As Fiji prepares for the trials next month and with the selectors looking at a front row that should provide at least 80 percent of possession from our own scrums in France it is quite refreshing to read news of other nations facing the same woes.
Australia A who began to attack our scrums from the word go and then pulverize them in the second half have problems of their own; in their main team.
According to All Black front row specialist Richard Loe, the Wallabies side have a long way to go in their front row problems looking at the Tri Nations match which doubles as a Bledisloe Cup match on Saturday in Melbourne.
Loe, who won 49 Test caps, has rubbished claims that the Wallaby front row has resurrected itself after a solid showing against the Springboks in their narrow loss at Newlands on June 16.
Loe, writing for the New Zealand Herald says that “regardless of what people are saying” the Wallabies have failed to add any significant depth and talent to their front row stocks which would see them better off than they have been in that department for the last three years.
Loe believes the All Blacks will still retain a massive advantage over Australia upfront when the two sides meet in Melbourne this Saturday.
“You can’t even begin to compare the likes of Al Baxter and Matt Dunning with Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock.
“They’ve been talking Dunning up in particular, saying he played superbly, and John Connolly said he came of age.
“To my way of thinking any prop can play the first 40 to 60 minutes and keep up. The acid test comes in the last quarter; that takes its toll on any player in any position.
“When Australia were hard on defence in those last minutes, when the Springboks landed those drop goals which were by no means a fluke, the front rowers, and especially Dunning, were quite lethargic and not doing much work at all.
“It’s still a problem area for them. They haven’t got depth and they haven’t got a good top-tier of players.”
And Loe does not believe Rodney Blake, known as ‘Rodzilla’ for his size and strength in Australia, will be the answer to any of the Wallabies’ concerns.
Loe contrasts this with the upcoming front row talent in New Zealand.
“Even Rodney Blake, who played in the ‘A’ test against the Junior All Blacks last weekend, looked out of his depth. He’s a good to average young prop but he’s been out most of the season and he’s still inexperienced.
“Is there a good thing you can say about the Wallabies? If you’re looking solely at the front row then, no, there is not.
“Turn the question on to New Zealand. I’ve been asked a lot, ‘What if we lose Carl Hayman?’
“Yes, he brings a lot to the team, he’s a great leader, he works well and he’s a superb lineout lifter, but if he went off and Neemia Tialata came on we lose very little. Tialata is a great tackler, does his work around the field and scrums well. You might lose two or three inches in the lineout lifting but that’s all.
“If you look around the props in the Tri Nations, Tialata is as good, if not better than anything outside of New Zealand. If you look at it that way, we’re very well off. It’s not like the locks, they’re all intact and playing well.
“John Schwalger looks a good prospect. He’s mobile and if he stays in the system a bit longer his fitness will improve greatly. He’s got a future but in saying that we’re only judging him against the Canadians and there should be a dozen props in New Zealand that could have done a job against them.
“The Wallabies though, they’ve barely got three that could do the job.”
So even though Fiji’s problems in the front row is gigantic compared to the few glitches these big teams face; at least we can run them off their feet and use our strength in the running game when we employ quick input, output scrums.
Caption: Fiji’s forwards mix it up with the Junior All Blacks at the national stadium in Suva. Photo: GREG TAYLOR