The days of the Wallabies scrum being viewed as a bit of a joke are long gone. So much so, that the All Blacks expect that tomorrow night, the Wallabies will be willing to hold the ball in the set-piece to try to scrummage for penalties.

That's what happened last year -- the Wallabies were willing to scrum for 20 seconds, sometimes longer, believing they had the more powerful unit.

Their assessment wasn't far off the mark. In the first encounter of the year in Sydney, they were dominant. They caught the All Blacks by surprise, had them back-pedalling a few times and won a number of penalties.

The battle was fairly even in the next two tests but the Wallabies, who welcomed former Pumas hooker Mario Ledesma into their coaching team last year, have retained a positive mindset about their set-piece ability.


The discovery of explosive loosehead prop Scott Sio has also helped immeasurably and, from being a perennial source of weakness for most of the past decade, the Wallabies scrum is now one of their key strengths.

The All Blacks at least know this now and are aware that there will be times in the game when they will have to hold their ground in the scrum for anything up to 30 seconds.

"I think, particularly at the start of the game, it is about sending a message as to who is the dominant scrum," said All Blacks loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett. "I guess we go in with a similar mindset. We want to start the game well and scrummage really well from the start and try to show a bit of dominance.

"Obviously they like to try to do the same sort of thing. We have just got to make sure that we show up from the first scrum so we can try to take it to them."

The physical consequences of asking props to scrummage for up to 30 seconds at a time are significant.

It is with the intensity of the scrummaging battle in mind that the All Blacks have handed Kane Hames a bench spot. Scrummaging is his key offering.

"It is tough," says Crockett. "The first couple of steps after a scrum like that, your legs feel pretty average.

"But we do quite a bit of training for it, so you get used to it -- but it is pretty taxing, that's for sure."

Taxing enough that neither Crockett nor his fellow starting tighthead Owen Franks are likely to play much beyond 55 minutes.

And when Crockett comes off, it will pave the way for Hames to make his test debut.

"He's a strong guy and has been around for a few years," says Franks. "He came into the team in 2013 just as he was working as an RDO [rugby development officer] for the Bay of Plenty. Crono [All Blacks forwards coach Mike Cron] invited him down to train with us and he did pretty well. He's a strong scrummager and a good bloke."