Rugby World Cup
Beauty in eye of beholder: rolling maul may be an Aussie's new best friend
Sam Bruce
September 23, 2015
Australia 28-13 Fiji (Australia only)

The rolling maul has long been despised by rugby fans in Australia, but it may just be the weapon that carries the Wallabies beyond the Pool stage of the Rugby World Cup and deep into the knock-out stage.

Looking at the evidence from Wednesday's clash with Fiji in Cardiff, where the Islanders failed to tire as had been expected, and finished the game far stronger than their more-fancied opponents, it may prove Australia's best hope. Had it not been for David Pocock's first-half double - both tries coming from a five-metre lineout - the Wallabies would have been under real pressure in Cardiff.

And to think that all the pre-match talk about the Wallabies' two-fetcher system surrounded the breakdown threat it created; it's now abundantly clear that Pocock must be in the run-on side for his marshalling of the maul. It is a ploy used to great success by his Super Rugby team, the Brumbies, and one the Wallabies will likely need to repeat in the coming weeks.

David Pocock scores the opening try for Australia against Fiji
David Pocock scores the opening try for Australia against Fiji© Michael Steele/Getty Images

Why Australia might be disappointed

Away from the forwards, the Wallabies failed to break down their opponents in the first half. Full-back Israel Folau looked dangerous at times but never managed to power his way into the backfield. There was no space afforded to Tevita Kuridrani at outside centre either, nor to wingers Rob Horne and Adam Ashley-Cooper.

And then in the second half, when the Wallabies finally found some field position and received a succession of penalties at Fiji's end, the lineout failed. Fiji won three straight on Australia's throw, after Rob Simmons had been substituted, and the Aussies were soon forced into taking three points as the momentum behind Fiji's comeback grew.

There was no sign the Fijians were feeling the pinch of last Friday's opener against the Wallabies; if anything, it was the Wallabies with more hands on hips and heads. But Australia's defence held, and Michael Cheika and his troops can take comfort in that.

© Jan Hendrik Kruger/Getty Images

Cheika will no doubt be disappointed with these opening minutes, but this being the first game of the Wallabies' campaign some of the inadequacies can be attributed to rust and can be ironed out over the coming 10 days. There is also the clash against Uruguay on Sunday, though Cheika said he would likely "change everyone in the starting side". That fixture in Birmingham should see the Wallabies produce the kind of rugby for which the Australian game is famous: free-flowing attack delivered at pace and with a high-skill level; the kind of play that evokes the memories of Mark Ella and World Cup heroes David Campese and Tim Horan.

Ruck'n Maul: A perfect way to start for Australia

But for the tournament as a whole, the maul could well be all - providing skipper Stephen Moore's throwing is on the money.

There is little doubt the Wallabies are well set on the drive, and, using the blueprint established at the Brumbies, they will at least ask serious questions of the opposition's defence using the tactic - no matter who they are. That said, England and Wales, two sides with a strong maul of their own, will defend the tactic better than did the Fijians at the Millennium Stadium so the ploy is not without its risk.

The rolling maul is not pretty, and the tactic certainly won't win any new fans back home, but - just like Cheika's thoughts on bonus points at this tournament - it doesn't matter if you keep on winning.

The rolling maul might just be an Aussie's new best friend. Who'd have thought it?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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