 7 scrums against the Crusaders 10 scrums with the Crusaders conceding 2 scrum penalties. Faulkner, Talakai and Ainsley scrummed well but to be honest I didn’t notice Uelsese who I was hoping to stand up however considering the score line the scrum was disciplined and executed well all night but occasionally you come up against a side that everything just sticks and tonight that happened for the Crusaders.

OUTSTANDING SCRUM

via GIPHY

At the 71st minute and the Rebels down 54 – 0, the Rebels scrum could have packed the scrum and held but they apply excellent pressure against a very good side and have the Crusaders retreating in attack. Excellent Rebels scrum lead by Ainslie.

WARATAHS V BRUMBIES

The second to last Derby for the Aussie teams of 2019 saw the Waratahs play the Brumbies at Parramatta Stadium with the Brumbies coming away with the win 35-24 with the Waratahs starting with Tom Robertson, Damien Fitzpatrick and Sekopu Kepu and the Brumbies starting with James Slipper, Folau Fainga’a and Alan Alaalatoa.

What a scrum battle this game displayed. The Waratahs winning 8 scrums with 3 penalties conceded and the Brumbies winning 9 scrums with 2 penalties. The early stages of the game had real intent for the Waratahs to show that the Brumbies front row could be outplayed but unfortunately this didn’t occur. The Waratahs managed to win the set call with a solid engagement but Slipper was doing an excellent job of getting under Kepu and driving him back. On the other side of the scrum it was evident that Robertson was collapsing in and under Alaalatoa preventing any further push through from the Brumbies side.

The scrum at the 17 minute mark was interesting if you watch the scrum below, you can see Kepus bind start to slip and as the pressure is mounted whether from Fainga’a or Slipper, it drops down the back of Fitzpatrick and then through the void between himself and the Hooker placing him in an uncomfortable position of holding on for dear life.

via GIPHY

Another good scrum in the first half to the Brumbies had them awarded advantage with Slipper driving up and under Kepu but with Robertson collapsing the loose head side of the scrum. The ball is played with Tevita Keridrani crashing up in the centres. Joe Powell the halfback identifies there short on the blind, hitting Toni Pulu who finds Fainga’a down the wing with a bit of work to do. Fainga’a is in for all money but is covered by three Waratahs including Fitzpatrick who does well to get across and edge him to the touch line with Fainga’a dropping the ball over the line. Good rugby from both teams.

Harry Johnson-Holmes replaces Robertson and in his first scrum gets a good hit on Alaalatoa but I notice his body height is not as low as it should be and instead of getting a good push starts to creep around the corner. He continued down this path for the rest of the game where you could see no dominance from the Waratahs except for creeping around HJH side and then pushing forward to attempt forward momentum.

The Waratahs were unlucky around the 55 minute mark when they inched forward and Scott Sio collapses preventing any further movement from the Waratahs pack. This should have been a penalty but the referee calls for the ball to be played and an opportunity goes missing.

One of the last scrums of the game that resulted in Cusack scoring from the back was just inside the 22 on attack for the Brumbies with HJH again trying to get on top of Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin but instead wheels the scrum around. This was the wrong decision as this resulted in taking the back three of the scrum out of the game to defend what resulted in McCaffrey missing the ball and Cusack swooping and scoring without any pressure from the back three. The better option would have been to keep the scrum square to allow both open and blindside flanker an opportunity to apply pressure or make the tackle.

As it’s down to the business end of the year I think the Brumbies starting front row outplayed the Waratahs and credit to them for maintaining consistency as the Waratahs and usually any team with nothing to lose can upset a team with their eyes on finals. The Waratahs front row were just outplayed tonight in a good contest.

OUTSTANDING SCRUM

via GIPHY

The outstanding scrum in this game was the scrum that Kepu applies pressure to Slipper but Slipper proving he is one of the best loose head props in the country manages to get in under his chest and drive him back in an excellent scrum that earns an advantage before Fainga’a drops the ball across the line.

PROPS TO YOU

Props to James Slipper who managed Kepu in his last home game for the Waratahs and proved his dominance within this game at loosehead and in my eyes solidifies an opportunity in the Rugby Championship.

  • Steve

    Great analysis and informative read as always Christian!

    Actually all Aussie sides were competitive in this arena this week, was nice seeing the Reds bossing an admittedly weak Blues scrum.

    Great battle between Kepu and Slipper – Slipper has been the story of the year as far as Aus players go. With Slips getting the best of this one do you still consider Kepu to be in the 5 for the WC squad? Or would you be taking Thor instead?

    • T.edge

      Thanks Steve,
      1. Slipper
      2.Fainga’a
      3. 7A’s
      16. Still undecided but I like Mafi , potentially TPN for experience
      17. Sio / (2nd Choice) Robertson
      18. Tupou / (2nd Choice) Kepu

      This is tough as Faulkner and Talakai had a good game in the scrum against the Crusaders as well as Ainsley when he came on.

      I know its world cup year but if you wanted to bleed in some new players it could look like,
      1. HJH
      2. Fitzpatrick
      3. Sam Talakai
      16. Rangi
      17. Ainsley
      18. Faulkner

      • Jason

        potentially TPN for experience

        Problem with TPN is he hasn’t been playing all that well in Europe (when he was playing!), and when he was playing for the Wallabies he wasn’t very good either. Even if we assume he’s better than whoever is likely behind him he really should be strongly considering someone else, someone younger. TPN is a solution to no problem, we have other guys who can give us whatever he can, and those guys might be able to play again, it’s the same old problem as playing Stephen Moore for so long.

        • T.edge

          Yes, I tend to agree but you can’t hide in a WC and there’s not a whole lot of experience . I also agree that he looked unfit and out of form but a good question was raised about Lealifanos form if he is playing well because of form or because he is playing behind a forward pack going forward. The same could be said for TPN if he is part of a good pack.
          Between Fainga’a, Mafi, BPA, Uelese and Rangi, I’m sure we could cover the position if he wasnt selected.

        • Brumby Runner

          Christian, isn’t the pack going backwards simply the excuse for Foley’s poor to average form? Seems to get trotted out every time Bernard has a less than stellar performance.

          On the subject of the Tahs pack, I would really like to see them penalised every time they go down under pressure. It looks to me to be their go to play when they start back pedalling.

        • T.edge

          I understand what your saying but even though collapsing to waste time is a thing, I cant say any team has entertained this considering the pressure coming through your neck, spine, shoulders causing serious injury. The scrum collapsing has been due to being beaten fairly and if you are trying to match someone’s body height, you go down under pressure.
          If a scrum is retreating and they collapse or stand up, it should be penalised but I dont think the Tahs are using it as a tactic, especially with the opportunity of WC selection. HJH has played well this year stepping in for Robertson and is still refining his craft and occasionally this can result in getting turned inside out.

        • Max Graham

          HJH is one of the finds of the season! He could be anything!!

        • Mica

          Has a point of difference at defensive rucks too, much like European props.

        • Shtinatina

          TPN had a bit of a rocky start to the year with a knee injury & wasn’t getting enough game time. When he did get time here & when he went back to the Tigers, he was playing well.
          He has valuable experience & a cool head, both needed for RWC.

    • From NooZealand

      “The Reds scrum performed well tonight against a strong Blues Pack” as per Christian Tedge’s commentary.

  • formerflanker

    Thanks for the informed commentary Christian.
    Your analysis raises an interesting question – should refs call “play on” when a scrum collapses, to the greater benefit of spectators, or penalise all collapses?
    As a spectator, I’m for continuity but forwards can either get injured by a collapse or a team can gain an unfair advantage.
    Questions, questions…..

    • T.edge

      Good question, I think this can be managed but as the ball is fed in the referee moves around the back and we’re relying on the AR to make a decision whether a scrum collapse has prevented a team from getting an advantage. Do we wont AR calling in and slowing the game up more?? I don’t think the everyday fan does. Its clear that the speed the scrums are set is slowing the game, not the collapsing of scrums and this needs to be addressed. It doesn’t take 40 seconds to set up a scrum if your in place, but safety is paramount in getting correct set up. Stopping the clock is not the answer as this will turn an 80 minute game into a 100 minute game, etc.
      Back to your question, I think the refs have been making the correct calls for the ball to be played majority of the time its just I’m focusing clearly on whats happening at the coal face and you observe these occurrences.

  • Wallaby front row has to be ALL BRUMBIES plus Slipper. That is to say including both James Slipper and Alan Alaalatoa. Extras Kefu and Tongan Thor.

    • Pearcewreck

      Good point PD.
      Unfortunately Michael Cheika has a form of Dyslexia. Every time he reads the word Brumbies, his brain translates it as Waratahs.

    • Max Graham

      Sio?

      • Brumby Runner

        Absolute waste.

    • Jason

      Sorry, who’s the second Hooker?

      I’d think they will be taking 3 front rows, or at least three hookers, two loosheads, two tight heads, and at least one who can play both sides.

      • Who?

        They won’t. They’re allowed 31 players – no room for a full third front row in that. It’ll be Slipper/Sio, 7A’s/Tupou, Kepu, plus the hookers. Maybe 3 hookers, but I wouldn’t be certain. Because that means losing a sub player from another position.

        • Brumby Runner

          There is a real risk in taking only two hookers (just like the No 9s). A game day injury could leave the side short, or a minor injury that would normally keep a hooker out for perhaps one match might mean he has to be replaced for the remainder of the tournament.

          Only way two hookers will be taken is if Kepu, for example, can fill in if needed. Shouldn’t be any of the starting or bench players.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I think you need 3 hookers and 3 halfbacks in the squad too.

        • I’m not quite sure what the rules are for Japan, there is always a rule about time for a replacement, but it’s location based. Because for a lot of the rugby-playing world NZ is a LONG trip, there was a long delay – it’s basically a 24h flight from all of W. Europe for example.

          Japan is a bit easier for everyone to get to, it’s about 12 hours or so from a lot of countries, so there might not be such a big delay, or any delay this time.

          Nevertheless, you’re right that you’re obliged to field a complete set of front row replacements in every match. It wouldn’t surprise me to see most squads go with two complete front rows, a third hooker, a spare prop that can play both sides and probably a spare scrum half. With squads of 31 that leaves you two players short from two complete squads. Exactly how you answer that depends on your players – quite a few nations have a utility lock/back row so they’d take 9 players to cover those 10 (for two full sets of second row and back row), then a utility back – 5 to cover the two full sets of wings and full back maybe.

          I think Australia, if they’re smart, will take two full packs, plus a spare hooker and prop, then five from six in the back three and probably five from six at 10, 12, 13. Someone will get the 10 shirt (I’m betting on Foley, although he’s not my personal choice, I’d still pick Cooper), and Toomua will get a shout as emergency cover, for 10, 12 and someone (not quite sure who, Meakes maybe, if the 2 K’s get the starting 12 and 13 jerseys and Beale is at 15, or Beale maybe) will get the get the shout for covering 12 and 13. I think that mostly because Australia doesn’t really have a good second row/big loosie hybrid IMO. I suspect there are a couple of the young #8’s who can do it for an injury, but planning it from the start… not so sure. Not enough experience I think, but in 4 years time that could be different.

          Remember a lot of these emergency utility guys are bench cover for players in positions like 10 that rarely get pulled and for game-day injuries. If Cheika takes Foley and he’s injured on Thursday before a Saturday match, they can call up someone to go in ahead of Toomua as the starting 10 if that’s what they do.

        • Mica

          Second row, loosie hybrids in Australia – I can think of a few who would at least be in contention in Luke Jones, LSL and maybe Scott Fardy (If still playing well enough as I hear that he is). Cheika will have Ned in mind for this, but if you are to pick a Tah in this role, I’d rather Staniforth on form. Technically Jed has also been playing this role. Have I missed any?

        • How many are in contention under Giteau’s Law? How many of them have say 10 caps?

          My issue isn’t that Jones and LSL can’t do it, it’s that they haven’t had the experience at test level to make me confident about picking them in what could be a critical role. If you don’t take two full packs but pick that hybrid second row/back row you’re essentially saying he has to be good enough to start, ideally at both positions, in a test. Would you put either of them up against Wales or Georgia in the second row?

          We’re in that vicious cycle, this time not necessarily entirely Cheika’s fault, where there are players that, if I had my way I’d like to be able to pick but I’m not confident about picking for a RWC where a chunk of experience matters. I did say that in four years time it might be different – it’s not that I don’t think they might be capable, it’s that I’m not sure they’ll shine on the biggest stage and we all know that shining at SR level and shining at test level are not the same thing.

        • Mica

          Definitely lacking experience in all except Ned, and I am not saying for one second that he is the answer.
          Fardy doesn’t qualify under G Law as you say and I also agree that SR is not anywhere near the same intensity as a tier 1 test match.
          Thinking about this a little further though, are there really too many lock/loosie hybrids running around that are really experienced apart from Barret, Itoje and PSDT?

        • Although Moriarty it mainly a back row player, he’s played lock a bit. I wouldn’t be happy about starting him there but Gatland might. The Welsh have a second string 6 whose name eludes me who can play lock too. I wouldn’t like him in a tier 1 test, but against Uruguay and actually against Fiji for that extra mobility, sure. The French have a test blindside who has played lock quite a bit at Top 14 level. I can’t remember which one now and checking Wikipedia for the French rugby squad isn’t prompting my memory. Given the brutality of Top 14 scrums, I’d be willing to let him have a run there at test level. One of the Gray’s has played at 6 and 8 although he’s primarily a lock. There are a batch of countries where it’s a viable option I think.

  • Max Graham

    The power Latu brings is impressive. The Tahs scrum goes up 2 gears when he is playing. Uelese has a noticeable impact when he’s on too.

    • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

      Can’t pick Latu for the Wallabies though, horrid discipline and penalty magnet.

      Despite a few when Latu first came on, the Brumbies’ reserve front row were still very dominant in the scrum for the last quarter of the match, won a couple of penalties.

      Think you’re right on Uelese and he might find he has a spot on the plane.

      • Who?

        Can’t believe that pleading guilty to the new charges was enough for Latu to get back on the pitch… Can’t comprehend how anyone could consider him for representative honours with all his current shortcomings. He’s earned nothing this year. Uelese should be ahead of him (as should Mafi, BPA, Rangi, Fitzpatrick, Roach… Just trying to think of any player who wore a Super hooker’s jersey this year).

        • Geoffro

          haha,look for Tatafa to be on bozo’s short list.

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Western Sydney born, raised in South Australia, now residing in Western Australia clinging to the hopes of Australian Rugby clawing its way back to bring home Bill or at least dominate in the scrums!

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