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Key players out for the Tahs

This weekend is looking like a tough week for the Australian Super Rugby teams.

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At the beginning of the month, the Aviva Stadium in Dublin witnessed the surprising spectacle of dual British and Irish Lions loose-head prop Gethin Jenkins being repeatedly bent in the scrum against Irishman Mike Ross in a Heineken Cup quarter-final between Jenkins's Cardiff and Leinster.

But the relevance of Jenkins's woes to the Waratahs, Wallabies and All Blacks was not in the form of the Irish tight-head with solid, rather than spectacular, set-piece abilities. Instead, it took the shape of a familiar, huge second-rower driving behind him: Brad Thorn, 37, in the blue of Leinster on a short-term deal, still going strong, still physically dominating at the highest level, still producing the sort of horsepower that makes happy men of his tight-head props.

When NSW pack down against the Crusaders on Sunday we will find out just how much New Zealand will miss him - and if Benn Robinson has the ability to exploit the absence of his 116 kilogram motor.

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Engine room … the front row, from left, Sekope Kepu, Tatafa Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson. Photo: Steve Christo

The amount of the power Thorn generates through the tight-head side can be measured by the frequency with which it is referred to by tight-five teammates. Ross's praise - "like having another tight-head behind you with the power and weight coming through from him" - sits alongside the many flattering words that have been sent Thorn's way in homage to his peerless ability to shove large frames around a paddock.

Unsurprisingly, there have been whispers that his departure might have taken a little sting out of Owen and Ben Franks's work at scrum time, although presumably made out of earshot of the weighty brothers. The accusations stemmed from a wobbly performance against the Chiefs' front row in round three, but something closer to normal service was restored last week against the Hurricanes after gradual improvements in previous weeks.

The Crusaders' first try, to Kieran Read, came after a dominant attacking scrum in the fourth minute. In the 18th minute, the Hurricanes' pack was driven off their ball and had to improvise just to retain possession. Perspective is required though - it is the most vulnerable part of the Hurricanes' game. Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Sekope Kepu will provide a much sterner test.

It has not been easy for Robinson to get underneath Owen Franks as he has done with other tight-heads, the converted hooker John Smit in particular. The younger Franks has a low body position and a reputation for immense work in the gym and meticulous preparation.

Yet Thorn's departure from the scene presents an opportunity for Robinson to test Franks in a way that has not been possible in recent years, with the ageless hard man a constant presence for the Crusaders and All Blacks. Andrew Blades and Mike Cron would make for fascinating company during the 80 minutes. Each man will sleep easier if the pendulum has swung a little their way.

An examination is also on its way for Kepu. The big man endured a difficult World Cup on the loose-head side against squatter opponents, and there should be no surprise the Crusaders have chosen to start Ben Franks there instead of the taller Wyatt Crockett to search for technical difficulties in Kepu's game. It takes a particular type to want to anchor a scrum of 900kg packs and Kepu has previously shown his best work to be in open spaces.

The scrum has become of such vital importance to the Waratahs because so much of their game is based around the set-piece. The correct noises are being made about trying to develop a more complete game but the evidence remains to the contrary, including the mournful sight last week of backs joining a maul to attempt a pushover for the four-try bonus point against the worst side in the competition.

The NSW model is power, forward dominance and pressurising the opposition. It can be a potent mix against more pliable packs but if the Crusaders are in the mood to show Thorn's exit has not lessened their power, a long day at the office certainly beckons.

An inquisition into the state of Australian scrummaging this year is upon us. Robinson, so painfully missed by Australia at the World Cup, will walk into the Wallabies side at loose-head. His partner at tight-head for the June Tests should be pencilled in by Monday.