New safety-first scrum ruling taking its toll on me – Mike Ross
NEW laws, different problems. The scrum may have changed this season, but if last Saturday's succession of sets and resets told us anything about what has changed since the IRB again tweaked the rules around rugby's least popular set-piece, it was that things might be safer, but they are far from fixed.
Ireland are expected to target the Australians' eight this weekend as part of their strategy to beat the Wallabies, but with interpretation nine-tenths of the law, much will depend on New Zealand referee Chris Pollock's thoughts at what became the dominant area of the clash with Samoa for much of the game.
Mike Ross has been at the coalface of the scrum at professional level for the best part of a decade and has seen the rule changes come and go.
On Saturday, his side got the edge on the islanders from the off and dominated the set-piece throughout. But having to pack down over and over again took its toll on what he was able to contribute around the pitch.
And while those watching at home and at Lansdowne Road were frustrated by the repetitive resetting of scrums, the Leinster prop said it wasn't much fun for those on the pitch either.
"We don't like to spend ages setting and resetting because it does take it out of your legs. So probably the less resets the better as far as we're concerned," he said.
"The way the scrummaging laws have changed this season, prior to it a scrum might last four or five seconds. Now you're getting 12, 13, 14-second scrums, and that has a knock-on effect. You're channelling a lot of weight through your legs, you're pushing harder, you're supporting that load, so it does cause some lactic (acid) to build up a little bit.
"The thing I notice about it is your legs do get a bit heavier, but at the same time your back and your neck feel better. Last year it was essentially like a little bit of a car crash in terms of the packs coming together. Now, it's more of a lean-in. The pressure still builds, but it's not instantaneous."
The Wallabies tightened up their scrum in last weekend's big win over Italy, but their old failings in their traditionally weakest area were apparent when they lost to England at Twickenham a week previously.
And while the tourists are often maligned for their work in the tight exchanges, Ireland forwards coach John Plumtree says it's an unfair criticism.
"I guess (last Saturday) was pretty frustrating for the referee," he said. "I think he free-kicked them two or three times, penalised them once or twice as well, so whenever you get a prop that's got a bit of a problem technically, you're going to have some problems out there.
"I think that was probably the case. We would have liked to have applied a little bit more pressure to them – our ball was alright and it was a good start for us, but really we'll need to increase that level as well at the weekend because Australia are not that bad at all at scrum time. So we know we have to up it a bit."
Of course, Ireland will look to utilise more than one weapon against the improving Wallabies, and Plumtree has been impressed by Sean O'Brien in particular since arriving to the northern hemisphere last summer.
The Leinster openside has become a more rounded player this season; New Zealander Plumtree, who has coached in Super Rugby for the last number of years, holds the Tullow native in high regard.
"Your seven is sort of more of a tackler and a poacher – but Sean is a very competent ball runner, which makes him able to play any position in the back-row," he said.
"That makes him very valuable. You look at Richie McCaw, those type of players, that are pretty comfortable in any position in the back-row... and Sean looks like he's that type of player as well."