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A tale of two scrums

Which lily-livered former back said the scrum was not important?

Well, I hope they were watching the All Blacks v France and Australia v Ireland Test matches this weekend.

Both games pivoted on vital scrums. The French were well and truly in the game, leading 11-8 at halftime and were playing superbly, shutting down the All Blacks across the field.

But then, their scrum was detonated in the 48thminute and it was all downhill from there. The deflation of France was quickly added to with a lineout turnover in the 49th minute and a dubious yellow card for a head high tackle in the 50th minute.

The All Blacks kicked up a gear and scored 44 unanswered points from the 52nd minute to win handsomely 52-11.  But the rot started for me when the French scrum suddenly disintegrated in the, which marked the point where Les Bleus put up the white flag.

Though not as significant as the sudden collapse of the French scrum, the Wallabies scrum in the 67th minute still proved very important.

The game was in the balance until the Wallabies literally drove back the Irish scrum at pace, completely dominating them. The Wallaby scrum, so maligned in Europe, dominating the best Northern Hemisphere had to offer.

This gave a huge lift to the players – with Ireland leading 9-8 at this stage – as the Wallabies went on to win 18-9.

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Credit the French for providing the blueprint for beating the All Blacks; any team playing them this year will look to that first half for guidance.

Michael Cheika will be studying this period of great French play with interest.

First of all, you must have parity in scrums, lineouts and re-starts, in which the French were rock solid.

You must then dominate the tackle area. The French first-up tackles were superb, they were driving the All Black ball carriers back behind the gain line, stopping the quick ball and shutting down their up-tempo game.

The French forwards were combative and very physical at the breakdown. Wallabies take note, the pick and go still exists and is not illegal, Les Bleus employed it with great effect.

The French rush defence from set piece and phase play paired with the big-hitting first up tackles lasted for 48 minutes, shutting down All Black attacking options and any thought of an up-tempo game.

If I was in charge of Ireland for the second test in Melbourne next weekend, I would also look to the example of the first half French performance to shut down the Wallabies.

The Irish need to limit the Wallabies width and slow their up-tempo game. They need their rush defence to be rock solid and make first-up tackles to deny reaching the gain line.

The Wallabies never attack near the ruck so the Irish just need to stack one pass off and belt the ball carrier back. The Irish also have a good lineout and can pinch some turnovers in that area.

The Irish should – like the French – load the ruck and pick and go. One pass off the ruck for 19 phases like the Brisbane test is easy to defend for the Wallabies; the Australian teams do it every weekend in Super Rugby.

As for who stood out among the Wallabies, David Pocock was superb last night.

I don’t like his politics, but he can certainly play. His 49th minute turnover was a standout and stopped a dangerous Irish attack in its tracks.

I think the disallowing of Folau’s try in the 60th minute was a disgrace and reinforces my impression that those running the game would like handbags at 10 paces for the direction of rugby.

Adam Coleman tackled a decoy runner in back play and referee Marius van der Westhuizen deemed it dangerous play. The incident had no effect on the try and it is debatable whether it was dangerous. A woeful decision and no doubt would have features in the news if the Wallabies had lost.

Next week in Melbourne is the second test, where the Irish will be looking to level the series.

The Irish will do their homework and come back stronger; I’m predicting a very tight game again and one that will be hard to pick.

The All Blacks take on France in Wellington next weekend for their second test, where I think they will pile on a half-century once again.

In other news:

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