Wallaby scrum gains parity, confidence for test two
As the most experienced prop in the current Wallabies squad, James Slipper knew he was going to be engaged on a familiar topic after the drawn Bledisloe Cup clash in Sydney last night, and for once he discussed the set piece battle with confidence.
"There's always a fair bit of talk about the Wallabies' scrum. I guess that comes with the label of being the Wallabies' scrum," Slipper smiled, who faced an inquisition with the security of being named man-of-the-match after a tense 12-12 slugfest at ANZ Stadium.
The outcome obviously ensured his 52nd cap was not entirely satisfying but Australia's leading loosehead was mightily encouraged by his team's scrummaging effort.
Frequently pinpointed as a weakness, the Wallabies' eight at least gained parity with their more experienced counterparts - a welcome boost ahead of the return match at Eden Park on Saturday.
"We've been working pretty hard on that throughout the last year and we feel we've definitely improved and (the test) was just another example of how far we've come," he said.
Although it was sodden underfoot, the Wallabies scrum held firm to such an extent that South African referee Jaco Peyper enthused about their power following one engagement.
That assessment is a stark contrast to French match official Romain Poite, who basically declared the scrum battle in the deciding British and Irish Lions test in Sydney last year on the strength of Alex Corbisiero's manhandling of Ben Alexander at the opening set piece.
"It was a real tough encounter, a gruelling, rainy test match. With that in mind I thought we definitely improved on where we have been against the All Blacks," he said, after a willing match-up with Owen Franks.
"The one positive we can take forward from is confidence into next weekend."
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie, a World Cup-winning prop in 1991, was also impressed with a pack that featured a hooker, Nathan Charles, making his first start and two-test lock Sam Carter.
Charles did give away a free kick when being in front of the kicker at a restart - and he should have timed a potentially try-scoring pass to Pat McCabe better but his scrum and lineout work was efficient.
"I was quietly confident Nathan Charles would do a good job," McKenzie said.
"I thought the scrum was good, it was the obvious area they were going to take us on. In the last couple of games they've definitely shaded us at times and that wasn't the case."
However, whether the stigma associated with the Wallabies scrum had finally been eradicated last night was a moot point when McKenzie faced the media today.
"I'd like to think our reputation is a little better, but I know in this business we can have two years of good scrummaging and the one bad night at the office .... you guys are going to dust off the headline.
"That's the way it is, all we can do is create a platform where our backs can play."