Props still feeling the heat as they struggle to engage with new scrummaging lawss

The legitimate scrum contest is bringing us into new territory; how to we referee in those evolving seconds?

 Mike Ross (scrum cap) had a ding-dong scrummaging battle against  Glasgow Warrior
s loosehead Ryan Grant last weekend. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Inpho

Mike Ross (scrum cap) had a ding-dong scrummaging battle against Glasgow Warrior ’ s loosehead Ryan Grant last weekend. Photograph: Russell Cheyne/Inpho


Pace, power and precision were what impressed me in Dublin’s match-winning performance. Although heavily reliant on the hand pass their kick pass precision was extraordinary.

But it was their work off the ball that captured my attention. Working in triangles, the Dublin ball carrier appeared to face similar lines of support as rugby players. Time and again the Dublin support runners would run crossing lines that would invariably create indecision and fix the Mayo defenders for the slightest of moments,and hence eke out vital yards of freedom.

Of course the physical toll on show was evidenced before half-time where players were crouched over in exhaustion.

There is much rugby to discuss from last weekend but it’ll have to wait as once again I’ve been sucked in by the evolving scrum; I wonder how many runs Bernard Brogan would make if he played at tighthead in the new scrum, which is cleaner but lasting longer?

Well over 10 exhausting seconds is a very long time, but that’s what’s expected from our frontrows.

With a settled coach, Ulster looked more mature and comfortable in their patterns, with Connacht understandably struggling to implement theirs.

Scrum battle
But the scrum battle throughout the first half was amazing, with Ulster tighthead Declan Fitzpatrick coming off on half-time looking tired and emotional.

Connacht looked powerful, but did they get the rewards?

When Fitzpatrick’s replacement Ricky Lutton hit his first Ulster scrum Connacht got a massive left-hand side push, in essence demolishing Ulster’s scrum but Connacht were penalised for wheeling.

I wondered was this an example of the new laws playing out, with Connacht’s loosehead, Brett Wilkinson, scrummaging the advantage and the conclusion might be drawn that Lutton and his pack got it badly wrong.

All the evidence up to then was pointing at a strong Connacht scrum.

On 50 minutes 45 seconds Ulster (trailing) had a massive attacking scrum five metres from the Connacht line, and once again Connacht demolished them on the left-hand side to earn a turnover.

The legitimate scrum contest is bringing us into new territory; how to we referee in those evolving seconds?

If the Sportsground had much to offer so too had Scotstoun Stadium. The first four scrums had a big wheel on Glasgow’s left-hand side but the penalties went both ways.

Glasgow’s loosehead, Ryan Grant, like Wilkinson above, was certainly dictating the height on Leinster’s Mike Ross. What a battle!

Although at times getting bogged down in semantics, the refereeing of the scrum battle was fascinating, especially between Grant and Ross, with Grant really testing Ross.

The very next scrum the referee gave an “in and down penalty” against Grant which vexed the Scot, and then the following scrum also went against Grant as Ross dug very deep score 0-3! Now a very angry Grant and co demolished the next scrum, with a penalty awarded to Glasgow.

Monster stakes
As we progress into the season and the scrum pays more dividends by dominating the restart and crucially, exhausting those props who once ruled the monster stakes, referees, like the rest of us, have to learn the consequences of a well-contested scrum.

In the past much time was taken up setting and resetting, with the inevitable free/penalty to relieve the situation but now although tidier, the successful scrum appears to be lasting much longer, which is possibly why Fitzpatrick, like Mayo looked exhausted by half-time.

Glasgow scored a try off a blind-side pattern recycle, with Ross covering. With too much lateral space to cover he had little chance to defend but he looked heavily fatigued from the enthralling scrum battles and unlikely to make the hit.

Devon Toner’s physique on arrival for Tom Denton appeared to aid Ross and Leinster for those crucial first scrums of the second half.

Then Cian Healy arrived into a Leinster five-metre scrum on the left side of the Leinster posts. For almost the first time, Leinster number eight Jordi Murphy had a powerful base, affording him an opportunity to go left, finding Ian Madigan, who was flying, and off Leinster went down the left-hand side, running their crazy offloading angles before heading right to earn a penalty deep in Glasgow territory, bringing the score to 7-6.

This was a crucial score, yes, but more importantly, that deeply defensive scrum was the best attacking platform they had for the match; off a solid scrum.
PS. Alain Rolland’s retirement announcement brings back many memories, especially having played with and against him and then captaining/coaching sides with him in the middle.

While playing for Old Crescent thirds against Old Christians all hell broke loose at half-time. ‘The referee is terrible . . .’ I remember thinking; ‘we are terrible, they are terrible, why do we always expect Alain Rolland to be refereeing?’

His many accomplishments are evidenced by his high profile international games but he is the only man to rival Capt Cudmore from my Cadet School days; no matter where I went, or what I got up, offside or general skulduggery he, like Cudmore, remained ever-present on my shoulder!

In Rolland’s case it also included running commentary. ‘Good/bad tackle , seven’ or ‘terrible hands, seven’; thankfully neither are in my life anymore!

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