Waratahs 17-47 British & Irish Lions, Sydney
Ruck likely to decide Lions series
Andy Withers
June 16, 2013
The Waratahs swarm around Lions fly-half Jonathan Sexton, Waratahs v British & Irish Lions, Allianz Stadium, Sydney, June 15, 2013
Lions fly-half Jonny Sexton can expect the Wallabies to line him up, as the Waratahs did © Getty Images

Dave Dennis returns to the Wallabies' pre-Test camp on the Sunshine camp with first-hand experience of the British & Irish Lions' ferocious ruck work, saying Australia's efforts at the breakdown will be key in deciding who lifts the Tom Richards Cup.

Wallabies coach released the Waratahs captain and Rob Horne from the camp to face the Lions on Saturday, and also Peter Kimlin and Scott Sio to play for the Brumbies against the tourists in Canberra on Tuesday, and he will surely seek out the players upon their return to Caloundra in order to mine every last nugget of knowledge and understanding.

"The ruck is going to be talked about this week," Dennis said after facing in Lions at Allianz Stadium. "Not so much a technical thing just an emphasis on defending around the park with or without the ball. Probably just the connection how they keep it nice and tight through the forwards and then before you know it they get you on the edges; probably the defensive focus of how to manage that. Defend the width of the field through keeping your eyes up and keeping it physical through getting off the line.

Dennis said the inexperienced Waratahs "got exposed" by the Lions at the breakdown. "The effort was there and everyone was keen to get in to it but we probably got too tight and got shown up on the edges, and off that turnover ball we weren't very good. There's a few things I can pass on there, but a lot of that the preparation's already started to manage that."

"Sometimes I felt they weren't supporting their weight when they were pilfering the ball ... they do it well, they got the results, they got a few penalties, they put a lot of pressure on our ball. They got away with it." Dave Dennis describes the bottom of a ruck against the Lions

Dennis also spoke of his first-hand knowledge at the coalface when asked to comment on Bob Dwyer's pre-match quote that the Lions were "cheats", the Rugby World Cup 1991-winning coach slamming the tourists' approach to scrums and rucks and questioning their use of decoy runners.

"The emphasis on the ruck is strong and they commit a lot of guys in there," Dennis said. "Sometimes I felt they weren't supporting their weight when they were pilfering the ball ... they do it well, they got the results, they got a few penalties, they put a lot of pressure on our ball. They got away with it. But a lot of that comes down to the ref's interpretation and I'm sure they'll push that line through the whole test series."

Dennis and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika agreed the ruck was so important because victory in the facet of the game "will allow each set of 9s and 10s to dictate the play".

The Lions can improve further, Jonathan Davies says

"I don't know about lessons," Cheika said. "It's very clear that the Lions are excellent at the ruck - both sides of the ball - the attacking ruck and the defensive ruck. We were putting sledgehammers in there trying to get to the ball to pick it up. I thought we had a couple of steals, but unfortunately they weren't given. But I think the ruck will decide the flow of the game. I think we have seen the set pieces are going to be particularly even. I think that part of the game is where it will probably be decided."

Cheika suggested the Wallabies, too, would also have to the focus his put in trying to stymie the Lions halves, refusing to apologise for deliberately targeting scrum-back Mike Phillips and five-eighth Jonathan Sexton. "You have to be on the 9 and 10 at this level because they are orchestrating full forward [play]," Cheika said.

"And in particular for this team and the way they play - the Lions - they are orchestrating everything from there - the direction, the plays, when they are going to go. So you have to keep them hopping so you can give yourself some chance of shutting down their attacks."

© ESPN Australia / New Zealand

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