By Patrick McKendry in Perth

With all the talk of an experimental All Black loose forward mix featuring the Ardie Savea and Sam Cane double act – 'Sane'?, 'Sardie'? – and the continuation of the dual playmaker strategy, it's perhaps easy for attention to wander from the front row and set piece battle brewing in Perth.

That it will be a battle is obvious – it's a test match and a Bledisloe Cup one at that – and there have been enough hints throughout the week here from the All Blacks to make it reasonably clear that this will be a particular area of focus for them as they seek to provide a platform to take their running game to the next level.

After studying the Wallabies' loss to the Springboks in South Africa, and narrow win over Argentina in Brisbane, the All Blacks have spoken enthusiastically of their admiration for the home side's scrum and lineout.


In fact, they have done it so frequently – starting with hooker Dane Coles and continuing with assistant coach Ian Foster and finishing with head coach Steve Hansen that it's difficult to escape the feeling that the All Blacks are setting Michael Cheika's men up for something approaching a punchline.

All Blacks front row Owen Franks, Dane Coles and Joe Moody. Photo / Photosport
All Blacks front row Owen Franks, Dane Coles and Joe Moody. Photo / Photosport

Hansen followed the formula when announcing his side to face the Wallabies at Optus Stadium tomorrow and was unable to resist the temptation to send French referee Jerome Garces a pointed reminder that perhaps the Wallabies' scrummaging success hasn't come entirely legally.

"I've always thought they have a lot of talent and they don't necessarily get the credit for what they do or how they play," Hansen said of the Wallabies in general. "They play us a lot. If you look at the last 10 years they've been the one team who have been able to beat us or draw with us.

"Sometimes, yes, we've beaten them by quite a margin but they're always tough games. Their lineout at the moment is very impressive, their scrummaging is pretty good – I think they're still leaning a bit and the new rules say you can't lean, so hopefully that gets sorted – but by and large they're always an attacking side with the ball. They're good players."

Hansen has named his best and most experienced props, Joe Moody and Owen Franks, to start; a clear indication that they will be his go-to guys in Japan next month. Dane Coles gets his opportunity at hooker this time after Codie Taylor started the last test against the Boks in Wellington, but that competition is more of a toss-up.

The quality of locks Scott Barrett, in for the injured Brodie Retallick, and Sam Whitelock, speaks for itself.

Facing them will be Scott Sio, the relatively inexperienced hooker Tolu Latu, and Allan Alaalatoa, who is returning from injury. Second-rowers Izack Rodda and Rory Arnold have played 19 and 21 tests respectively.

Steve Hansen and Owen Franks. Photo / Photosport
Steve Hansen and Owen Franks. Photo / Photosport

Hansen's tight five have struggled to find their rhythm in their first two tests of the year due in part to the dramatic changing of personnel. There were moral scrum victories over the Boks at the Cake Tin but also defeats, and this test offers them a chance to make a statement.


Tighthead prop Franks is one of those eager to do so. The Crusaders player has never been one to shirk work of any sort and, after opting for stem cell treatment rather than surgery on an injured shoulder, the 31-year-old said he was as fit as at any time in his career.

Part of that is connected with adjustments to his traditional way of doing things in the gym. Franks said he had responded quickly to Hansen's demand his props do more around the field away from their core roles of set-piece grunt work.

"It was a pretty clear message so I definitely had to change the way I was training," Franks said. "I've been working really hard to get more out of myself around the field. I think it's the nature of the way the game is going; guys are getting fitter and stronger, especially us guys up front.

"I haven't cut back on [weight training] because at the end of the day you still get judged on your scrummaging – it's more adapting the rest of your training to try to get more out of our game. For example if you're lifting weights, do it with less rest."

That is something likely to be in short supply at Optus Stadium.