By Brendan Cole
Australia head coach Ewen McKenzie believes the scrum should be a simple way of restarting play, rather than a tactical source of penalties that alienates fans.
Aside from refereeing errors that arguably cost Australia victory against England, the scrum has been the main source of angst for Australia on this tour.
The Wallabies conceded five penalties and two free kicks at the scrum in the England match. And while they coasted to a 50-20 victory over Italy, they were penalised nine times at scrums during that match as well.
McKenzie was so unhappy with the handling of the scrum at Twickenham that he wrote a public letter of complaint to the International Rugby Board highlighting perceived inconsistencies and unfairness against Australia.
"We scrum to get the ball so we can play and other teams scrum to generate penalties" - Ewen McKenzie
According to McKenzie, Australia are able to win their own ball cleanly at the scrum. The problem arises on the opposition put-in.
Speaking to a group of journalists after yesterday’s Australia team announcement, he said: “There are definite tactics coming into the game now in terms of holding the ball in and scrumming. If you’re looking for a philosophical point of view, we (Australia) scrum to get the ball so we can play and other teams scrum to generate penalties.”
Ireland used their scrum to good effect last week against Samoa and the phase also proved vitally important the last time Australia and Ireland met, with Mike Ross, Cian Healy and Rory Best laying the foundation for a famous Irish victory at RWC 2011.
McKenzie has left Ben Alexander, perceived to be one of Australia’s best scrum operators, on the bench this weekend with James Slipper, Stephen Moore and Sekope Kepu set to start. The breakdown, rather than the scrum, was the focus during his comments on team selection.
The length of time taken up by scrummaging and its impact on the game as a spectacle are the other issues the former international prop has with the current state of play.
He added: “We’ll continue to scrum to get possession for the backs to play. It’s the one time in the game where you get backs seven on seven and all the forwards in one spot and it is the one chance for the crowd to see backline play as we remember it.
“If a team adopts a strategy to scrum for penalties, you’re actually denying the fanbase the chance to see some fine players play."