CRAIG Joubert is the latest referee to be damned by Scottish supporters, but, as the South African heads to Cardiff to run the touchline in Saturday’s Six Nations decider, it is illuminating to hear what both camps thought of the great scrum debate.
One has to add a pinch of salt to words from men well versed in hiding the darker arts of front row play, but there was a clear variance in the camps on Saturday. Scotland hooker Ross Ford can not remember a game that has left him as baffled by the scrum.
“I spoke to the referee a few times,” he said. “You need to agree with him and get him on your side, and show him that you are trying to work with him, but it didn’t work that way.
“We gave him the wrong impression from the first couple of scrums and it continued from there. There were a few when it was our fault and we need to deal with that better but we’ve looked at the video and others were going against it a bit.
“He [Joubert] called us for early engagement when I thought a lot of them were pretty good and then, when we backed off a bit, they seemed to jump the gun and yet we ended up getting penalised. You saw it at the end when we had to back off because I was going to get a yellow card, and we were penalised.
“Wales are smart in the way they play. We have a good scrum when it comes to a pushing contest but we have to be smarter when it comes to teams who want to get away from that. We had a look at them during the week and they muck about, they drop the scrum, don’t take the hits, and they’re clever at it because the referees fall for it at times. So it’s difficult, but I’ll keep saying that we have to get more streetwise.
“The referee is in control and he makes the calls, so you have to do what he says and try to make an impression, that you’re doing the right thing, and leave it up to him. But it’s frustrating.”
At scrum half, Greig Laidlaw, who once more scored all Scotland’s points, was as frustrated by an aspect of the game that seemed to kill all of Scotland’s momentum.
“It definitely felt like there was a penalty every couple of minutes and we struggled to get any consistency because of that,” he said. “We never got any set-piece ball to attack and struggled to get our game going.
“The crowd are pretty loud and sometimes the boys couldn’t hear him [Joubert]. I tried to tell him at half-time but he was saying that we were going early and stuff like that. We made the decision easier for him at times and were effectively told not to contest the last scrum. But we’re not here to blame the referee. I think Wales played the referee well at times and a couple went our way.
“It is extremely hard to take because we put a lot into the game and came out on the wrong side of a result. But it’s onwards and upwards. We look forward to beating France next week.”
As the Scots look ahead to a final match in Paris, there is certainly a willingness among Scottish players to learn quickly from the scrum farce.
Glasgow skipper Alastair Kellock, who replaced injured second-row Richie Gray and is expected to start against France, said that he could not hear the referee’s call of “set” – effectively the signal to push.
He added: “From a second-row point of view, I wanted the call to be louder because I couldn’t hear it. We need to be able to hear the call of set to be able to go in.
“But we also need to be able to learn on our feet and fix things out there, and get to a place where we can have a scrummaging competition, because, as far as scrummaging is concerned, our front row is outstanding.
“I think we were a good enough team to win that game but Wales were tactically very good and we didn’t have much opportunity to get our backs running with ball in hand because of that.
“Now we go to Paris having won two and lost two, but we will be ready. We will have studied things that have gone well for us in this championship and things that haven’t, and we will have looked at France and know what we have to do.
“It will be different from what was required against Wales but we have to make sure that we play the way we want to play.”