As South Africa was on the Wallabies five-metre line for the second time on the weekend, the commentators said, “It’s almost impossible to stop a maul, legally.”
Since that possession ended with a South Africa try and a yellow card for Australia, they were right.
While the Aussies did end up winning the game, it doesn’t take away the fact that the maul has become an overpowered move.
For the past five years, teams have perfected the maul from the five-metre line (and even ten for some teams), especially South African team, who use it whenever they are in the attacking 22.
This even stretches down to their Super Rugby teams.
What makes the maul so difficult to defend is that the defence is already on the backfoot, the backline needs to make their tackles if they want to stop a try, yet getting any support from the forwards (especially the flankers in the backline) is not possible.
While the maul is skillful, the ultimate winner is who has more strength.
If the defence goes a second too early, there is going to be a penalty advantage.
The defence also can’t bring the maul down to the ground because that is also illegal, giving the offence another penalty advantage.
Finally, if a defender is in the wrong position, it’s another penalty advantage, often leading to either the team being able to try something creative, or just using that penalty to run another maul.
This cycle of penalties will lead to a yellow card for constant infringements, or a penalty try. But the only reason the defence constantly does this is because they otherwise run the risk of conceding a try.
But the real problem is the ‘use it’ system. The scrumhalf has three ‘use its’ to get rid of the ball from the maul, yet one only occurs when the maul is stagnant. This means that even after the maul has been stopped the forwards are given the opportunity to have another go at scoring.
On the second attempt they are often able to score since the defensive forwards aren’t able to regather themselves to stop a restructured maul.
At the past World Cup, 91 per cent of the time the offence won the lineout, meaning it is nearly impossible to defend.
The solution is changing the ‘use it’ rule from three to one. If the scrumhalf doesn’t pass the ball, it’s a scrum to the other team.
This encourages backline play and free-flowing rugby, rather than teams constantly having seven people in the lineouts, which will be more entertaining for the spectators and generate more interest in the sport.
It would even support teams that are able to set up a great maul. If a team is able to have a structured maul that doesn’t falter they will get all of the advantages, but teams that are sloppy will not be able to abuse the rules.
It encourages creative forward play, as teams try to find new ways to beat the system by using creative plays that we haven’t seen before.
The benefits for the defence are also clear: they only have to make one stand against the defence and can put a focus on the backline.
This change would clearly benefit the likes of the Wallabies, who let in two tries (one almost closing the game out) over the weekend, and it would hurt the Springboks, who over the past five year have made it a staple of their game. However, eventually teams will adapt and the mauls used would be better.
It would be one more step into position-less rugby, something we are eventually coming to, and therefore make the game more entertaining.