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If the All Blacks can’t scrummage, they can’t win

By Hamish Bidwell
New Zealand's Cam Roigard (2L) at the scrum during the pre-World Cup Rugby Union match between New Zealand and South Africa at Twickenham Stadium in west London, on August 25, 2023. (Photo by Ian Kington / AFP via Getty Images)

If you can’t scrummage, you can’t win.

I know that’s not sexy.

I know we’re meant to waffle on about Plan Bs and skill-execution, in the wake of the All Blacks’ humbling defeat to South Africa at Twickenham.


We’re meant to lament referees and TMOs and wonder aloud about who might dominate the Rugby World Cup.

But the bald facts are that if your set-pieces are no good and your tight five gets towelled up, there’s not a lot else you can do to be competitive.

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Losing 35-7 to the Springboks wasn’t good. Equally, the game doesn’t count. It’s a friendly, a marketing exercise, a tune up.

I’ve worked on the basis of credit where it’s due with the All Blacks this season.

There was nothing creditable about their performance against South Africa and that’s on the locks and front row.

If they’re no good, the loose forwards are no good. If your scrum and lineout are under pressure, your backs are left to scramble.

The thing that’s earned the All Blacks praise this year has been their physicality.


The tight five hasn’t been pushed around too often. Teams haven’t had their way with New Zealand at ruck and maul time.

There has, instead, been a ferocity from the All Blacks at collision time that’s created a platform from which the loose forwards – and everyone else – could play.

It would be easy to pick holes in Saturday’s loose trio. To wonder about the option-taking of Aaron Smith and Richie Mo’unga.

I mean, an up-and-under from an attacking lineout on the opposition 22 probably is a low point for All Blacks playmaking.


But that’s all down to the dudes up front, not necessarily Smith, who was the culprit on that occasion.

I could go through guys in the backline who made bad decisions or didn’t cope with South Africa’s defensive pressure.

Again, that’s on the boys in jumpers one to five.

If this was the pattern of the season, if the All Blacks had been bullied all year, then I’d be pessimistic about their Rugby World Cup prospects.

Sure, there’s a blueprint for beating New Zealand. We know that and the team knows that.

But, up until London last Saturday, they’d played with the vigour to combat the barrage of physicality and line speed everyone knows is coming.

If your scrum goes backwards or hits the deck repeatedly, you’re stuffed. Refs will ping you and your opponents will heap pressure on your playmakers.

The same applies if you can’t win clean lineout ball.

Prior to this season, I would’ve said the problems in the pack were endemic. That no matter how talented the team might be, it simply didn’t have the grunt to be competitive.

The All Blacks – in particular the tight five – have largely shown me otherwise this year.

It’s up to them to do the same again now.


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Gerald 276 days ago

I feel the ABs scrum is fine. They need to get Lomax back ASAP. I have watched the last game or two( we should exclude the Boks game as they were down to 7 and 6 for a large part), especially against t France, and felt Ethan was pinged unfairly. To be honest I thought he had the big man under pressure. What the ABs do need is ALL their big dogs on the field in the big games. Lomax, Codie, Ethan, would then have Scott and Brodie with Sam on bench. Issue still is make up of loosies but let’s have Cane and Ardie, and need to get Frizzell back on the park. Also need bench make up as good as can be. That pack will be ok in scrum, and should be competitive for 60 mins. Then they need bench to see it home. I say the above but am a Saffa through and through, but just feel the ABs and their make up in last few games has been bloody unlucky. They are going to still have a big say in the QF.

Brian 291 days ago

I have no doubt the ABS will bounce back and fix the things that went awry in this “friendly”. What I respect most about the team is that they play for 80 mins and usually they are better conditioned. So that friendly was a one off. The game is so tight now that I’d be surprised if any of the top 5 teams currently can replicate that eight games in a row. What’s going to be telling is how they perform against France in that tournament opener. I can’t wait. Let the games begin.

Nickers 291 days ago

The worst thing about the ABs vs SA game is that every pundit in the world now feels the need to analyse it. Could the ABs have had any less to play for? The ABs forwards have had the better of the SA forwards in a majority of games they have played in this WC cycle. No one ever wrote the SA forwards off afterwards as not being able to scrummage, compete at the breakdown etc...

Let's save all the speculation until one of these teams is on the plan home.

Cooper 291 days ago

Can Win Rugby World cup or Can't

mitch 291 days ago

The Wallabies scrum dominated France so the ABs should be okay against France at least.

Greg 292 days ago

It's a fairly obvious response to blame the tight 5 if your scrum's being penalised - and yes, they have to cop it. But if your loosies are outweighed by 35 kgs, then the scrum is going to suffer, and if the tallest loosie is 1.91 (against 2 metre Pieter - not to mention Ollivon to come) then your 3rd option in the line-out is also severely compromised. We can't keep going into these big games with these short, lightweight loosies. Yes, Frizzell is a huge loss, compounded by the ABs not taking another loosie like Finau, but what's done is done and Fossie has to accept that Big Frizz is not around and find some other options, to power up our loosies.

Toddy 292 days ago

Glad someone has highlighted the scrum. If you concede a penalty every single time because the forwards are too weak you've got Buckley's chance of success. That was like a men's team against a high school 2nd. If they continue in that vein then it's all over come qf time.

Forward pass 292 days ago

Yes if you can't scrummage with 6 against 8 and a 9th person heavily favouring the 8 you can't win a world cup.

Henry 292 days ago

I remember watching the final in RWC 2019. Boks started pushing the England scrum around … I knew it was a lost game for England

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