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Irish scrum couldn't cope with raw Bok power, but McGrath unlucky not to reap more reward

It was a dream debut for loosehead Steven “Red Bull” Kitschoff.

IN SHORT, SATURDAY wasn’t good.

South Africa controlled their own ball with ease, and on the second of Ireland’s only two scrums, the Boks marched through them for a penalty.

Once again, it was Tendai Mtawarira – the Beast – who tormented Ireland.

Jack McGrath had Frans Malherbe’s number, but the sheer power coming through the opposite side meant that even McGrath found himself going backwards.

The opening scrum of the day on three minutes set the tone with South Africa marching Ireland back, but there was an element of deception going on, with Frans Malherbe boring in on McGrath.

If we look at the initial angles, all seems fine, with both players straight and square.

1 initial

Once the ball is in though, South Africa begin to advance forward, and then go diagonally towards the corner of the pitch.

If we look at it in full, it’s important to keep an eye on the feet of Malherbe. We can see how he pushes off his right foot, causing the scrum to drift up and to the left.

1 malherbe angle

Usually when a prop is driving forward, there is more of a quick pump motion, with shorter, bursting steps.

However, Malherbe with each step Malherbe takes, we can see how much he’s pushing up and slowly locking his legs out fully.

And as he shears in across the front row, we can see his body pointing in. With Mtawarira making yards on Ross on the other side, we can see that Malherbe’s angle causes the packs to diagonally drift towards the corner.

1 malherbe angle

Despite the Springboks making such yards, it’s worth noting that the Irish front row handle the situation well. McGrath doesn’t get tempted to follow Malherbe inside and cause the scrum to fold in. With referee Glen Jackson watching their side, a collapse in front of his eyes would all but certainly result in a penalty.

However, the penalty did arrive on the next scrum, and there can’t be many arguments with the decision. Funnily enough though, the penalty comes in spite of Malherbe.

He gets himself in a terrible position initially, and just about stays up in time to allow Mtawarira drive through Ross and win the decision.

If we look at the two packs as the scrum sets, we can see that Malherbe completely misjudges his footwork, and his right foot isn’t even on the ground as he and McGrath come together.

2 malherbe feet

Freezing it at the exact moment, we can see how his toe is barely grazing the grass, with absolutely no weight coming down on his foot. With his footwork so poor, he’s completely off balance immediately.

2 malherbe engage

He becomes desperate, and has to overextend his legs to stay up. As we can see below, his knee is actually on the ground, before the ball even comes in. But crucially, while his knee is touching the ground, he somehow manages to get his feet in place, which keeps the scrum up.

2 malherbe knee

If that right foot had slipped when his knee dropped, he would have been all but certain to have been penalised. However, with Mtawarira on the other side, all Malherbe has to do is keep his side upright, and the Beast can do the rest.

2 full

A look at the reverse angle shows us how Mtawarira dominated Ross. There’s nothing complicated to it, just a straight body, power, and pumping of the legs.

Also, compare the way Mtawarira pumps his legs to the example of Malherbe from the opening scrum: he never locks out his legs, but rather gives shorter bursts of power.

2 beast

Malherbe’s angle had looked funny on that first scrum of the day, but with no penalty conceded in that instance, it wasn’t a major problem. However later in the first half it won the Boks a penalty, and Jack McGrath wasn’t pleased.

Again, he attacks Rory Best, moving diagonally across, however this time we can see how he actually loses his footing, collapsing inside, with McGrath falling in on top of him.

5 malherbe feet

Here’s the initial set-up. Note the placement of Malherbe’s right foot.

5 malherbe feet

And as he pushes inside, we can see how he immediately has to step inside, before collapsing.

5 Malherbe crooked

It was the touchjudge Ben Whitehouse who penalised McGrath, and for at least 20 seconds, referee Glen Jackson didn’t even know what it was for.

The clock was at 30:12 when the decision was given, before Jackson can be heard speaking into his mic at 30:31: “What for?” It’s only then he’s able to relay the info to Ireland: “Number 1, in and down…”

While it’s great that touch judges are trying to watch out for things at scrum time, it isn’t fair to referees that in a lot of situations their only help is coming from this distance….

5 distance

From there, it’s next to impossible to actually see the mechanics of the scrum. All Whitehouse can establish is that South Africa started going forward, and then the scrum collapsed.

The look on Jack McGrath’s face after said a lot.

5 mcgrath reaction

Shortly after, another South Africa penalty arrived, and it was the other touch judge – Angus Gardner – who made the call. Again, Ireland disputed it.

If we watch it in full, we can see that the Springboks are advancing well on Ireland, before it appears to fold over on the far side, and the penalty is given.

6 full

The argument put forward by Rory Best to Jackson is that Ireland never actually collapsed, that they kept their side of the scrum up. However, while we never get a replay of that side, we will analyse what we can see from here.

This is the initial set-up, with everything normal.

6 initial

If we freeze it at the moment of the collapse, firstly we can see just how far Ireland have been marched back, with the red lines splicing through the centre of the scrum. However, we can also see Tendai Mtawarira’s body falling in under the scrum.

6 collapse

Mike Ross hasn’t collapsed, but just beforehand, we can see CJ Stander shifting up alongside Ross and appearing to drive in on Mtawarira.

6 stander

It’s an issue we highlighted last week, where the flanker slides up along the side of his own prop when he’s under pressure, in order to drive in on the opposition prop.

While we can’t see what exactly what happens, we can give Angus Gardner the benefit of the doubt based on the pieces we can see.

Early in the second half it was another concession by Ireland at the scrum, this time a free kick. Initially it had been reset, with both Ross and Mtawarira appearing to fold in together.

8 a down

However on the reset, it was Ross who was penalised for trying to hit-and-chase.

We can see below how he tries to take an extra half step on the engagement, before collapsing.

8 b down

It’s clever play from Mtawarira though. In the first Test South Africa mastered the hit-and-chase, stealing a yard on the early scrums. However, rather than let Ross put him on the back foot, Mtawarira doesn’t try to absorb the hit, instead making Ross fall forward. In turn, it exposes how he’s trying to drive early.

The final scrum of the day actually came with more than 20 minutes to play, and it was South Africa’s most dominant drive.

As bad a moment as it was for Ireland, it’s a special moment for Bordeaux prop Steven Kitschoff, as he absolutely destroys Tadhg Furlong, just seconds after coming on to make his Test debut.

He goes at Furlong straight away. His body shape is perfect, driving straight and square. Most importantly, we can see how his head (circled) has stayed on the outside, ready to come in under Furlong’s body.

9 kitschokk initisl

And the more he drives, the more he gets under Furlong’s chest, forcing him to pop upwards.

9 furlong body

Eventually, Furlong gets bent back over himself, with the second and back rows collapsing under him.

9 scrum down

Watching it back in full, it’s hard not to be seriously impressed by Kitschoff, who did more in his first 30 seconds as an international than Trevor Nyakane did off the bench in the previous two Tests. He’s nicknamed the Red Bull. It’s not hard to see why.

9 full

Looking forward, there is a big front row decision to be made for the November tests. Mike Ross struggled in his two games against Mtawarira, but on the flip side this South African scrum is far better than New Zealand’s, and even Australia’s, which has regressed since the World Cup.

Ross will be almost 37 by the time those games roll around, and while he’ll still be able to offer a lot to the Irish set-piece, starting him would be a selection for the short term.

It’s vital that Tadhg Furlong (or even Marty Moore) need to rack up some caps between now and the World Cup, and easing one of them into the starting shirt this winter is the smart way to do it.

However, cutting Ross completely would be a disaster. With his experience (and the lack thereof, of Furlong, Moore and Bealham) having him in the extended squad is a must.

Even if he doesn’t play, his presence in the camp would be akin to having an extra coach, and if there are injuries, he can be Joe Schmidt’s safety blanket, rather than sending three inexperienced tightheads in at the deep end.

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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