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We've crunched the numbers on Mario Ledesma's scrum revolution in Argentina

Australia’s scrum has shown a dramatic improvement in 2015.

SCOTLAND PICKED OFF nine points from it on Sunday, but it doesn’t smear over the fact that the 2015 Aussie scrum is new and improved.

A quick look at the stats since Argentinian legend Mario Ledesma came on board as forwards coach will tell you as much.

In their 10 matches so far in 2015, they’ve re retained possession 55 out of the 58 times they’ve been awarded a scrum, a 95% success rate, meaning that clean ball is almost a guarantee whenever the opposition knock-on.

And even when you take their games against minnows USA and Uruguay out of the equation, they’re still looking at 39 clean scrums from a total of 42.

Prior to the Ledesma era, the Australian scrum was paper thin. They played 29 games during 2013 and 2014, and it was a constant area of weakness.

Out of their 160 scrums in those two years, just 119 were successfully retained – a return of just 74%. For every four scrums they had, they were losing one against the head, compared to one in every 20 in 2015.

And when those years are broken down individually, we can see just how bad things were in 2013 especially. They coughed up 27 of their 87 scrums that year, losing the ball close to once every three scrums, veering dangerously into the territory of lottery.

There was a clear pick-up after Michael Cheika took the reigns at the tail end of 2014. In their four Autumn tests they didn’t lose one scrum against the head, although against England they endured a very rough evening on defensive scrums.

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Rugby Union - Rugby World Cup 2015 - Pool A - Australia v Wales - Twickenham Stadium Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

After the game in November 2014, Cheika’s philosophy on the scrum was clear:

“You know they (England) are a strong scrum and they’ve got a good reputation.

“Because England have a good reputation, we have to improve ours if we are going to get the rub of the green on those interpretation calls.

“We need to change some things, technique and strategy. Perhaps a bit more wheeling or something because that seems to be accepted.

“Perhaps we are just a little bit too honest maybe in the scrum. There are some personnel we are going to look at as well. The lads are well aware of that.”

With that, forwards coach Andrew Blades left the set-up, with Cheika waiting until early July before eventually securing the services of Argentinian legend Mario Ledesma.

It’s a sad indictment on the way the scrum is going that they felt the need to become more illegal to become more successful, but whether or not you agree with the philosophy, it’s a philosophy that’s working.

Against both South Africa and New Zealand in the 2015 Rugby Championship there was a marked improvement in the way they scrummaged.

Sekope Kepu traded the substitute jersey for a starting one at tighthead, while at loosehead, James Slipper lost his place to Scott Sio.

It was Sio’s introduction late on against South Africa that secured a vital turnover in the final 10 minutes, as he crushed Frans Malherbe.

Scott sio v Sa

On the other side is Sekope Kepu, a player who has looked more and more ruthless since Ledesma’s arrival.

A regular in the side (although often from the bench) in the two years of Australia’s scrum floundering, his improvement in 2015 has been immeasurable.

Firstly, his technique is much more different.

We picked a random game from that 2013/14 period, Australia’s 14-13 win against Argentina in 2013, and took a look at Kepu’s form.

As soon as the scrum has set, his body position is a mess. The angle at his hips is far too acute; as a rule of thumb your knees should never be further forward than your hips.

If we compare him to Nahuel Lobo opposite him, we can see the difference. With Kepu’s body so bunched up, his power is completely reduced.

2013 Kepu 1

And once the push comes on, Kepu folds inside and collapses the scrum.

2013 Argentina kepu collapse

However, we’ve seen him come on leaps and bounds this year. Against New Zealand in the Rugby Championship he picked apart Tony Woodcock, and legally so for the most part.

But what we’ve also seen from Kepu is the exact thing Cheika was looking for before Ledesma’s arrival. He’s no longer too honest.

Unfortunately a large part of the scrum can often come down to who can cheat the best.

We saw it against England, as Kepu and the Australian pack used Joe Marler’s reputation against him, milking several penalties out of Romain Poite.

With the refereeing of scrums such a lottery, creating the illusion of dominance is just as important as being dominant these days, and it’s something Ledesma is all too aware of.

However, it works both ways. If you have a reputation as a weak scrum, the 50/50 decisions will go against you. And before the canny Argentinian came on board, more often than not that was the case.

The big blow this weekend at the scrum sees Sio ruled out with an elbow injury, James Slipper starting in his place. Luckily for Slipper, his coach knows a thing or two about the opposition.

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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