Monday, 21 April 2008

Whatever happened to: the Rolling Maul?

Sad old fart that I am, here's the first of what I anticipate being a series of ramblings about odds and sods that appear to have gone missing from the game of rugby since I started playing back in the middle ages. These may involve skills, tactics, or personalities, or off-field activities - anything really that has become an endangered species in this day and age of super-fit, teetotal, professional athletes.

What I do promise is that this won't merely turn into an excuse for a rant against modern day trends, Australians or the dreaded ELVs. Not today at any rate.

First up on the extinct list is the rolling maul.

"What?" I hear you say, "surely today's rugby is blighted by the sight of every lineout turning into a catch and drive by the forwards which is nigh on impossible to defend against. That's why we want collapsing the maul to be allowed." (Ooops, nearly mentioned the ELVs there - must refrain, must refrain).

Well, no - what we see on the modern rugby field is not, in fact a rolling maul. It's a driving maul - and the difference isn't particularly subtle. The modern driving maul involves all forwards involved facing forwards and pumping their legs, driving the maul on with the ball safely tucked away at the back out of harm's way. The maul can be driven straight or at an angle but there's no sense of rolling whatsoever.

The rolling maul, on the other hand - as learned by yours truly as a young man - does exactly what it says on the tin. It involves (or involved - as I haven't seen one executed on a rugby field for some considerable time) the pack working in groups of 2 and 3 to literally roll around the side of the maul, protecting the ball and committing the opposition forwards, releasing the ball on the scrum half's command (or, more often than not, just continuing to roll as it was great fun!).

It is/was slower than the driving maul and probably less dynamic, but it was usually used more as a means to an end (i.e. getting on the front foot) than as an end in itself which, to a certain extent, is what the driving maul has become.

From memory, the first time I witnessed the driving maul was when Buck Shelford's All Black pack put it to great effect during the 1987 World Cup - that New Zealand team did pretty much everything more dynamically than the rest of the world at the time and their mauling technique was clearly the beginning of the end for the traditional rolling maul - and I vividly remember an Otago pack driving a maul from over 30 metres to score against a hapless Lions pack (featuring several players who had, according to reports, gone "off-tour") in 1993.

Whilst still a fan of the driving maul (which, given the current climate, can consider itself to be officially "endangered"), I do mourn the extinction of the old rolling maul, mainly because it was an incredibly satisfying skill to get right and was a particularly forward-specific skill in a game in which specialist skills are fast disappearing as we move towards some kind of homogenised hybrid.

And, before this really does turn into a rant, I think I'd better end it there ;)


Nursedude said...

This may be true at the professional level, but in our game we won at Green Bay over the weekend, we actually scored our first try off a really nice 15 yard rolling maul that ended with our hooker planting the ball down. It's not quite as satisfying as a pushover try from a scrum...but it's pretty darned close!

Total Flanker said...

I guess if the rolling maul is going to survive anywhere it'll be where the older wiser heads are playing...:)