Michael Hooper (Gallo Images)
Cardiff - Australia are expecting a big challenge in the scrum from Fiji when they open their Rugby World Cup campaign on Wednesday but are confident the progress they have made in the set piece this year will hold them in good stead.
The scrum has so often been the Achilles heel of the twice world champions against the heavyweights of international rugby that improving it was one of coach Michael Cheika's priorities when he took over last year.
Out went stalwart props Benn Robinson and Ben Alexander and into the coaching team came famed Argentine scrummaging specialist Mario Ledesma.
The results during the Rugby Championship against New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina, particularly when they got an eight-man shove going, were encouraging.
"We've had a lot of tough games scrummaging-wise going through the Rugby Championship and the Bledisloe so it's been a great prep for us," said flanker Michael Hooper.
"We're building a lot of confidence there and we got a lot of confidence out of the Rugby Championship with the guys this year and as a pack they're really developing well.
"Obviously it's going to be a big part of the competition and we're excited about that challenge."
Fiji's scrum has often been a disorganised rabble in the past but the Pacific Islanders showed in shoving England off the ball to score a try in their World Cup opener last week that they have also improved in that area.
"Their scrum was a bit of surprise fora few people but that's been building for a couple of years," said Australia's attack coach Stephen Larkham.
"They've got very dangerous backs and with (flyhalf) Ben Volavola they've got someone who can control the game quite well."
Stopping Volavola getting clean frontfoot ball is a task that will fall in large part to his former New South Wales Waratahs team mate Hooper and David Pocock, who line up as twin openside flankers in Australia's back row on Wednesday.
They have started just one previous match together for Australia, in Sydney last month, and that resulted in a first victory over New Zealand for four years.
"I'm looking forward to running around with Dave and all the rest of the guys, it feels like we've been training for a long time," Hooper said.
"(Our understanding) developed pretty naturally, we had nothing to go off previously, except a couple off the bench working together.
"It was pretty good and worked nicely and I am looking forward to getting more time out on the field to develop the roles further."
With England and Wales to come after Fiji in Pool A, Australia could be forgiven for keeping a special eye on Saturday's match between the two old rivals at Twickenham.
Larkham, however, said the Wallabies were resolutely focused on Fiji.
"I wasn't even aware there was a game on Saturday night," the former flyhalf, who won the World Cup with Australia at the Millennium Stadium in 1999, said drily.