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The front rowers who can turn the Wallabies' scrum into a weapon in 2024

By John Ferguson
Zane Nonggorr of the Reds and Allan Alaalatoa of the Wallabies. (Photos by Albert Perez/Getty Images/Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

The Wallabies look set for a higher ceiling than 2023 and Joe Schmidt hasn’t even selected a training squad yet, but one crucial cog in their machine remains an unknown quantity, the scrum.

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It would appear Schmidt’s hiring of the “Scrum Doctor” Mike Cron, all but answers this question, but injuries and a lack of homegrown depth casts doubt on a weaponizable scrum.

Only three of the five Australian sides have had most of their front row stocks made up of Wallaby eligible talent.

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The ACT Brumbies, Melbourne Rebels, and even the NSW Waratahs earlier in the season were well serviced by experienced Aussie talent.

Their scrum success so far are 89.4, 91.7, and 93.0 per cent respectively, meaning they are sitting 11th, 9th, and 6th overall.

Pretty damning considering the injury toll the Waratahs have had this season however, the key metric is the stats before and after having played the Crusaders who are 2nd overall at 97.4 per cent.

Both the Brumbies and the Rebels were demolished against the Canterbury side.

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The two sides sat at 92.8 per cent/8th, and 97 per cent/3rd beforehand, dropping down three spots and several percentage points each at the hand of Rob Penney’s men.

This highlights that the scrum must be looked at before July 6 when the Wallabies take on Wales in Sydney for the first game of the year, and the first match under Schmidt.

Fixture
Internationals
Australia
05:45
6 Jul 24
Wales
All Stats and Data

Starting with the Brumbies, Allan Alaalatoa and James Slipper are all but guaranteed to feature in Schmidt’s plans, as the most experienced Wallaby props.

However, the heavily Wallaby-laden Brumbies’ scrum has received a regular hiding in recent weeks.

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Especially worrying is the fact it’s been against All Blacks props who the duo will face later in the year in the Rugby Championship.

A caveat to this concern is; front rows are not the be-all or end-all of a scrum and with heavier and more experienced locks Slipper and AAA can do the job.

Looking across the other franchises the scrums have been up and down.

The Waratahs have zero continuity, having to pick undercooked props from clubland due to a unprecedent injury run to their props.

Contrastingly, the Rebels stocks are healthy and are the only all-Australian front row which have been able to bully sides at scrum time consistently.

Sam Talakai, Taniela Tupou, Jordan Uelese, Alex Mafi, Isaac Kailiea and Matt Gibbon have regularly weaponised the scrum and given their side a foothold in games where the team previously would’ve been out of the contest.

The other two franchises the Western Force and the Queensland Reds are heavily reliant on international talent.

Apart from Reds’ duo Sef Fa’agase and Zane Nonggorr the two teams don’t appear to have Wallaby-eligible Test-ready props on hand.

This brings into focus how limited the onshore propping stocks are.

After loosehead props, hooker is the other front row position where domestic talent is in short supply.

Matt Faessler is throwing to one of the most efficient lineouts in the competition at the Reds, where his work rate and rugby nous will not have gone unnoticed by Schmidt.

Uelese is having one of his best and most consistent years for the Rebels, and it may be enough to earn him a spot in the squad.

Eddie Jones last year liked Uelese because of his size and he’s using it to generate great go-forward ball for the Melbourne-based side.

His work with Rebels’ lineout coach Geoff Parling who has recently been appointed the same role for the Wallabies, may also see him favoured for a spot.

The Wallaby incumbent, Dave Porecki, hasn’t played a single minute in Super Rugby Pacific 2024 and therefore cannot be considered as a viable option heading into a test series where cohesion will be key.

Behind these two hookers, the Test-ready stocks are thin: Billy Pollard, Tom Horton, and Josh Nasser are all vying for spot, with Pollard the only capped member of the bunch and is the likely next cab off the rank.

While there are a couple overseas candidates who could shore-up the scrum, especially at loosehead and hooker, the immediate concern must be; who takes the field against Wales and Georgia in July?

In lieu of injured Angus Bell and Blake Schoupp, Gibbon is the most logical choice to be Slipper’s deputy at loosehead, having the most experience and game time under his belt in 2024.

Although Talakai is usually a tighthead, shifting him to loosehead could solve some immediate depth issues, seeing as the tighthead stocks are relatively stable.

The versatile veteran can and has played both sides of the scrum and has even filled in at hooker.

It’s the type of versatility that bodes well for a battered player pool.

The left field option is to select the 28-year-old Alex Hodgman who is Australia eligible.

Hodgman is both a great player in his own right and comes with a wealth of experience, as well as prior time under Cron as scrum coach.

His work ethic and ability to get over the ball are also great attributes to have at test-level.

Despite the injury toll, the Wallabies from a front row perspective will be able to rely on their scrum against Wales and Georgia.

A loosehead trio of Slipper, Gibbon and Talakai/Hodgman along with hookers Faessler, Uelese, Pollard partnered with tightheads Alalaatoa, Tupou and Talakai/Nonggorr should quell Wallaby fan’s concerns.

As previously mentioned, who features at lock will also have a major part to play in how the Wallaby scrum performs, however, looking at just the props, the Wallabies along with the Scrum Doctor will be able to weaponize their scrum in 2024.

Watch the exclusive reveal-all episode of Walk the Talk with Ardie Savea as he chats to Jim Hamilton about the RWC 2023 experience, life in Japan, playing for the All Blacks and what the future holds. Watch now for free on RugbyPass TV

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Comments

7 Comments
P
Perthstayer 26 days ago

Another year of Slipper and another year of going backwards and coughing up penalties.

As for big 2nd row argument, it was no use to him on NH 2022 tour when he gave away an absurd amount of penalties.

He's been a hero, but Nadal and Murray have been knocked out in Paris as they have carried on too long.

J
Jasyn 27 days ago

‘eligible’ is fast becoming Aussies favourite word when it comes to the Wallabies.

J
JD Kiwi 27 days ago

I suppose that a water pistol is technically a weapon…

j
john 27 days ago

I am sick to death of these kiwi props playing for the Reds constantly trying to cheat at rucks, like all kiwis do and constantly giving away penalties. Sick to death of it.
We should not be letting kiwis drag Australian rugby down, again.
Having a Cron coach the Force is bad enough.

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