Can Tahs’ Scrum Doctor outsmart Scrum Guru?
HE remains revered in Australia as a scrum whisperer but Mario Ledesma's inside knowledge of the Waratahs front-rowers won't be enough to bring down the NSW scrum when they clash with Jaguares in Buenos Aires on Sunday, according to Tom Robertson.
Ledesma, who had worked alongside Michael Cheika as a scrum coach for NSW and the Wallabies since 2015, moved back to his native Argentina late last year to become head coach of their underperforming Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares.
The Waratahs will become the first Australian side to go head-to-head with Ledesma this weekend and there is zero doubt that the Argentinians will look to attack NSW in the scrum.
From a nation who values a tighthead prop like he's Israel Folau, that tactic would have been a high priority anyway but given the Waratahs' scrum has struggled in the opening rounds, Ledesma will have his pack pumped for set-piece pressure.
After being humbled by the Stormers, the Tahs scrum improved somewhat against the Sharks but still showed signs of frailty in the second half.
"The Argentinians love their scrums so we are definitely expecting a big battle up front there," Robertson said.
"We are still not happy with how we went on the weekend, with a few penalties we gave away. But it something we are trying to fix this week, to get that right, because we have the best backline in the comp in my opinion. So if we can get them the ball as forwards, they can do the rest of the damage."
Robertson knows the Jaguares' front rowers will be a tough assignment, if only because he rates Ledesma's coaching so highly.
The vast majority of Robertson's Wallabies career was under Ledesma, and there is no hiding the admiration of the "Scrum Doctor" for the "Scrum Guru".
"Mario is one of the legends of the game. You don't play in four or five World Cups and play for your country at such a high level without learning a few things," Robertson said.
"He is very good at putting into practice what you want to do, from a scrum perspective. A lot of coaches talk about what's good to do and what they want you to do, but they can't explain to you how to do it.
"Mario is very good on explaining how to do it because he's been there. He knows what it feels like in the middle of the scrum. He has been all around the world, he has played in France and Argentina, he's coached in Australia. He has picked up a lot of information."
That information includes his perceived weak points and those of Paddy Ryan as well, concedes Robertson.
But he also argues those won't necessarily translate to anything his Jaguares rival can exploit, because those flaws might have already been removed.
"He definitely knows our games inside and out, and he would know our strengths and weaknesses," Robertson said.
"But at the same time we have new coaches this year, especially with "Cronno", Simon Cron, coming in to the forwards. So from a scrum perspective, in the last two or three months, my technique has changed a lot and some of the deficiencies around the scrum that we've noticed, "Cronno" has been able to fix.
"He has been working with us in the pre-season and for the first couple of games and for myself, I think my technique has improved and it has definitely changed a lot since Mario left. So I am not too concerned."
Plumbing the depths of their awful 2017 season, the Waratahs lost to the Jaguares 40-27 at home late in the season; and that's been their one and old clash so far.
The Argentina side have been underwhelming in their two seasons in Super Rugby and though they've showed some signs of improvement in their three games so far this year, they're still winless.
A regulation win could give NSW a valuable six points from their two-game tour, after a draw against the Sharks. NSW coach Daryl Gibson bemoaned his side's poor form in Durban but Robertson acknowledged those points could come in handy in the second half of the year.
I still don't think we're happy (with a draw)," Robertson said.
"We left a lot of points out there. We scored three tries but we didn't hurt them through building pressure, which is what we want to do.
"I think we were disappointed more with the fact we didn't hold the ball for long periods of time. We can build on holding the ball for long periods and we will definitely score points.
"In 2014, when we won the comp, we came over here and got back-to-back wins. But at the same time, it's good to come over and play a good team like the Sharks, with a big pack, and get a few points out of it.
"That could be the difference between us making the finals or getting first place instead of second place."