Dark days fading for Aussie scrum

It may take a little while longer before they’re able to change the opinions of their northern hemisphere foes, but the Wallabies insist the “dark days” of their scrum struggles are gone.

Under the tutelage of scrum doctor Mario Ledesma, Australia have made strides in recent months – not enough to correct rusted-on views north of the equator, but enough to turn some heads at the Rugby World Cup.

While Australia’s backline, led by brilliant fullback Israel Folau, is the envy of world rugby – it is the scrum which is always a talking point when they travel north.

The uncontested scrum debacle at Twickenham a decade ago still lingers in the memories of England fans, while last year’s spring tour – the first under head coach Michael Cheika – hardly dispelled the concerns surrounding the Wallabies pack.

“We’ve had some dark days,” tighthead prop Sekope Kepu admits.

“(But) Cheik was trying to start that revolution at the end of last year.”

Following Australia’s 26-17 loss to England at Twickenham in November last year, Cheika lamented that his maligned scrum was being more harshly judged because of its errors in years gone by.

“Because they (England) have a good reputation, we have to improve ours if we are going to get the rub of the green on those interpretation calls,” he said.

Recruiting Ledesma, an 84-Test veteran at hooker with Argentina, was the biggest step he made – starting with the Waratahs and their double days of scrummaging during the Super Rugby season.

“It’s all about building that attitude and attrition for it,” Kepu said.

“I can say the mindset is changing, you can never be happy with where you are because there’s one scrum you knock off and you get knocked over.

“We’re working towards that consistency and whatever we’ve done in the All Blacks games, that’s dead and buried.

“We can’t think that we’re there yet, we’re far from it.

“I can’t say if they respect us yet or not.

“I’m just saying that we’re happy with the way we’re going, but we’re tracking slowly and building towards consistency.”

Kepu’s potential front-row partner, Queensland captain James Slipper, is enjoying the scrum revival but is all too aware that the only important results will be the ones which come on the field.

“I’ve been in the Wallabies for six years now and we’ve been pretty much hammered every year in the scrum,” he said.

“To get a bit of slack on it at the moment is good, but we know it’s going to be a lot more intensified come game time.

“And that’s when we’re going to have to perform. It’s not about talking about it – it’s about doing it.”

Their first test comes against Fiji in Cardiff on Wednesday against an underrated scrum which held its own against the might of England, who most regard as having the strongest pack at the World Cup.

Ledesma has had an eye on Fiji’s progress over the past 12 months and says it was no surprise that they put pressure on England.

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