Australia's scrummaging machine faces hard week
Wales 16 Australia 25
Monday 08 November 2010
Australia are the great entertainers of world rugby. Their dancing backs are a joy to behold and their collapsing scrum is a laughing stock. Certainly at their gig on Saturday it was gasps of wonder and giggles all round before the Welsh crowd were forced out into the evening air to confront the realities of yet another Tri-Nations humbling.
The Wallabies will head for their next tour stop in south-west London on the weekend knowing that it may not be so easy to carry the show with a bunch of mud-tasting clowns. One Australian commentator described the task ahead as only an Aussie could. "Heads down, bums up. For the next few days those guys should be sticking their bonces between buttocks."
The scrummaging machine at their training ground is in for a hard week, although unless they make a rapid improvement then it may well come out on top. Goodness knows what the England front-row could do to them; but then, we had a taste of that with the red rose victory in Sydney in June. Once Martin Johnson sees the tapes of this shambles, he will be hopeful of a repeat.
To counter what Matthew Rees, the Wales captain, called "an obvious weakness", Robbie Deans made a phone call to Tatafu Polota-Nau on Saturday night. The hooker travels out, ostensibly to provide cover for a hooker crisis which saw first-choice Stephen Moore pull out with a back injury before the game and then Saia Fainga'a with a thigh complaint. But Polota-Nau is 18st and powerful and, despite not playing internationally this year because of an ankle injury, provides obvious bulk.
When Polota-Nau arrives today he will need no telling of what to expect at HQ, but also at Leicester for tomorrow's match. "Of course they're going to be looking at our scrum," said the loosehead Benn Robinson. "We definitely can't be having that going forward. It's just not acceptable." Robinson went on to provide some explanation of why it was Wayne Barnes felt obliged to award Wales seven penalties at the repeatedly collapsed set-piece.
The previous Saturday, in their Hong Kong win over New Zealand, the referee Alain Rolland continually penalised them for engaging early and Robinson claimed this had played on the front row's minds here. As Deans emphasised, Australia spent all afternoon being beaten to the hit, and although he suspects that referees over-penalise the Aussie scrum because of its reputation, he is confident they can remedy the fault.
"You can see when we get a nice clean hit we can definitely put some pressure on," said Robinson. "It won't take much for our scrum to change around or adjust to make sure that we're on top of it." If they do, then England must beware. "Australia are deadly behind the scrum," said the Wales wing, Shane Williams. "We knew that beforehand, but knowing it and stopping it are two different things." Indeed, the back three were simply scintillating and in Kurtley Beale they possess the world's most exciting full-back. Inside they aren't too shabby, either, and although Quade Cooper, at fly-half, saw too many cute passes go to ground, his attacking influence is undeniable. Despite suffering in terms of possession, Australia made three times as many clean line-breaks as their counterparts, ran twice the number of metres with ball in hand and ultimately scored three tries to one.
For the Dragonhood they make alarming statistics that should douse some of the optimism swirling around the camp on Saturday night. Granted, it was a dominating performance up front but their inability to convert that into anything other than a late, scrum-induced try for replacement scrum-half Riche Rees was evidence of the lack of a cutting edge and the absence of any strength in depth. Afterwards, the Welsh management spoke of having five Lions missing. "If we can get them fit we will be a strong team," said the defence coach, Shaun Edwards.
For now, they will look to Lee Byrne to return from a broken hand this week and his impact could be two-fold against South Africa. First, he runs the angles from full-back to threaten any defence and secondly James Hook can return to the midfield position where his talents will not be wasted.
"It will go down as another chance blown against a southern hemisphere side but feeling sorry for ourselves isn't an option," said Williams. "I expect us to be better against South Africa. The Springboks are more direct and forward-orientated than Australia, they try to out-muscle teams. But our boys were magnificent up front."
Wales: Tries R Rees; Conversions Biggar; Penalties S Jones 3. Australia: Tries Pocock, Beale, Alexander; Conversions O'Connor 2; Penalties O'Connor 2.
Wales J Hook (Ospreys); W Harries (Dragons), T Shanklin (Blues), A Bishop (Ospreys), S Williams (Ospreys); S Jones (Scarlets), M Phillips (Ospreys); G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues), M Rees (Scarlets, capt), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), A-W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Dragons), S Warburton (Blues), J Thomas (Ospreys). Replacements M Williams (Blues) for Warburton, 66; D Biggar (Ospreys) for S Jones, 66; R Rees (Blues) for Phillips, 66; P James (Ospreys), 75; D Jones (Blues) for A-W Jones, 75; C Czekaj (Blues) for Shanklin, 75.
Australia: K Beale (Waratahs); J O'Connor (Western Force), A Ashley-Cooper (Brumbies), M Giteau (Brumbies), D Mitchell (Waratahs); Q Cooper (Queensland), W Genia (Queensland); B Robinson (Waratahs), S Faingaa (Queensland), B Alexander (Brumbies), M Chisholm (Brumbies), N Sharpe (Western Force), R Elsom (Brumbies, capt), D Pocock (Western Force), B McCalman (Western Force). Replacements: H Edmonds (Brumbies) for Fainga'a, 54; B Barnes (Waratahs) for Giteau, 68; D Mumm (Waratahs), R Brown (Western Force), L Burgess (Waratahs), L Turner (Waratahs).
Referee: W Barnes (England).
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