Right? You should have everything sussed. But you don’t. I’ve lent an ear to those training ground brainstorms under the posts. Then you stand nearby and watch. So near at times, touch, pause, engage is drilled into your head.
But you’re clueless what’s gone on. Who’s to blame? Who’s not to blame? Someone emerges with his chest out. Pats on the head. For doing something wonderful.
What just went on there? The Scrum. Not just the scrum. The Front Row.
It just keeps itching me. Again last Saturday watching Munster at Sale. The referee, the replacement referee — what was he all about? Axel Foley had every right to fume. He has some idea what’s happening in the front row. But he isn’t a prop or a hooker by trade.
It’s gone on for too long. Guesswork by the referee, guesswork from the assistant referee. These things are too important. Who knows? Well, ex-front rows know. Props and Hookers.
And so with a new competition, the European Champions Cup, should come a new initiative.
How about this: put an ex-front row in the same booth as the video referee, and radio-link him to the referee to provide constant feedback as the game progresses.
He doesn’t have to be in the employ of the tournament organisers, not initially anyway. But by bringing in a front row forward to mark the card of the referee, it bestows the proper stature on the skills of the scrum, an elemental part of our game. There are a number of positives here — proper adjudication of the front row means the art of scrummaging is not lost. It can’t be — otherwise we are Rugby League, and the scrum is simply a means of recommencing the game so the backs can run a set-piece play. It also places additional emphasis on the value of the goal-kicker from consequent penalties. What’s not to like?
Genuine question: How can the likes of John Lacey, George Clancy or Alain Rolland know as much about scrummaging as someone who has played in the front row for 10 or 15 years?
Can Romain Poite, Jerome Garces, Nigel Owens, or Craig Joubert seriously be au fait with the dark arts of the demi-monde that is front row play? At a team level, one must understand how it creates such unity when you have a powerful scrum. I’ve seen it over the years when Munster win a scrum penalty — the inner satisfaction among the forwards is like kicking a drop-goal in the last minute. That’s their skill and that’s why rugby is a game for everyone, all shapes, all sizes. If it’s just serving the purpose of restarting a running game, then we’ve lost one of the fundamentals of the game.
I have played 130 times at test level but I know absolutely zero about the functionality of the scrum — bar the rare case when someone is absolutely demolishing an opponent. There has to be a contest at every scrum; teams train all week for that. Yet if it’s in the hands of someone who knows very little about the subject area, how disappointing is that for a coach, a player, a supporter and the sport trying to attract a new audience.
I don’t think the lay man, or me, has any idea how energy-sapping a tough scrum is. For coaches, it’s a key tactic to waste the legs of the opposition and profit in the final 20 minutes. That’s what breaking a team down for the first 60 minutes is all about — it’s in the final quarter you gain that edge. Coaches are banking on scrums being reffed correctly so they can capitalise on their technical superiority — that they’ve been working on all week — in the final 20 minutes.
It’s no coincidence teams score more frequently in the final 20 minutes. Opposition defence is fatigued. The scrum is weakening. There is potential to drive them into submission. This is rugby. That technical superiority and physical advantage may not manifest itself in the first dozen scrums, but maybe it will in the 13th — and that three points might be crucial.
I’d be interested in what Claw or Marcus Horan or John Hayes has to say on the subject; They’re the ones left frustrated, perplexed and angry that their skill-set is often unrewarded. There is a brotherhood of front-rowers. They watch each other’s backs. But there is a lot of underhand stuff goes on in there — so let’s get someone in the booth who knows what they are talking about and can so advise the poor referee.
Last Saturday in Paris, Racing had two of our front rows sin-binned in the Champions Cup at home to Northampton, one of them, ex-Munster man Julian Brugnaut. This despite the front row being a strength of ours all season.
Yet because of the way the referee adjudicated these things, it was Julian who went to the bin. I don’t understand enough about it to comment. I really don’t.
Tonight, Munster say Hello Saracens at Thomond. There’s not a lot I want to say about Sale last Saturday. When Conor Murray went over for the last try, I felt Munster would power on. They didn’t but got over the line. There’s no pictures with league tables. They got the four points. A win tonight puts them in a great place. It’ll be dark and misty and the traffic into Limerick will be a bitch. Do Munster a favour, though. Open your laptop and YouTube the home game against Sale in 2006. When Sebastien Chabal and his friends came to town. This is the only time this year an English side comes to Thomond Park. It’s special.
Watch that Sale game. The crowd. Experience that atmosphere again before you head out the door tonight. That’s what Munster fans need to do this afternoon.
These things are important, more than you can ever imagine, to the Munster players.
Saracens will target to 10, 12-13 channel because that’s what they do. They’ve plenty of well-rewarded big-hitting Springboks. Denis Hurley and Andrew Smith are finding their feet as a centre partnership. The crowd can help them grow. They really can.