French lament their scrum dramas
The rugby world has turned upside down.
Australia, with its infamous history of scrum woes, has forced France – who fete their props like heroes – into drastic front-row changes for Saturday night’s second Test at Etihad Stadium.
Powerful and crafty scrummaging props are as French as croissants – it’s their bread and butter.
But Les Bleus coach Philippe Saint-Andre has lamented the dearth of quality front-rowers in his country following their 50-23 opening Test pounding by the Wallabies.
Saint-Andre has dumped both of his starting props, veteran tighthead Nicholas Mas and grizzled loosehead Thomas Domingo, to expose the uncapped Alexandre Menini and seven-Test Rabah Slimani in Melbourne.
The coach admitted the changes were a result of a poor scrum in Brisbane, continuing their dramas with referees during this year’s Six Nations, as well as a need to build depth.
France’s cashed-up Top 14 league is growing bigger each year but it’s costing Les Bleus in several positions, particularly in the front-row.
“We don’t have too many props in France because they’re all foreigners so we need to (expose them),” Saint-Andre told AAP.
“If we don’t try out some props in a tour 15 months from the World Cup, we’ll never try them.
“This is an opportunity to see them in a fantastic contest.”
Normally the tourists enter Test matches against Australia targeting the scrum, but not at the moment.
As well as English, New Zealand, Argentinian and Georgian props filling about half the prop positions in the France’s Top 14 league, the Wallabies are patching up their long-time Achilles heel.
Rising loosehead James Slipper underlined his talent at Suncorp Stadium by outpointing 72-cap Mas, 34, in his 50th Test – just a day after turning 25.
Two days later Slipper was elevated to the vice-captaincy.
The Australian scrum’s stocks have gradually started to rise since last year’s Rugby Championship after coming to terms with the new soft engagement laws.
“If you have a good scrum the morale of the team picks up and everyone gets excited and looking for a result at the scrum,” Slipper said.
But chinks still remain in the Aussie armour.
The French, with their front-row reserves opposing the Wallabies replacements, scored a pushover penalty try on fulltime, which led to back-up tighthead Paddy Ryan’s axing.