Well, well, well, what’s going on? The long held view that the front row is made up of men who are as tough as the position they play in has taken a battering this week as two top props show their emotions. First, we have Nicolas Mas walking out on a press conference and then we hear that Gethin Jenkins is upset because he feels he was being picked on by referee Romain Poite!
The modern idea that players should attend Press conferences to discuss what went wrong or right in a game, was the reason behind the exit of French prop Mas.
Unfortunately, it remains a truth that many of those who write about international rugby have little or no knowledge of what it’s really like to play the game at any level, let alone international.
Asking a current player as to why the French pack is not as dominant as in the past, is, to say the least, puerile.
For a player with the experience of Mas, such questions are like a red rag to a bull, particularly when he would have felt that he addressed them when asked the first time – but the repetitive nature of the journalist questioning him would seem to be trying to elicit a controversial answer.
The simple fact is, because the French have a very good scrum, opposition coaches work on ways to dissipate its power, often including encouraging their props to cheat, knowing that most referees are unlikely to know who is to blame and could penalise either side.
Knowing that French head coach, Philippe Saint-Andre, had dropped No.8 Louis Picamoles after mocking referee Alain Rolland for sin-binning him, would have made Mas cautious of criticising the referees France had played under.
As I don’t have that problem, I can say that poor refereeing is largely to blame for the French pack not dominating the scrums as they should.
In the France v England game (refereed well by Nigel Owens) France dominated the scrum, winning nine out of a total 12 (seven French and five English) while in the game against Wales, refereed by Alain Rolland, a majority of scrums were incomplete with the Welsh conceding three times as many penalties and yet two props, Mas and Jenkins, were sin binned.
Even against Scotland, the French pack dominated the scrums with the Scottish front row conceding five penalties, so anyone can understand the frustrations of Mas when continually questioned as to the pack’s performance, a frustration that made it sensible for him to leave rather than say something he might regret.
Meanwhile, Welsh prop Jenkins has said that he thought that French referee Romain Poite was picking on him and that’s why he was sin-binned against England.
An interesting fact about the games that Jenkins has played in is there are always more incomplete scrums than those completed. The props he faces manage to keep the scrum up against all other opposition but somehow become almost incompetent when faced with Jenkins.
Now, maybe it’s just a coincidence that games with Jenkins in always result in more incomplete scrums, or it could be something in the way he scrummages that causes the problems.
Warren Gatland must have thought there was a problem going into the game against England, otherwise he would not have made such a point of reiterating about the quality of the whole Welsh front row, a point so laboured as to cast doubt.
I wrote in last week’s paper that I believed Jenkins was the weak spot in an otherwise good Welsh front row, while the points highlighted in Nick Cain’s article in the same edition described the ‘technique’ that Jenkins uses to make his opposite number collapse (something that endangers the whole front row) in order to win a penalty.
All referees will look at videos of games to see how players play, not to go into games with preconceived ideas but in order to manage the game in a more positive manner.
I remember Clive Norling warning me before a game that he had watched the videos and knew just how I played and that I would not ‘get away’ with it if I tried to play that way during the game.
The game was played and I never conceded a scrum penalty despite still playing my destructive style and after the game Norling said: “I’ve got to say fair play to you, what you do looks ok on the field, despite the fact you scrum so low.”
The point Norling was making was despite the fact the scrums were low they did not collapse because I held my opposite number up so that we could drive or lock the scrum rather than force a collapse.
One quality that marks out the better players is being able to adapt to what a referee asks you to do and so it was Jenkins’ failure to take note of his two warnings that saw him finally yellow- carded. If he had been able to adapt his game then he would have remained on the field and could have contributed to improving the Welsh performance.
As all the excuses for the failure of Wales to play in the devastating style they have shown over the past few years are rolled out, Welsh forwards’ coach Robin McBryde writing to the IRB in veiled attempts to try and blame referee Poite for Jenkins’ ineptitude is pointless and will cast a dark shadow over the whole Welsh Six Nations campaign.
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