Mauled: Brumbies slam ‘disengage’ tactics as not in spirit of rugby union

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The Brumbies want referees to crack down on the way they police the rolling maul from a lineout. Photo: Jay Cronan Brumbies forwards coach Dan McKellar says disengaging maul tactics are “not in the spirit of the game”. Photo: Jay Cronan
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Sam Carter was penalised three times against the Highlanders. Photo: Jay Cronan

The ACT Brumbies have hit out at teams using disengaging tactics to stop a rolling maul, slamming it as “not in the spirit of the game” and pleading with SANZAAR officials to reward a strong set piece.

The Brumbies’ biggest attacking weapon has been nullified in recent weeks as their opponents get creative to stop them using a rolling maul from a lineout when they’re close to the line.

Sam Carter was penalised three times last weekend and the Otago Highlanders successfully opted not to engage in a battle of muscle by not pushing against the Brumbies’ maul.

Coach Stephen Larkham has asked SANZAAR referees boss Lyndon Bray this week for clarification on interpretations as the Brumbies attempt to end a mid-season slump.

Bray has written to Super Rugby coaches for the past two seasons detailing how teams disengage at mauls and his view that it was a “very, very negative tactic”.

The Brumbies made a decision as a team to always compete in mauls rather than stepping away, and formers coach Dan McKellar wants balance in decision-making.

“The referees are looking at the attacking team and not the defending team at the maul. I don’t think they’ve got the balance there,” McKellar said.

“We totally understand that refereeing a maul is not an easy job … we’ve got to tweak a couple of things and I’d like to think the decisions from the officials can be better at how teams defend it.

“Disengaging is negative and we feel as a club that it’s not in the spirit of the game. Mauling is an important part of rugby. A standing off tactic just gives teams an easy out so they don’t work on their maul defence.

“I think World Rugby and SANZAAR need to look at stamping it out of the game because it’s a poor tactic and not in the spirit of the game.”

The Brumbies expect to feel the brutality of the Pretoria Bulls at Canberra Stadium on Friday night. The visitors are well known for their uncompromising play and fondness of the rolling maul.

That will suit the Brumbies given the maul has produced a good chunk of their tries this year as they fight to keep their finals hopes alive.

The Brumbies have scored 28 tries in nine games so far this year. Nineteen of those were in the first five games before tries dried up over the past month.

Larkham has been left frustrated with referee interpretations in recent weeks that have cost his team dearly.

But they only had themselves to blame in a crucial loss to the Highlanders, scoring just one try in the match despite having 73 per cent of possession in the 80-minute contest.

“We’ve discussed [issues] with the referees’ boss a number of times and I’ll have a meeting with the referee [on Thursday afternoon] to get more clarity,” Larkham said.

“There are a number of things we’ve learnt from, but a number of things I think the referees have learnt from as well.”

Bray sent a video to Super Rugby coaches last year and appealed to their good nature to resist using the disengaging tactic.

But the move is not illegal and is an effective way of preventing a team from using a maul as a weapon when the try line is within sight.

The Brumbies have won the most penalties of any team inside their attacking 22 metres this season.

However, they have regularly turned down shots at goal to go for a close-range lineout in the hope of powering over for a try. Hookers Josh Mann-Rea and Stephen Moore have scored three tries each at the back of a maul this year.

“We need to have that variation in our game and we’ve spoken about that,” McKellar said.

“You have to identify different things and if teams stand off you can still maul, but you just can’t transfer the ball back. I’d be surprised if the Bulls use a tactic like that.

“The frustrating part is we want the decision to be right on the night. It doesn’t help us if they look back and they see that there have been errors in decisions.”

SUPER RUGBY ROUND 11

Friday: ACT Brumbies v Pretoria Bulls at Canberra Stadium, 7.45pm. TV time: Live on Fox Sports 2. Tickets available from Ticketek.

Brumbies team: 15. Aidan Toua, 14. James Dargaville, 13. Tevita Kuridrani, 12. Robbie Coleman, 11. Nigel Ah Wong, 10. Christian Lealiifano, 9. Tomas Cubelli, 8. Jarrad Butler, 7. David Pocock, 6. Scott Fardy, 5. Sam Carter, 4. Rory Arnold, 3. Ben Alexander, 2. Stephen Moore, 1. Scott Sio. Reserves: 16. Josh Mann-Rea, 17. Allan Alaalatoa, 18. RuanSmith, 19. Tom Staniforth, 20. Blake Enever, 21. Jordan Smiler, 22. Joe Powell, 23. Lausii Taliauli.

Bulls team: 15. SP Marais, 14. Travis Ismaiel, 13. Jesse Kriel, 12. Jan Serfontein, 11. Bjorn Basson, 10. Francois Brummer, 9. Piet van Zyl, 8. Hanro Liebenberg, 7. Arno Botha, 6. Lappies Labuschagne, 5. Marvin Orie, 4. RG Snyman, 3. Marcel van der Merwe, 2. Adriaan Strauss, 1. Trevor Nyakane.Reserves: 16. Bandise Maku, 17. Lizo Gqoboka, 18. Werner Kruger, 19. Jannes Kirsten, 20. Roelof Smit, 21. Rudy Paige, 22. Tian Schoeman, 23. Dan Kriel.

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