Craig Dowd
Nothing boring about rolling mauls
Craig Dowd
July 22, 2015
New Zealand 39-18 Argentina (Australia only)

New Zealand's Rugby Championship Test against South Africa at Ellis Park in Johannesburg on Saturday is a game from which the All Blacks need to get some confidence. To go there and play well will be an important part of their Rugby World Cup preparation.

There are things they will be seeking in the game.

In particular, their lineout defence will be getting a lot of attention this week. It's all very well for Steve Hansen to be critical of the rolling maul laws, but the reality is that nothing is going to change this side of the World Cup. And there're a whole lot of northern hemisphere teams who are not going to share Hansen's views of the rolling maul. New Zealand is in isolation in that regard. Australia might side with us, but no-one else will. Can you see England, France and South Africa getting rid of the rolling maul? Not likely.

Argentina's Juan Manuel Leguizamon wins a lineout, New Zealand v Argentina, The Rugby Championship, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, July 17, 2015
Argentina's lineout was good in Christchurch © Getty Images

In so far as the rolling mauls are concerned, I thought the All Blacks were technically very poor in the way they tried to stop the Pumas' drives. Argentina's lineout was very good, but the way New Zealand tried to stop the Pumas' rolling maul was poor; the All Blacks were too high and they weren't working in unison for a whole lot of technical reasons.

Steve Hansen said it was boring; but if you understand how the rolling maul works, it is not boring. You have got to have the right attitude and you have got to work together, and you have got three seconds to stop the rolling maul. You either put it down, you put it out or you get it going backwards. If you don't do that, and do it together as a pack, then you are going to be in trouble.

Steve Hansen seemed to have no complaints about Richie McCaw's try from a lineout drive © Getty Images

Hansen's comment that no-one has been hurt dropping a maul would draw a disagreement from me. I believe they looked at that when using the Experimental Law Variations, when they allowed the maul to be dropped, and there were too many injuries. We know what the laws are regarding rolling mauls; so just stop the drive. If you are good enough at stopping the maul, what is the problem? The fact is that New Zealand just weren't good enough.

The All Blacks, meanwhile, need to build on the tight five in Johannesburg. They were good in Christchurch last weekend, as noted in the Scrum5 podcast, and they need to be good again at Ellis Park. New Zealand need consistency from them and to have their cohesion back.

The Test also provides an opportunity for Beauden Barrett to push his case. He has come under criticism for his play in the Super Rugby final, and this is his first game since; he needs to prove the doubters wrong. He has shown he can go well whenever he has worn the black jersey, but Lima Sopoaga has gone over to South Africa and I would like to see him get a chance at some stage in the game. He's someone with a great kicking percentage and he has proven himself this year.

A lot of All Blacks are still pushing for positions, and now all the Highlanders and Hurricanes are back for the game; with three players left at home, there are players in South Africa who are pushing for their spot in the side.

We still don't know how good South Africa are this year; nor, for that matter, do we know how good Australia are. South Africa went very close to winning in Brisbane but they have a vulnerable look about them.

The Argentina game was great; it was what we all wanted to see, and we are hard pressed to complain about the way the All Blacks played. There were a few passes that didn't go to hand but you could see the intent and attitude of the players, and that is all we what we want to see as there is no-one who can beat the All Blacks when they do that. And players who had been rusty in Samoa were starting to find form and play well.

TJ Perenara had another outstanding game, and all the players we mentioned in last week's column stood up. It was a real shame to see Waisake Naholo go off injured, as he was playing really well and just looked dangerous, but that's not the end of his career. As Arnie says: he'll be back.

Hansen praises underdone Dagg

And how good were the scrums.

I heard Keven Mealamu say before the game they knew the Argentines scrummaged for 20 seconds; that they held it for a long, long time. But the All Blacks went in with the same attitude, to fight fire with fire, and we saw the result that happens when two packs want to scrummage and have a go at each other physically. We get clean scrums when two packs are competitive and get stationary. Conversely, when you get a mismatch, quite often the weaker side can get a penalty or some sort of advantage from the referee - which is completely wrong. We need to be rewarding the dominant pack.

The All Blacks clearly had the edge in the scrum when the substitutions were made, and Wyatt Crockett, Codie Taylor and Nepo Laulala were outstanding when they went on.

I've been going on about Laulala for well over 12 months now, and I believe he is someone who is really putting pressure on. His set-up, his straight back - I haven't seen anyone with a straight back like his since Olo Brown, and from me that represents a huge compliment. With a bit of time invested in him, he has got a big future.

I think Wyatt Crockett also is really proving his worth after having some time in the saddle last year. He's such a big strong man and he's shown that he can be very destructive when he gets underneath his opposing tight-head. And that is why Wyatt Crockett is there. When he's on song and scrummaging well he's dangerous.

And so far as Keven Mealamu is concerned as hooker, I would say injury is the only thing that is going to get in his way. He's a tight forward so he doesn't have to run a sub 10- or sub 11-second 100 metres; he has to get his lineout throwing right, he has to get his scrummaging right. That core strength he has along with his dynamic field game and the unique way he carries the ball hasn't gone anywhere; he's still got it. The only thing that is going to hold him back is injury so we need to look after him.

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