Tahs expecting Ledesma’s Jaguares to hit them up front
HE was the man credited with turning around Australia's scrummaging woes on the international stage - but Argentine great Mario Ledesma is now the man tasked with ending the Waratahs' unbeaten start to 2018.
After three years working as Michael Cheika's scrum coach at the Wallabies and Waratahs, Ledesma returned to his home country to take on the Jaguares' head coaching role with the view of taking the national role after the 2019 World Cup.
But after three straight losses to start the season, his first task is turning around his own side's flagging fortunes.
Standing in his way is his former side the Waratahs, whom he worked with as an adviser in 2015 and 2016 and there is little doubt the scrum guru will hit the Australian side where they're most vulnerable - at the set-piece.
As valuable as Ledesma's contribution was, the Waratahs' pack is a fraction of what it once was with Tatafu Polota-Nau gone and Sekope Kepu left in Australia after having his suspension from last year's Test against Scotland carry through to the early rounds of this year's Super season.
With two of Australia's three starting front-rowers missing, the Waratahs' scrum has struggled to make an impact in the opening rounds despite an improvement last week against the Sharks.
And Ledesma's former pupil Tom Robertson is braced for a showdown.
"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's 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."
While Ledesma is universally known as a master of the dark arts, Robertson said that his great strength was his communication.
"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."
But as respected as Ledesma is around the world, Robertson added that knowing how he scrummed meant little, particularly after the arrival of Simon Cron at the club who has refined his technique.
"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 Crono, 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, Crono has been able to fix.
"It's really good when you get someone new and fresh to Australian rugby, with different ideas."
Following their 24-24 draw with the Sharks, Robertson said the Waratahs had identified ball security as the main area for improvement.
He said his team never put together more than four phases, which meant they weren't able to build pressure on the defence.
"We scored three tries but we left a lot of points out there," Robertson said.
Key back Kurtley Beale remains in doubt for the Sunday morning match (7:40am AEST) after injuring his ribs against the Sharks, with the Waratahs to name their side on Friday.