Australia’s backline razzled and dazzled but it was the beefy men with small numbers and big targets on their backs who received the loudest cheers in the Wallabies’ dressing room on Sunday morning (AEDT).
Tough-as-teak hooker Stephen Moore and props James Slipper and Ben Alexander were justifiably applauded in the recesses of Turin’s Stadio Olimpico as they laid the groundwork for a crucial 50-20 victory.
The previously-maligned trio nullified the much-vaunted Italian scrum which openly threatened to steamroll the under-pressure tourists.
Italy’s plans A, B and C for a first win over Australia in their 16th meeting all started with scrum dominance.
The Wallabies pack had been penalised seven times as they struggled to cope with the powerhouse English scrum in last week’s 20-13 loss and the Azzurri forwards were licking their lips.
But that dominance never came amid a series of collapses, resets and penalties both way.
Only once was the Australian scrum steamrolled, but they were already up 26-10 in the 52nd minute. From the very next set-piece, Slipper, Moore and reserve prop Sekope Kepu gained revenge by dishing back the same medicine.
Moore, voted the “Man of Gold” as the players’ player of the match, also topped off his superb display with a one-arm off-load for Joe Tomane to score with his first touch.
“We spoke downstairs about how important those guys’ efforts were tonight,” said skipper Ben Mowen, who scored the first of his side’s seven tries.
“They had a huge game, you could tell the Italian blokes were very frustrated that they weren’t getting that over us.
“That comes down to the work that front row has done this week under a lot of pressure.
“It went a huge way.”
The 28,000-strong crowd knew all too well how important their numbers 1, 2 and 3 were, reserving their biggest pre-match cheers for veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni and his front-row partners.
But the tone was set from the first reset scrum as referee Glen Jackson whistled a penalty to the Wallabies.
Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie’s faith in the industrious Slipper, who was again dynamic around the field, was rewarded as he had the better of Castrogiovanni before he was subbed off early in the second half.
“We neutralised that area and there was penalties for both sides but the scrum wasn’t the psychological weapon that it was portrayed to be prior to the game,” said McKenzie.