WHISPER IT, BUT if Australia play their cards right, they can take advantage of New Zealand’s scrum.
Whoever they choose at tighthead next weekend will be looking at Tony Woodcock’s struggles against South Africa with interest, while selecting Scott Sio at loosehead is likely to correct the messiness of James Slipper’s performances so far.
Sio has come off the bench in the wins against both South Africa and Argentina, and barring one poor scrum against the Pumas on Saturday, he has looked far more sturdy than James Slipper, who has offered little in either game.
Kepu enjoyed a respectable performance against South Africa, and he was swapped for Greg Holmes on Saturday, who did equally well in difficult circumstances.
Holmes managed to limit the damage in the first half, when Marcos Ayerza’s blatant crooked drives were going unpunished by referee Jaco Peyper.
This scrum, for example, shows that dramatic change of direction from Ayerza, and how Holmes holds his shape under such incredible pressure. To gain perspective, look how symmetrical the bodies of Holmes and Ayerza are below before the feed, and note how Ayerza is driving parallel to his flanker Javier Ortega Desio.
Once Australia feed the ball, the Argentinean pack use a trigger call for them to all start their drive at the same time. Once that trigger comes, Ayerza immediately pops out his hips, and begins to drive in across the chest of Holmes. You can see how he is almost perpendicular to the scrum, but critically Holmes keeps his hips and shoulders square, ensuring Australia get the ball in and out safely.
It happens again on the next scrum, and once again Holmes shows good patience under real pressure.
Just like last time, we’ll look at the initial set-up, with Ayerza square and straight.
And once again, as soon as the trigger call comes, Ayerza begins to turn inside and drive across the pitch. If Holmes were to try drive forward, the pressure coming in from Ayerza at an angle would force him to turn and ultimately collapse, so some good patience to merely hold his spot ensured Australia get the ball in and out safely.
While Holmes did well in the opening half, James Slipper at loosehead struggled. While we couldn’t see his side of the scrum, the Australian gave away a free-kick and a penalty for driving early, while the opening two scrums saw three resets, all coming from slips on his side of the pack.
He was replaced by Scott Sio just before the break, and while Sio’s first scrum saw a penalty conceded, he’ll be pleased with two dominant drives towards the end of the game.
While it’s difficult to be sure, the Argentinean drive looks to have come from another crooked angle from Ayerza on the far side, with the scrum moving infield before it moves forward; usually a sign of crooked driving.
With Argentina then moving forward, we can see Sio begins to stand up to stop the drive, and ultimately concede a penalty.
However, he showed on his next two scrums that he’s capable of dominance, earning two penalties off replecemant tighthead Matias Diaz.
Sio is powerful and legal, keeping his back flat and his head outside the shoulder of Diaz.
When we look at him mid-drive, we can see how he keeps his body parallel to the ground even as he moves forward, rather than rising and dipping like a lot of props do, and we can also see how Diaz drops his bind onto the arm of Sio, marked with an X.
It’s worth watching the GIF above back again, and watch how Diaz slips the bind, and how Sio keeps his shape
Sio’s final scrum was quite similar, and resulted in the penalty that Tevita Kuridrani ultimately scored from. Again we can see in the circle below how an arm-bind from Diaz tries to pull Sio down.
But once again, he stays upright and straight, with Argentina swinging their hips clockwise and wheeling around to give away the penalty.
Whether Kepu or Holmes gets the nod for the decider, they will look at how Jannie de Plessis caused Tony Woodcock problems on Saturday with interest.
Du Plessis – himself under fire after a poor season in Super Rugby – was arguably South Africa’s most influential player until a knee injury forced him off at half-time.
After two even scrums to begin with, du Plessis earned the first penalty from the set piece after this dominant drive. In the GIF below, watch how New Zealand’s pack begin to turn their hips as du Plessis forces Woodcock backwards.
The replay from the other side of the scrum shows how the All Blacks’ backrow begin pushing the scrum at an angle, which causes it to turn. Their tricks aren’t fooling Jerome Garces, however, and the penalty is awarded.
After getting a roasting on that scrum, Woodcock then found himself pinged for an early free kick. The scrum the followed showed he was rattled, and as such, beginning to try bend the rules.
We can see the set-up as normal, with both players lined up square and straight.
However, once the ball is fed by Aaron Smith, Woodcock begins to change his angle, boring in on du Plessis, who keeps his hips pointing forward and his back straight, which in turn keeps the scrum upright.
Circled, you can Woodcock’s backside jutting out from the side of the scrum, a clear sign the he’s angling in.
Woodcock is lucky not to concede a penalty, and he’s equally lucky on the scrum that follows. He collapses, and it all comes down to his poor initial set-up.
In the still below, we can see clear differences in the positioning of both he and du Plessis.
The Springbok has his back straight, 90 degree angle at the hips and 120 degrees at the knees, with his weight on the front studs.
Woodcock, on the other hand, has his feet planted flat on the ground, meaning his weight isn’t distributed correctly, while his knees are in front of his hips, meaning he’s producing very little power in his legs.
Once du Plessis steps up the pressure as the ball is fed, Woodcock’s limited power ultimately results in him collapsing.
Du Plessis’ knee injury meant he had to depart for debutant Vincent Koch, and South Africa continued to have the measure of things at scrum time.
Dane Coles’ try came off the back of a scrum, but a look back would indicate South Africa were very unlucky not to get a reset.
We can see in the GIF below how Tendai Mtawarira clearly slips, with an accidental slip usually resulting in a reset.
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But most notably, that slip came before Aaron Smith had even fed the ball. Circled, we can see how Smith still has the ball in his hands, despite the scrum having collapsed.
That slip aside, The Beast was looking comfortable, and unlike last week against Australia, Heyneke Meyer resisted the urge to change things around when they were going well.
The following scrum illustrated the pressure New Zealand were under well, with Liam Messam giving Owen Franks an illegal hand. For perspective this is how they set up, with Messam bound legally to the second row of the scrum.
But once the pressure from South Africa comes on, Messam slides up Franks’ and begins driving in on Mtawarira, a dangerous move that is becoming more and more common in the game.
Backrows must have one arm bound to the second row at all times, but as we can see below, Messam has moved so far up the scrum the Owen Franks is no longer visible, the X marking where he should be bound to.
South Africa were now well in control of the scrum, and they were looking dangerous when awarded one five metres out.
Owen Franks was replaced by brother Ben, and with Sam Whitelock in the sin bin, South Africa made their numerical advantage count.
Mtawarira won another penalty after Franks pulled down the bind and flopped to the ground.
This still frame shows how he dropped his bind to the arm, before dropping the scrum.
They opted for the scrum again, and another dominant drive almost sent them over.
Just like Sio earlier on, Mtawarira showed his class with his ability to maintain a straight back while moving forward at speed.
However, a blood injury and a knock to the ribs for Koch caused uncontested scrums for the rest of the game, and South Africa’s best weapon was neutralised.
Substitute Trevor Nyakane may have tighthead experience, but it wasn’t enough to satisfy Garces, who took the sensible – if unfortunate – decision to make the setpiece uncontested.
But while South Africa weren’t able to attack the New Zealand weakness in the final 20 minutes of the game, at least they showed it’s there.
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