Irish scrum not an Achilles heel maintains Andrew Porter

Ireland’s loosehead says frontrow needs to be better in the face of referee interpretation

Last Saturday’s first Test maintained one recurring and disconcerting trend of late for the Irish/Leinster scrum. Three times they conceded penalties, with Karl Dickson identifying Andrew Porter as the culprit, and so the trend continues.

Watching a re-run of the second Test in Christchurch a decade ago Nigel Owens decided not to reward three scrums in the endgame where the Irish pack went forward, even penalising Ireland for wheeling in the game’s decisive moment. One of the penalties which Dickson awarded to the All Blacks last Saturday in Eden Park was almost a carbon copy of Owens pinging Ireland for wheeling.

Yet even allowing for refereeing inconsistencies, the first Test maintained a worrying recent trend which emanated in Mathieu Raynal’s interpretations at Twickenham.

“Sure look, every ref has their own interpretation of the scrum,” said Andrew Porter yesterday with an almost wearying sigh. “We just have to be better on the day. We know what they’re trying to do now after this Test and we’ll be able to analyse that and look at ourselves and go from there, pick ourselves back up in training and bring it back into the next game in Dunedin.”

The All Blacks pack seemed to be chasing before the put-in; something which Dickson did penalise them for on one occasion with a free-kick. Even without the use of overhead cameras, they did not always seem to be scrummaging squarely, with Dickson also selectively ignoring some scrums which went to ground.

Peter O’Mahony could barely conceal his frustrations while Porter himself cut a bemused figure.

“I haven’t had a look back on the video yet but that’s kind of how it felt,” said the Irish loosehead. “But look it’s spilt milk now. We just have to take our learnings from this and put it to use in the next game, and that’s where it really matters.”

With referees under pressure to either make swift judgements or allow the ball to be played rather than allow a series of re-sets, they can be quick to reward the team which is inching forward, no matter how they do so.

“It’s tough when you have those 50-50 calls and he’s going to favour whatever team he thinks is dominant, or whatever you want to call it. You need to be going forward, that’s the main thing. We didn’t get that on Saturday,” acknowledged Porter.

The review into the Twickenham match identified Ireland’s need to problem solve during the game, and last Saturday’s first Test seemed to underline the point, but Porter argued differently.

“No, I think the boys are fairly good at problem solving on the pitch, it’s just on the day things don’t go your way in that sense, but like you said refereeing interpretations and all that at the scrum, and not seeing that the tighthead is boring in, it’s things like that, that get me. You try to be squeaky clean in the scrum and things just don’t go your way on the day sometimes.

“That’s the part of professional rugby. It’s kind of a bit of a grey area for a lot of people, but we’ll look at ourselves to pull it back and not create those 50-50 calls for the ref and paint positive pictures in the game.”

The big fear in all of this is that, sometimes as a result of the opposition not scrummaging squarely or their tighthead boring in, be it England against Ireland in Twickenham or La Rochelle against Leinster among other examples, the close-knit refereeing fraternity are identifying the Irish scrum as an Achilles heel. When this was put to Porter, his answer was confined to one word.

“No,” he simply said, and left it at that.

One hopes he’s right.

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times