The All Black front row comes together for the first of the new Rugby Championship matches this week when they meet Australia in Sydney on the 18th. The only changes from the Irish test series are the inclusion of Aucklander Charlie Faumuina, at the expense of Chiefs giant Ben Tamiafuna who was called in during the mid-season internationals when Faumuina was injured.
More than likely Steve Hansen will go with the old tried and true firm of Franks, Franks, and Woodcock (no, not a Law Firm), with Hore and Mealamu hooking. But the depth at prop in New Zealand at the moment is plain to see with new blood in the form of Tamifuna, Faumunia and Wyatt Crockett all spending time in the All Blacks squad this year.
The first test should tell us a lot. It will be interesting to see how the refs control the scrums and award penalties for the new competition. The All Black front row will be decked out in the new adidas Kakari rugby boots as they continue to develop a reliable, powerful base in the post-Brad Thorn era of scrummaging. Early in the Super XV season there was talk about Owen Franks being less effective without Thorn’s considerable strength behind him. But lately his, and his brother’s, form has been up near it’s best as they took care of the Tongan beast Sona Taumalolo in their semi-final defeat against the Chiefs three weeks ago.
The new inclusions, Crockett and Faumuina, are both class players. Crockett’s time at international level has been limited by his tendency to draw a lot of penalties. But over the past two seasons his form on the loosehead side has rightfully grabbed more attention. Faumuina’s versatility saw him get the nod ahead of his rivals. Similarly built to Owen Franks, he’s regarded by the coaching staff as one of the few Blues players to standout this year.
The biggest test looks like it will come from the Springboks, with the likes of ‘The Beast’ Tendai Mtawarira, and their own front row siblings Bismarck, and Jannie Du Plessis. Even with talk of Bakkies Botha coming back to top up their injured locking options, with a hooker and props of that calibre, they can arguably go into the Rugby Championships tagged as the best front row. Comparisons aside, they rank an 11 on a scale of one-to-terrifying.
Australia’s front row hasn’t been particularly consistent during their time under ‘Dingo’ Deans. There were some signs of consistency against the Welsh in the June tests, but certainly nothing that positions them as a force at set piece. On the same scale of terror as the Boks they’re about a four, warranting only the amount of fear one gets when they decide to skip washing their hands after going to the toilet.
Fans should be excited at the prospect of seeing the All Blacks and Springboks taking on Argentina up front. Always big, and always technically very good, they will probably look to use the mighty ‘Bajada’ scrum as a key part of their strategy. Scrummaging skills are practiced by players from a young age, who by the time they reach the professional level have excellent technical skills and remarkable toughness. We don’t get to see enough of Los Pumas in action against the best teams, so if they can get their top players back from club duty in Europe, being a part of this competition could be great for their profile and give them regular top level experience against which to hone their already considerable tight five skills. It shouldn’t be a surprise if we see them teach the more favoured sides a lesson or two at scrum time. It’s not worth trying to give their front row a mark on the fear scale though. That could just make them angry.