WHO would be rugby referee? The answer is quite obvious, not nearly enough former props and hookers, who are the only ones fluent in the ancient and arcane language of the front row brotherhood, writes Iain Morrison.
Undoubtedly Craig Joubert was as perplexed as anyone else by what he saw on Saturday afternoon.
He penalised the Scotland scrum relentlessly but, if he was convinced by what he was saying, surely the South African blower would have followed through on his repeated threat to send someone to the sin bin. That he did not suggests that Joubert, like pretty much everyone else inside Murrayfield, was not entirely sure what was happening. It didn’t stop him talking repeatedly with Scottish hooker Ross Ford, on whom he tried to pin the blame for the whole fiasco. Could the Kelso man explain what was really going on?
“It’s frustrating,” Ford conceded the obvious. “We tried to do what the referee wanted but every time we did something else would happen and we’d end up on the wrong side. Wales were smart in the way they play. I think we have a good scrum when it comes to a pushing contest. I think we just need to be a bit smarter when teams try and get away from that.
“Most of the time he was doing us for early engagement but I thought we were all right on a lot of them. A lot of them we were pretty good. When we did heed his call and back off a bit they [Wales] seemed to jump the gun and we ended up getting penalised [for collapsing]. It was difficult. But we just have to get smarter against teams that are going to do that.
“The last scrum was more or less uncontested but it was going to come down to a yellow card so we can only do what the referee says. We were pretty hard done by in that one I think. It’s where we are. We have to get better.”
No one questions the referee’s integrity but Joubert has some form when it comes to the set scrum and controversy. The South African blew the last World Cup final and the French were less than enthusiastic about his performance that day. In the second half, with the match there to be won, the French felt that their set scrum held the whip hand and several times the All Black front row appeared to stand up under pressure. Joubert opted to reset the scrums rather than offer France the straight-arm penalty and the shot at goal that they were obviously expecting.
Early on in yesterday’s match Kelly Brown suggested that the Welsh scrum were boxing clever by declining to take the hit, making it look to an outsider that the Scottish scrum had gone early.
“We had a look at that during the week as well,” Ford revealed. “They [Wales] muck about, they drop the scrum, they don’t take the hits. They are clever at that and referees fall for that at times. As I said I think we have a good scrum when it comes to a pushing contest but, I keep saying it, we have to get better at [being] streetwise and dealing with teams that are good at mucking about.”
Scotland must now travel to Paris on Saturday to face the French who are arguably the strongest scrummagers in world rugby. Surely it can’t get any worse?
“I think the French scrum is a little different to the Welsh one,” said Ford. “They are more inclined to stand toe-to-toe.”
You have to hope he’s right for the sanity and integrity of everyone involved in the game.