Canterbury steeled to alleviate Counties-Manukau scrum pressure
Kalolo Tuiloma has trimmed down, but he's still a sizeable impediment for Canterbury as they put their heads together to defend the national provincial championship.
Tuiloma has shed 40 kilograms but he still bookends as imposing Counties Manukau front row, the heaviest in the Mitre 10 Cup, and one that exerted rare pressure on the Canterbury eight last weekend in Pukekohe.
While the towering tighthead tips the scales at a possibly conservative 140kg, he is well supported by former All Black hooker Hika Elliot and Pauliasi Manu, a World Cup winner who is equipped to make a more meaningful contribution to the Steelers' championship aspirations.
Although Counties Manukau ran in five tries to confirm to qualify fourth for the Premiership semifinals, tightening Canterbury's defensive systems is not the only priority as Scott Robertson and his coaching staff plot to avenge a 33-21 defeat when the teams meet again at AMI Stadium on Sunday.
The scrum is assistant Jason Ryan's domain and he admitted some technical and mental refinements were required before Alex Hodgman, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi and possibly Oli Jager confront a Steelers front row that caused Canterbury issues for the first time this season.
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Although Canterbury took an early tighthead the Steelers pack regrouped and drew several scrum penalties to relieve pressure, prompting a post-match discussion between Robertson and referee Mike Fraser.
"The battle went both ways. We had some good scrums and so did they," said Robertson, before pointing out: "They've got the most [scrum] resets in the comp."
"We were really focused on keeping it up. We didn't quite do that and that's how the ref saw it."
Ryan also referenced the number of scrums reset involving the Steelers when putting the onus on his front three - and the remainder of the eight - to placate the match officials.
"The big focus for us this week will be stability. They've had a lot of resets. We hate that. We don't want any scrum to go down. We work hard on staying up. That's our whole mindset, to stay up and scrum."
Until last weekend Canterbury's scrum had played a crucial role in earning decisive penalties – the successful challenge for the Ranfurly Shield in Hamilton and the following victory against Taranaki both featured late three-pointers earned via the set piece.
However, the Steelers were on the receiving end at ECOLight Stadium, prompting a Ryan-led rethink.
"We can sat sit back and whinge or we can adapt. The big thing for us is adapting and scrummaging what's in front of us.
"We've got to be a little bit smarter in that area, a little bit more patient and accurate."
Ryan said the bulk of the Steelers pack was imposing at 940-odd kilos but technically they were also astute, especially Manu.
"Pauliasi is a very smart scrummager. He's played a lot of Super Rugby, he's been in that All Black environment [as non-playing injury cover in the World Cup squad] as well.
"He really picks and chooses his moments, he's one of the most destructive looseheads in the country."
Lienert-Brown, who rotates with Hodgman on the loosehead side, was confident the Canterbury pack would bounce back.
"It's always been a weapon. We've got quite an attacking mindset and if we scrum the way we want to it'll definitely help a lot."
The squad had a light run on Tuesday and train again on Wednesday before the most intense session is held at Rugby Park on Friday, before the team is named.