If rugby is about a fair contest, then Tank Lanning asks in his Sport24 column, how the rolling maul, or newly named driving maul, can remain part of the game?
To my mind the rolling or driving maul is nothing more than legalised obstruction … And this from a former tighthead prop who likes nothing more than the fat guys up front having a proper go at each other.
Cross behind your own player with ball in hand, or accidentally run into your own player who did not study the playbook as well as he should of, and it’s a shrill blast of the whistle for obstruction and a full arm penalty against you.
Yet set up a maul from a lineout, pull the man with the ball to the back so he has six or seven team mates ahead of him forming a wedge – which is not allowed to be brought down because that would be dangerous – and all is hunky dory?
Apart from not being particularly pretty to watch, how can that possibly be deemed a fair contest?
People say the rolling maul is a skill, as is the defending against it, and I would agree. Hence teams spending many hours working on both setting it up and defending against it, but that does not make it fair. You could spend the entire off-season working on defending the rolling maul, but against a side which has spent half that time working on setting it up, without being able to pull it down, you are always going to come second.
A very astute South African rugby analyst, having seen my comments on getting rid of this so called “Legalised obstruction” on Twitter, came up to me at the finish of the Absa Cape Epic and said: “But we would be getting rid of one of South Africa’s most effective attacking weapons”.
Which is true. And it is extremely clever to have spotted a loophole in the laws to use to our advantage. But do we really want to be known as the country that brought the rolling maul into the game? And is it not just another example of us having to rely on brute force rather than entertaining skills like off-loads in the tackle and clean line breaks?
Perhaps I am being a naïve romantic given that rugby is now about winning at all costs, but setting up a maul from 5 meters out to score a try through an unfair advantage is not what I pay to see.
And now we see plenty of that on Monday nights as well. Included in the many challenges facing the Varsity Cup is the rather unpleasant “Maul fest” that has come as a result of the penalty being downgraded to 2 points and a try being upgraded to 6. So instead of taking the points on offer via a penalty kick, it makes more sense for teams to set up a lineout and got for the almost certain try via a rolling maul. So while getting more tries (which was the objective of the change in points change), they are coming from rolling mauls and not enterprising backline play.
And given the success ratio, it is even creeping into the Crusaders game … All but 1 of the Crusaders 7 tries against the Kings were scored by their forwards, and of the 9 tries scored in the game, 3 came from rolling mauls!
Much like the skew feed into the scrum, the rolling maul is a scourge on the modern game. Both create unfair contests, and while I am pretty sure the former leads to more collapsed scrums as the opposition are not given the opportunity to strike so have no reason to hold the hooker up, the latter is just plain ugly to watch.