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Eight expectations as Wallabies get heads together over scrum

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Georgina Robinson

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Rugby at the bus stop

Waiting for a bus, Georgina Robinson and Stephen Samuelson talk about the upcoming rugby tour.

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IF Robbie Deans was a less phlegmatic public figure, he might have snarled at journalists' suggestions the Wallabies' try-less draw with New Zealand last month was a dour affair and offered the following rebuke: ''Wait until we hit the northern hemisphere, mate, go looking for tries there.''

For as returning flanker David Pocock warned this week, on the eve of the Wallabies four-Test tour of Europe, the French, the English, the Italians and even Britain's running rugby enthusiasts the Welsh, love their forward play.

''It's such a big focus over there, they love scrums,'' Pocock said. ''In Australia crowds just want to see tries and running rugby, whereas over there people get pretty excited about scrums and rolling mauls. It's a different mindset.''

Back to the pack ... the northern spring tour brings the Wallabies up against four of the biggest scrums in the game.

Back to the pack ... the northern spring tour brings the Wallabies up against four of the biggest scrums in the game. Photo: Getty Images

Judging by the mixed reaction to the third Bledisloe match, those remarks will keep many in bed when the Wallabies kick-off against France for the first time in two years at 6.45am next Sunday.

Whatever the expectation, this should be clear: there will be no greater test of improvement in the Wallabies pack than back-to-back fixtures against some of the biggest forwards in the international game.

The last time Australia played England and France was on this same tour in 2010. The first encounter ended in a record-equalling loss at Twickenham and the second looked on track to go the same way until the Wallabies flicked the razzle-dazzle switch and sprinted away with a 43-point victory. There were wins, too, against Wales and Italy, but the Australian forwards came under intense fire.

''That game we won in Paris, I wasn't particularly happy with how the scrum went, particularly in the first half,'' said Stephen Moore, the Wallabies' starting hooker that night. ''We were under a bit of pressure, so we sort of squared it up in the second half. We just needed to be consistent.''

Moore's return from injury this week is a boost ahead of the tour. He will provide crucial support for Tatafu Polota-Nau and guidance for rookie James Hanson. He also knows exactly what to expect from the northerners.

''They put a lot of time into their forward play, and part of that is the nature of the way rugby is played over there,'' he said. ''The Heineken Cup is probably a bit more similar to Test rugby than Super Rugby is, so these guys are playing that style of game week in week out, so the forwards battles in these Test matches are certainly going to be very important to the result.''

Pocock and Moore believe the pack has come a long way from the inconsistent showings of 2010. It is clear new forwards coach, former Test prop Andrew Blades, has been working them all hard. ''Scrums have obviously been a focus for us in terms of development, and that's showed over the Rugby Championship, it hasn't been an issue for us,'' Pocock said.''[Former scrum coach Patricio Noriega] and Andrew Blades have made a big difference.''

Blades said he had emphasised the need for players to work hard for each other every minute they're on the field. ''You really need that when you go up to the northern hemisphere, because this time of year the weather can be pretty foul and it can be suited to tucking under the jumper and playing some fairly tight rugby at times, so you have to be ready for that expectation,'' he said.

Depth helps a lot. Nathan Sharpe's dominance this season overshadows quality understudies in the second row. This tour will be another opportunity for Sitaleki Timani, Kane Douglas, Rob Simmons and Dave Dennis to prepare for life after their talisman lineout caller.

The props, too, are growing up fast. Benn Robinson's 52 Test caps will be invaluable alongside the work rates of Ben Alexander, Sekope Kepu, James Slipper and Paddy Ryan.

The back row will cause selection headaches, but in the best possible way. Deans is delighted to be taking on tour three fit and aggressive No.7s, one of whom, Pocock, can play at No.8. The imposing presence of Wycliff Palu and Radike Samo at the back will also cheer Australian selectors as they stare down Les Bleus this week and England the next.

''The French have got a very heavy tight five and they maul a lot off lineouts in the game and they have a very attacking scrum,'' Blades said.

''England … will present quite a different threat because they've got a very big, athletic back row; Italy were a very much grind-you-down game in the past, they changed in the Six Nations a little bit but they'll be good; and everyone knows the challenges Wales brought [to Australia] with their big pack. They're four of the best packs in world rugby at the moment.''

Which brings it all back to consistency, according to Moore. ''Everyone can scrummage well but you've got to do it over one Test, two Tests, three Tests, four,'' he said. ''That's going to be the big theme of the tour as far as the scrum goes.''

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