The much-anticipated schools game of the season was played at the Royal Complex on Saturday amidst a rather boisterous and vociferous crowd. There was a clear segregation between the two sets of supporters and it could have only been intentional with a view to better crowd control.
The weather gods were kind and the playing conditions were good although the playing surface left much to be desired, with several patches of sawdust indicating the areas that were suspect. A lot was at stake, defending champions, unbeaten record to date and the acrimonious incidents of the past.
RC came out with a definitive game plan and that was to play to their strength, keep the ball with the forwards, use the rolling maul and deprive Pathana of possession. They succeeded in various degrees in the areas mentioned.
The entire season RC has been very reliant on the use of the rolling maul and Saturday was no exception. Even when they were awarded penalties within reasonable kicking range, they opted for the line out at the corner, which was indicative of their level of confidence.
In order to stop the rolling maul, collapsing the same is a stupid solution and Pathana paid the price for the same. What has been in RC’s favour is their heavier pack, rock solid formation and the belief that they can push over any side into submission.
Whilst weight is an advantage, without a doubt, there are a number of ploys that club teams employ, as evident in the current Super Rugby games to counter the rolling maul. These inter alia include the disruption of clean ball, forming a proper wedge and locking it to avoid being rolled over or the option of non-engagement when the offside line shifts, giving you the option of playing the ball. These are far easier said than done, but the rolling maul is not a devastating weapon that a team can win based on its usage alone.
Pathana had no definitive plan to counter the rolling maul and watched helplessly as if they were lambs being taken to slaughter. The fact that the bulk of the tries came from this ploy of RC bears testimony to the fact. It is baffling that the coaching staff of all the schools have struggled to grapple with this phenomenon and have literally rolled over and succumbed to this onslaught.
Without doubt RC has been a class side this year and deserved to be crowned as champs despite the argument that their play has been pretty one-dimensional.
Pathana have been playing street smart rugby this season and have depended on their skipper to call the shots. They appear to have moved away as a conscious policy from some of their innovative and high-risk tactics. Thus with the employment of the rolling maul by RC, the Pathana skipper’s effectiveness was greatly diminished as he was called upon to defend stoutly and that eventually had an impact on his overall contribution.
In a number of games, as was in this case, the Pathana skipper does not join the fray when they win second phase ball, and opts to take up position in the middle of the field and then is a very potent force. However, against RC, as much as he stayed off the second phase ball, the RC forwards embarked on some great spoiling work and managed to slow the ball. This forced a number of handling errors by Pathana and the effectiveness of the Pathana skipper was nullified.
Whenever Pathana got good ball, and decided to put the ball behind the RC three quarters they made good ground, but thereafter lost the plot as they failed to capitalise on the resultant set pieces. The overall strength and cohesive play by RC finally did take its toll as Pathana after some serious RC onslaughts relented as they gave away pushover tries, not helped by them having a man in the naughty boys chair for 10 minutes. The upcoming knockout games will be keen to watch as once again it will be a do or die situation and Pathana would do well to rethink their ploy against the rolling maul.
"In the final analysis, the inability of Pathana to counter the rolling maul, being starved of possession and handling errors cost them the game. RC played a near perfect game, sticking to basics, gaining territory through their effective rucking and exploiting the apparent weakness of the opposition to counter their marauding forwards"
In the final analysis, the inability of Pathana to counter the rolling maul, being starved of possession and handling errors cost them the game. RC played a near perfect game, sticking to basics, gaining territory through their effective rucking and exploiting the apparent weakness of the opposition to counter their marauding forwards.
In such high-profile games, the quality and the consistent approach and interpretation of the rules are important and the referee is entrusted with this job, together with his two assistants on the touchline. Whilst the referee must position himself in such a manner so as to observe the many infringements that could take place in a maul, ruck or a set piece, being too close to the action does not augur well for the smooth flow of the game. At times the referee did interfere with the flow of play and it will be good if they review their performance so as to improve of certain key areas in the future.