Finding Front Rowers: Super Rugby Scrum Scrutiny 4 - Green and Gold Rugby

Finding Front Rowers: Super Rugby Scrum Scrutiny 4

Finding Front Rowers: Super Rugby Scrum Scrutiny 4

Round 4 brought the perfect scenario for Players to get one over their opposite numbers in the local Derby’s. How did it pan out?


The Rebels clawed back a 19-3 deficit at half time to beat the Brumbies 29-26 on Friday night at AAMI Park, Melbourne.

Dave Wessels, the Rebels coach opted to rotate his front row around with a new combination of Matt Gibbon, Robbie Abel and Sam Talakai to start the game off which was a bold move against the established Scott Sio, Folau Fainga’a and Alan Alaalatoa. Gibbon’s starting at loosehead for the Rebels is a great story considering he was invited into the Rebels squad to train through pre-season and upon asking when his flights would be booked to go home, was asked to stay on with the team. This shows that Wessels believes in his new Loosehead prop to start Gibbon ahead of the reliable Tetera Faulkner.

The scrum count was 4 scrums to the Rebels, compared to 8 scrums to the Brumbies with the first scrum from Talakai turning the screws on Sio. The scrum was reset and Sio settled into the game to maintain good shape in what was a good contest with Talakai. Gibbon had a great game in the scrum considering the limited amount he’s played. He maintained really positive body shape throughout the game and at times his second attempt at putting the squeeze on Alaalatoa was noticeable albeit well handled from the Wallaby Tighthead. Considering he was up against the Wallaby front row, I think Gibbon would benefit from continued exposure and hope Wessels opts to select him in future games. Bar the yellow card for coming in the side of a rolling maul, I thought he had an excellent game.

The Brumbies also utilised their scrum well throughout the 1st half with a solid scrum at the 17 minute mark allowing David Pocock to feed the ball to Joe Powell, hitting Henry Speight to tip toe down the touch line to score.

In the 2nd half, scrums played an important role in each team scoring some important tries. Starting with a strong scrum from the new front row of Gibbon, Rangi and Faulkner, the strong set piece setup the platform for Genia to hit Jack Maddocks with a perfectly timed pass on the wing to score. The Brumbies at the 59 minute mark, and with James Slipper now on, had the most dominant scrum of the night. The Brumbies clearly won their race to the middle of the scrum and were lucky not to be called for an early shove. The scrum sunk and drove straight through the Rebels pack with Pete Samu picking from the back of the scrum, being dragged down for Valetini to pick and go over for the try. A great example of the space given to a no.8 when his scrum is going forward and to me shows Slipper brings that slight edge over Sio.


Unfortunately later in the game Alaalatoa was injured and Leslie Leuluaialii-Makin came on as a replacement and consecutively collapsed the scrum 4 times. This gave the Rebels much needed penalties, the first being a quick tap from Genia at the back of the scrum that ran in a try. As Makin continued to hinge at his hips and collapse the scrum, the Rebels continued to use the scrum to their advantage opting to use it as opposed to kicking for the lineout and ran the clock down.

There was also a good contest in the lineouts with the Rebels winning 14 to the Brumbies 15 lineouts won. The Rebels opted to hit Coleman for the majority of the game and was surprised that the Brumbies didn’t pick up on it and man up right next to him. Later in the game when Coleman failed the HIA, the Rebels started to utilise all of their lifters with another good throwing game from Abel and Rangi as did Folau Fainga’a for the Brumbies. Coleman also made the Brumbies work for all of their balls upsetting an early lineout from the Brumbies but the Brumbies utilised their lineout extremely well by throwing between Arnold, Carter and Cusack. Again the Brumbies rely on their strength in the maul which resulted in Fainga’a scoring his 4th try in 4 games.


Matt Gibbon was yellow carded and Tetera Faulkner had to come on with Leota being sidelined, which resulted in Tom English packing in on the side of Faulkner. Genia feeds the ball and bounces back through for a Tighthead to the Brumbies but as the pressure is applied and Alaalatoa and Faulkner come up, English is holding onto the shin of Faulkner, then continues to drive Faulkner under his hip into the scrum as his head comes up. Far out, I thought these backs had half an idea on where to get a bind, but funny nevertheless.



Back at the SCG for the highly anticipated Waratahs v Reds and there was a build-up leading into the game regarding the heritage and the biffo that occurred in the past but I found this game to be a disappointment. It lacked intensity and the opportunity to get one over on your opposite number considering it is a World Cup year.Then there is the playing surface that ripped up upon every scrum and maul but did this really effect the ball being fed in and used?

The front rows of the Waratahs consisted of Harry Johnson-Holmes, Damien Fitzpatrick and Sekope Kepu butting heads with JP Smith, Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Taniela Tupou for the Reds. From the 1st scrum at the 10 minute mark, the surface started to lift up with the pressure being exerted from the scrums. I understand this is Super Rugby and we’re in the professional era expecting professional playing surfaces but you need to play to the conditions that are presented, whether it’s wet, muddy or the surface is rock hard. I don’t think the surface tearing up was the reason for specific scrums collapsing or for referee Glen Jackson making his decisions.

The game consisted of 6 scrum wins to the Waratahs and only 2 scrum wins to the Reds. You would have to be frustrated as a Reds supporter when Jackson made the decision to re-set scrums once or twice when clearly on camera you could see the Waratahs loosehead prop Johnson-Holmes elbow  pointing towards the ground prior to collapsing. On the 3rd set, the Reds would be penalised for an early push, which was correct but the AR is not picking up on the first two collapses which could have resulted in a penalty to the Reds. I counted 4 times a penalty could have been called against the Waratahs for elbows pointing down before pulling the scrum down or shoulders going to ground with Tupou’s body in good shape after the collapse. The Reds were unlucky but Jackson was managing the opposite side of the scrum so it’s hard to know what was occurring on his side for the re-sets.

For the Waratahs, Johnson-Holmes did well staying on the field for 80 minutes and is consistent around the ground but needs to improve on keeping his side of the scrum up. The first 4 scrums resulted in his side collapsing which could be a result of trying to match Tupou’s height in the scrum but needs to work on getting his elbow up. Kepu looks like he’s battling through every game and regardless of scrumming well is dropping a lot of balls. Kepu’s ball handling will have to improve dramatically to be considered for the Wallabies. It was great to see Tatafu Polota-Nau back at hooker and could see the stability he brought to the scrum as well as his tackling around the field. It did look like he had forgotten how to throw the ball in the first two lineouts but this could be the result of learning new lineouts in a couple of days.

Reds v Tahs 2019 SCG Groundsmen (Keith McInnnes) 2

SCG Groundstaff try to repair the surface between scrums (Photo Credit: Keith McInnnes)

For the Reds, Tupou looked like he had good body shape in the scrum but couldn’t get any buy in with the surface pulling up. I also feel that Tupou hasn’t reached his potential with breaking out in the open yet. Whenever he punches through the line he gets ankle tapped or he can’t shake the last defender and I think with a little bit of room, maybe next to Kerevi, he could run as an option like Rodzilla used to punching holes in the backline.

There was a substantial amount of lineouts in this game with the Waratahs winning 8 to the Reds 24. The Waratahs threw all of their lineouts in straight with the Reds having one overthrow in the 1st half and Alex Mafi, the replacement hooker, not throwing in straight on his second throw.

The Waratahs played some great set piece rugby from the lineout with Fitzpatrick hitting Ned Hanigan, bringing the ball down and shifting it to a rampaging Holloway doing what he does best in crashing over the advantage line. The ball was recycled well with Gordon picking up and hitting Hanigan who crashes over the line in one of Hanigan’s best games in a long time.

The Reds replicated the Waratahs try when Paenga-Amosa throws to Harry Hocking in the line out bringing it down into a maul. The maul is defended well by the Waratahs, dismantling the set-up, with Liam Wright making good meters up the middle. Sorovi passes to Scott Higginbotham who inches forward, Sorovi hitting a rampaging Tupou and Samu Kerevi runs in for a pick and drive scoring a fantastic try from the set piece.

The Reds Coach Brad Thorn commented on using their big pack to out scrum the Waratahs and was disappointed in the SCG surface but this needs to be managed within the game. The Waratahs managed it better with Jake Gordon feeding the ball and sweeping as soon as the ball was available. The Waratahs brought more intensity to the game and their defence at times looked impenetrable being the better team on the day. If the Waratahs can get the likes of Simmons, Holloway, Hanigan, Hooper & Dempsey firing with the quality they have in the backline they are a real threat but there’s a long way to go in this season.


There was a great scrum from the Waratahs around the 29 minute mark with the Reds halfback Moses Sorovi feeding the ball into the Reds side of the scrum, but the ball bounces of a leg (I believe it was Paenga-Amosa trying to get his leg up to hook) and the ball sits dead in the middle of the scrum with no one able to left their leg of the ground due to the pressure being applied. This resulted in a penalty kick to the Waratahs for a no hook.



Considering the SCG didn’t allow for much of a contest and the Brumbies were consistent again in the scrum I would have to give Props to Matt Gibbon from the Rebels for his game against the Brumbies. Don’t worry about the yellow card (these things happen) but the shape he maintained throughout the night was excellent. Gibbon’s hips didn’t flare out; he wasn’t angling in, just a solid game from a Loosehead Prop.

  • I was screaming every time Johnson-Holmes’ elbow touched the bloody ground. So frustrating.

    • Brisneyland Local

      I think a lot of us were! Hence why in my post I sledged the Bejesus out of Glenn Jackson

      • Who?

        Let’s be honest, Jackson hasn’t ever reffed a good game. Not just at the scrum…

      • SuckerForRed

        Jackson can’t ref a scrum.

        • Brisneyland Local

          That is for sure SFR. welcome back!

  • Kiwi rugby lover

    Thanks Christian, good analysis. It’s good to see the growth and depth coming through in this area. I still think Tupou needs to stop reading so much press about his skills in running the ball and get better at being the rock in the scrum. I agree with your pick of Matt Gibbon, I think if he continues to improve he could have a great future.

    Michael Alaalatoa is performing well for the Crusaders. He may prove to be one that got away yet, especially if he qualifies for the ABs in the future.

    • T.edge

      I think Tupou body shape has improved every year he’s played but you might be right in reading into the press too much, especially as a school boy prodigy.
      Have a look at who Michael Alaalatoa is training and playing behind. I would have to say every game I’ve watched he has collapsed the scrum but will keep my eye out. If he’s good they will chuck at Pete Samu and bring him back!!!

    • Brumby Runner

      Lomax at the Landers?

      • Nutta

        That was a loss.

  • Cameron Rivett

    This game and article taught me that scrum dominance can’t be the sole basis for a team’s gameplan in the modern game simply because referees don’t understand the scrum well or consistently enough to ensure that the best scrum is rewarded.

    • T.edge

      I think the referees have a better understanding with the Teams working together with the ref’s however you can base your teams game plan around a dominant scrum but your scrum actually has to be dominant first. Its like a team basing their gameplan around their rolling maul, well you’ve got to throw the ball in straight, to the correct lifter,etc etc.
      There’s no team in Australia that could say their scrum is a weapon so I cant understand any coach using this as an excuse.

      • Cameron Rivett

        From what I understand in your article, the Reds won 2 scrums and lost 6. Of those 6, the referee should have awarded a penalty to the Reds in 4 of them. This indicates that they did have a dominant scrum, but were unable to use it due to a lack of referee understanding. The difference with a maul is that a ball being thrown straight is fairly simple to determine for the referee, even if it may be difficult for the team itself to pull off.

        • T.edge

          Sorry, It was meant to mean 6 scrums fed into Tahs and won. Reds only had 2 scrums that they fed the ball and won. So looking at the stats the Waratahs utilised the ball but when there is a penalty or FK, this is not notched up as a win.

  • Who?

    Glad I wasn’t the only one thinking HJH’s elbow was very vertical early in the game. That said, after the Reds’ early shove FK, whilst Tupou continued to cause troubles with body height and bind for HJH, I thought the Tahs started to gain some ascendency. When Tupou was gone, the scrum stopped collapsing. HJH was excellent in open play, making a number of steals.
    But the thing that stood out to me was that it was much like the 2016 series against England. Where we had expected to be dominant, but were befuddled by the surface (especially at AAMI, from memory). We were digging up the ground, they were scrummaging with lots of shorter steps, driving through/around us, and not tearing up the ground at all. Adapting to softer playing surfaces is clearly something we need to get better at.
    And completely agree about scrum of the game in the Festival of Hate – it’s just a shame that scrum ended!!! How awesome was it?! Only thing to note was that it was a FK, not a PK.
    Good article, Mr T.edge. :-)

  • 2bluesfan

    Nice work Christian

  • Brumby Runner

    Very informative analysis T.edge, and heartens me that I picked up on HJH’s elbow that I am getting some (maybe a little) understanding of the scrum intricacies. Was one of my complaints (as an impartial observer in this game) against Jackson in the match thread in the forums.

  • Nutta

    Whilst Tom English hand on shin is giggle-worthy, he still doesn’t come close to Tequiri’s or Beales efforts.

    Fair call on Kepu general skills. I was giving him some benefit of doubt as he was carrying HJH and Fitzy in the scrum and the fatigue was hurting the rest of his game. But that’s not so with TPN. That said, HJH was a lucky guy to stay on-field I thought.

    I agree with your nod to Matt Gibbon. Tupou is developing really well and Sam Talakai had a really solid game against quality opposition. But we love to see an underdog shine through.

    • T.edge

      Yes Talakai has been good at Tighthead for the Reb’s. Really consistent.

      • Who?

        I’ve always said he was underrated in a very strong Reds scrum before this year.


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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