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John Plumtree

Mauling is a beautiful thing


The Springboks set up a driving maul against the All Blacks The Springboks set up a driving maul against the All Blacks

In his fortnightly column for SARugbymag.co.za, former Sharks coach JOHN PLUMTREE looks at why the Bulls and Boks are so good at mauling, and how teams can counter it.

South African packs love to use the maul as a weapon.

The Springboks' first match of the Castle Rugby Championship at Soccer City was a good example of this. The forwards scored three first-half tries from the maul and tore the heart out of the Pumas pack.

Many rugby purists dislike the driving maul, 5m out from the tryline. They would prefer to see the ball go off the top of the lineout and the backs pulling off some fancy move that ends up with the blindside wing scoring next to the posts.

But as an opposition coach your heart is in your mouth when you see Morné Steyn step up to drill the ball into the corner, 5m out from the tryline. What you really want is for him to take the three points.

The Bulls and Boks are so good at the driving maul that when they get their driving system in place they are very hard to stop. I bet Frans Ludeke and Heyneke Meyer don't have to ask their big forwards to practise that facet of play because they absolutely love it. 'Can't wait, we love it, coach' is their attitude.

They don't just set up a maul 5m out from the tryline but from further up-field too, so they can pressure the opposition into conceding a penalty. Their champion kicker can then go for goal or kick into the corner for another crack.

Why are the Bulls and Boks so good at mauling?

Generally they win the ball where they want to win it in the lineout – on Juandré Kruger or just behind him on Pierre Spies – which is important.

They pack even numbers on either side of the jumper very quickly and the ripper (who has taken the ball from the jumper) slips to the back of the maul, with his mates protecting him from the opposition. They also get very low and tight and work hard for each other. If the opposition haven't taken out the lifters and jumper quickly, so they can get closer to the ball, then the Bulls or Boks invariably score the try. The try-scorer is normally the ripper and/or the hooker, and while he does the least work he gets the glory!

So how do you stop the driving maul?

Firstly, the defending pack must apply their own pressure to put doubt into the attacking pack's minds. The defending pack will know that the opposition want to win ball in a certain area of the lineout so it's important for them to contest that area with their best jumper or jumpers. Secondly, the defending pack must force their opponents to throw to the front of the lineout, so that all members of the defending pack can apply weight to that area.

It's vital that all of the defending forwards are committed to stopping the maul, except for the hooker who has a role to play defensively on the blind side (although if you have a mongrel hooker like Andrew Hore, who loves the ugly stuff, you can use another member of the pack to defend the blind side).

It's also handy to have an irritating lock who can get his long arms through the attacking maul and disrupt the ball (Albert van den Berg was good at that for the Sharks).

Sacking the jumper has its benefits but lifters are good at protecting the jumpers and if the defending forward isn't successful then there's real trouble as the attacking pack will now be set and ready to go.

I'm sure a lot of other Test and Super Rugby sides would like to see the driving maul de-powered in some way to make life easier for them when they play against South African teams, but I would hate to see this happen as it is one point of difference we have over other teams.

The maul, what a beautiful thing.

Plumtree on the new scrum laws

Photo: Duif du Toit/Gallo Images

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