New scrum calls in Test spotlight
The Australians were ready to claim the early bragging rights, while across the Tasman Sea New Zealand adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude.
The Australians were ready to claim the early bragging rights, while across the Tasman Sea New Zealand adopted a 'wait-and-see' attitude towards the influence of the new scrum engagement sequence.
The sequence - which went from 'crouch-touch-set' to a 'crouch-bind-set' - has already been introduced at domestic level, particularly in South Africa's Currie Cup, and some pre-season matches.
However, Saturday's Rugby Championship opener between the Wallabies and All Blacks in Sydney will be the new engagement process's first big test on the international stage.
The All Blacks, who had a trial with the new sequence in a practice match against Canterbury and Wellington last Friday, said they will continue to put their scrum under the spotlight this week as they prepare to use the new laws in a Test for the first time.
However, the message the Wallaby camp is that they believe the laws will benefit them.
Desperate to salvage respect for Australian scrummaging after the annihilation of their set piece at the hands of the British and Irish Lions in the third Test last month, the Wallabies believe the new will shift the balance away from raw power and back towards technical prowess.
Wallabies set-piece coach Andrew Blades said the change would suit the side's focus on the scrum as a whole-of-unit effort.
''It will go back a little to what it was maybe 10 or 15 years ago in terms of guys technically having to learn how to create a drive together as a unit, off a standing start,'' Blades said.
''Because we haven't been one of the bigger packs in the world, that pure smacking in off the engagement is something that's worked against us.
''Whereas now, it's going to become a more technical scrummaging area and that's where our guys will be able to adapt and get into a good position off the engagement. It will be a lot more about combination.''
In contrast the All Blacks' attitude has been one of 'wait-and-see'.
The forwards, apart from the Chiefs players, had their first workout under the new sequence in the practice match against Wellington and Canterbury.
However, assistant coach Ian Foster said it's a must to have it ready for referee Craig Joubert's command on Saturday.
"They can't afford to be lenient, because there's new rules and I think they'll be looking to set their expectations quite strong early so that they get adherence from the players so we're expecting the new laws to be reffed just like the old laws."
All Black coach Steve Hansen said the chance to test new scrum sequence in last Friday's double-header training match proved invaluable.
Hansen said the two 40-minute games gave his players a good chance to test-drive the new sequence.
"To go into a Test match with new scrum laws that you've never played before would have been a nightmare," he said.
Wallaby coach Ewen McKenzie also said there was a high degree of ''crystal ball'' work to be done around the scrum, because little was known about how the changes would affect the game.
''Guys who are physically strong and co-ordinated will be able to adapt to these new laws a bit better,'' Blades said.
''Over the past couple of years, teams have hit, put the ball in straight away and it's been a real power thing off the engagement.
''Now it's going to come down to guys being able to actually generate power from a standing start. So big strong guys like [Anae], if they can get their technique right, should be able to prosper.''
The Australian scrum can't take a trick. The cumulative effects of superior performances such as the November Test against England at Twickenham last year and the second Lions Test in Melbourne can be washed away with one bad game.
Blades believes the Lions used that to their advantage during the third Test, when the Wallabies fell foul of referee Romain Poite and his assistant, Craig Joubert, time and again.
''Teams have used that as an advantage to set referees up and say 'we feel like we want to dominate, if things go wrong we want to get the benefit of the doubt','' he said.
''We've worked hard to work that away but when that tactic is used, and you have a poor performance, then it's easy to settle into that pattern again.
''[Poite] referees not to the law book but to the feel of who he feels is dominating mentally and physically in the game.
''They were allowed to do things that you wouldn't get away with in other games. But we knew it was coming and we didn't adapt to it. That was the disappointing thing.''
Sources: NZN & Sydney Morning Herald