Three Points
Wallabies now have scrum to challenge
Brett McKay
August 20, 2015
Another year, another Bledisloe Cup -winning campaign for New Zealand © Getty Images
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After the glow of The Rugby Championship, Wallabies fans came crashing back to earth with yet another Bledisloe Cup mauling at Eden Park. Just when things were looking up, the All Blacks hit their groove in the most spectacular fashion, though, as Greg Growden wrote so cuttingly on Monday, the Wallabies perhaps didn't help themselves. And in Argentina, South Africa made short work of Los Pumas with Patrick Lambie throwing down a playmaking gauntlet that Heyneke Meyer might just find irresistible. Here are a three points to stick out from the weekend, and with eye ahead now to the Rugby World Cup.

Australia's scrum is ready for the north

If there's one thing Wallabies fans should be very happy about in 2015, it's the performance of the scrum throughout The Rugby Championship and Bledisloe Cup.

Against three of the very best scrummaging teams in world rugby, the Wallabies' eight not just held their own but even dominated on times. I can't recall the last time a Wallabies pack forced the All Blacks to concede a scrum penalty five metres from their try line, but it happened and the scrum was a major factor in the 27-19 win in Sydney. Similarly, the Wallabies' pack tested and pushed their Springboks and Pumas rivals as well.

The presence and impact of former Argentina hooker Mario Ledesma within the Wallabies set-up has been there for all to see. Late last year, I wrote of the disjointed scrummaging of the Wallabies back five forwards on their end-of-year tour and how that was a major reason for the front-row being towelled up by the Six Nations sides.

England's forwards celebrate a try following a powerful five-metre scrum, England v Australia, Twickenham, November 29, 2014
Australia's scrum has come a long way in one year © Getty Images
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In 2015, that has all disappeared. You can see the technique and the bind of the back-five forwards is so much better, and that their engagement height on 'set' is working with the front-row - not against. It's also noticeable that the flankers - and particularly Michael Hooper - are staying attached to and pushing in the scrum rather than 'meerkating' to see where the next tackle needs to be made.

Perceptions around the Wallabies scrum are clearly changing, and that's a very good thing. And it has been noticed by the Wallabies' Pool A opponents, too. You might not win a World Cup without an effective breakdown - which the Wallabies definitely do have; but you definitely won't win one without an effective scrum, and the Wallabies' set-piece improvement certainly improves their chances.

News of the All Blacks demise greatly exaggerated

New Zealand have traditionally started the international season slowly, often taking a game, or even three halves, to fully click into gear and get into their inevitable groove. This year, it was, therefore, somewhat surprising that the All Blacks still seemed well off their usual pace by the end of their fourth game of the season (albeit that the first game, against Samoa in Apia, was played without Hurricanes and Highlanders players involved in the Super Rugby Final only a few days earlier). And it was downright worrying - for Kiwis, at least - when that slow start included a first Bledisloe Cup loss in Sydney in five years, coinciding with surprisingly sub-par games from a number of leading players.

Suddenly, there were questions about Dan Carter's ability to lead New Zealand's Rugby World Cup defence defence. Were Conrad Smith's best days behind him? What's going on with Sonny Bill Williams? Jerome Kaino found himself benched for the return leg in Auckland, and there was genuine concern that this might be the year the Wallabies finally won at Eden Park again.

But like they always seem to when the knives start emerging, if not coming out completely, the All Blacks did click. Not immediately, mind you; but when Dane Coles broke away for his try in the 21st minute, it was confirmation that the needle was firmly in the track. The All Blacks were on song.

It was like a late-morning fog lift, to reveal blue skies and sunshine. "Don't worry, New Zealand," they said, as Nehe Milner-Skudder burst through the Wallabies defence, with Aaron Smith beside him, the tryline in front and whatever ever Quade Cooper could muster in between. "We've got this from here ..."

And so it came to pass.

Four converted tries in 20 minutes, a quick polish of one handle of the Bledisloe Cup to remove the faint semblance of Australian fingerprints, and all was officially good in the world of All Blacks rugby again. The bookies wound them in another notch in the world Cup betting, and the earth jolted back onto its axis.

Rugby normality had returned.

Springboks better without Jean de Villiers?

South Africa's Pat Lambie controls the ball, Argentina v South Africa, Estadio Jose Amalfitani, Buenos Aires, August 15, 2015
Pat Lambie was key in Buenos Aires © Getty Images
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South Africa finally broke their duck for 2015, with a well-worked 26-12 win over Los Pumas at Estadio Jose Amalfitani in Buenos Aires, where Patrick Lambie, starting his first Test of the season at fly-half, produced a superb display of playmaking and kicking from hand and tee. Replacing the highly promising but still raw Handre Pollard, Lambie showed precisely the sort of game he's been threatening to deliver for years.

With it, comes yet more questions for Heyneke Meyer. With just a month to go now, just how close is the coach to knowing his preferred XV for the RWC? And as we pondered in the Scrum5 podcast this week, is the side better off without inspirational captain Jean de Villiers?

They've played a very mobile and bruising game in 2015, but don't appear to have the stamina to match; even in Buenos Aires, they faded in the second half with the match effectively won. How do you improve that situation in a month with no games?

And what of Argentina? After starring in Durban, Juan Martin Hernandez had to withdraw from the match with a bout of gastro, and his absence in the Pumas' midfield was both immediate and obvious.

With no calming influence or a steady hand outside him, Nicolas Sanchez again looked out of sorts; he's a long way from the player who starred throughout the 2014 edition of The Rugby Championship, when Argentina seemed to come of age in their new SANZAR company. Winger Juan Imhoff has been superb in the past fortnight, but Los Pumas will need much more than just his brilliance to get anywhere in the RWC.

And though their lineout into driving maul is strong and generally effective, Argentina's scrum has been surprisingly off during this campaign.

I don't know how deep Daniel Hourcade's bag of tricks is, but he's going to need all of them if Los Pumas are to go on their seemingly traditional RWC giant-killing spree.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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