Comments by Enrique TOPO Rodríguez (in bold italics) on the article written by Brenden Nel, published by Super Sport.Com on 29 August 2014


That’s the message from former French international prop and current Springbok scrum coach Pieter de Villiers, who defended the Boks performance in the set piece against Argentina in their Castle Lager Rugby Championship match in Salta last weekend.

While the Boks gave away four penalties on their own scrum, they came under fire as the Argentineans pushed them around with the sanction of referee Steve Walsh, prompting concerns ahead of tougher encounters in this year’s tournament. But De Villiers, speaking on SuperSport’s Boots ‘n All show on Thursday night, said there was much disappointment about the performance, but the Boks would not panic over what went wrong.

 “There was a lot of disappointment and it was probably the most difficult performance since I’ve been with the Boks. There have been law changes over the past year and we have adapted and adapted well. Recently there is a trend to pre-engage before the engagement and we’ve been moving towards an ear to ear set up. That made a difference. The Argentineans are a very strong unit and they’ve done well there,” De Villiers said.

To remain on the positive we could say: Yes, the scrum law and its interpretations by the way is applied by REFEREES is a very dynamic area that requires on-going information, education, adaptation and constant updates. These fluctuations and by merits of human nature in regards of TECHNIQUE will continue because nobody has guaranteed 100% correct technique execution for 100% of the time. Our brain is fickle and so be it!

“We worked hard on it today and we will look up and look ahead to the next game. But we also believe that one weak performance doesn’t make us a weak scrummaging pack. We are proud of the results we have had until now.”

Completely agree with this, in the corporate world or sporting fields “a bad day at the office” is almost a must. It’s been well documented as a motivational line: “It is not about the 99 times we fall but the 100 we get up!

De Villiers said the team was preparing themselves for an assault from the Australian scrum ahead of their next game in Perth as they believe the Wallabies will try and exploit the same weaknesses that the Pumas did.

“The Australians are a solid side as well. Some of their scrums against the All Blacks were very tough but they are a solid side as well. Especially after the big loss they had, they will be up for the game, we are preparing ourselves for a big scrummaging contest.

As I’m 50% + 50% – Have no comments here, I still like Wallabies and Pumas to win, so I give no negative ammunition to no one.

In terms of things to work on, we’ve done well on engagement but we didn’t always use that pressure works for us this weekend, making sure that the front row always works together from minute number one to minute number 80 and never leave a gap for the opponent to get into.

Not-only-the-front-row is involved in the scrum. The back five have a huge responsibility to it. In my proverbial book: THE CREDITS AND THE DEMERITS GO AND ARE SHARE EQUALLY BY THE EIGHT.

“In terms of tactics and angles, all scrums do that. We must just concentrate on where we can do better, rather than on negative tactics. The scrum is a difficult thing to referee and referees won’t always pick up the small things. We just have to make sure we have solutions for that.”

Absolutely Yes! Be positive and manage the referee by getting on their positive side!  From the 1st scrum o tackle demonstrate you are playing CONSTRUCTIVELY & POSITIVELY. Manage the early impression, the referee is human and impressionable just like us.

De Villiers said a combination of players who had not played together a lot, and a front row which is fatigued, did play a role. He said in retrospect that the failure of the Bok forwards to pack down all together as a unit cost them.

Again, you and the players look at it as a positive. It was a lucky WAKE UP CALL for the 50/75 people involved in the Springbok squad and staff.

“Game time played a big role at scrum time. When you’re not game fit it takes a bit of time to get those hip heights ready, and get continuous pressure ready and to get shoulder positions right. Once again the Argentineans on their own ball don’t strike, they work together over the ball, and that is even more of a sign that you need all eight players to stick for as long as possible in that scrum to see they don’t get that go-forward, because once they do, it is difficult to stop them and that’s what I think we did wrong against them. It’s even more important with the new age scrums, because it is now able to deliver that pressure for 10-15 seconds and for that to happen you need to deliver as a unit.

“(Fatigue) is also a big concern, some of our players are constantly playing week in and out, fatigue levels are on the up and we were unfortunate to lose Frans Malherbe this week which will put a lot more pressure on Jannie du Plessis to perform for us. It is not easy to manage, in a perfect world we would have more say but that isn’t a debate for me to have. It is not easy, but it is also an opportunity for other players to come in and prove they deserve a spot within the Springbok side.

Hopefully building up to the Rugby World Cup we will have some consistency and some freshness, and hopefully the preparation period before the World Cup will give us more of a strong position in terms of freshness.”

While the contrast with the impressive All Blacks performance is still fresh in the mind, the Boks are concentrating solely on delivering a better performance in the set pieces in Perth, and will only turn their attention to the World Champions after the Perth game.

“Without being too much on clichés it is important for us to get back up. In a lot of departments we weren’t where we wanted to be but in one department we definitely showed a lot of mental strength to come back, we will take the good from that and work hard, and make sure the next match is the most important one and the one we will concentrate on. We will leave the All Blacks for later, we know they are the number one team and we will face them later and we’re looking forward to it.”

Overall, I think the Pumas played a great scrummaging game, but you were lucky that these days scrums are only 20% – 25% of the playing time. On the other hand they concentrated so much on their tight game that they forgot to shut the gate and you came back with those last 14 points.




I’ve also used a metaphor in saying: “the Front Row” is like our parents. When we have them we don’t notice it! But when they are bad or dead we feel very sorry indeed.

The scrum is about (8+1) players, not just the front row. Convincing the front rowers of pushing is the easiest job on earth. However, getting inside the minds of the back five is a full time job.

 Nonetheless, RUGBY is about the 80 minutes of rugby and not about the scrum only. Many people get pretty confused and misguided on this, particularly ex-front rowers.

Another metaphor to reflect on how important the scrums are: to drive a car you need to have four wheels (with 3 wheels only it’s impossible). Thus, the four wheels would be: 1) SCRUMS; LINEOUTS; BACKLINE handling and kicking; and 4) Whole team TACKLING and defending.

 The most delicate and artful job in coaching and managing a rugby team is:  To find the appropriate “tactical and strategic mix” (the balance) on How much energy and time we put both in preparation and more importantly during the match.




Now, changing the subject slightly yet still related to the scrums functionality or lack thereof, in my modest opinion the professional era (since 1995) has promoted large coaching and managing teams and as a consequence it has “devalued and downplayed” the important role of Captains, Vice-captains and the crucial team’s decision making powers.

 I have no doubt that the people “closest to the ball” are the ones that are able see faster than anybody else the problems and the solutions, developing during the match: First: the players and the referees, Second: the coaches and Third: the Officials.


THEREFORE, MY IDEAL DECISION MAKING SEQUENCE WOULD BE AS FOLLOWS:                   a) Captains would see problems arising the earliest;                                                               b) Feel the opposition gathering momentum and ascendency in the match;                         c) Most players know whether they have had “poor execution” or have been “nullified by the rival”, or both                                                                                                                         d) Make quick decisions; and                                                                                                       e) Apply remedial action when and where needed whether tactical or strategic changes and/or adjustments

 In conclusion, my view is that the coaches’ job is to equip and train players and captains on the UP side and the DOWN side of every single option/action. Once you know well the likelihood of those different options occurring, the likelihood of consequences of those options and the benefits, then you can select what actions to take.

So, in a nutshell coaching and parenting are very similar. The sooner our kids start making decision by themselves the better!

 We certainly can and must provide them with the necessary “Intelligence”, guidance and experience of years of practicing at LIFE, which at times like in rugby could be a real mine field.

Yet, the Selection & Decision about WHAT is to and WHEN to be applied, resides purely and solely with the PROTAGONISTS on the field. Of course pro-Coaches will climb up my throat for “diminishing” their jobs and responsibilities. In fact, I’m not diminishing it but enhancing it because results/outcomes are the ineluctable truth of performance.

Wishing everyone “nice happy endings” to those that decide to follow or keep in mind the above comments and suggestions.  


About toporod

Triple Rugby Union International (1977-1991) The ART of SCRUMMAGING - 2013 Gold Medal Winning Author - [IPPY] - 2014 Silver Medal Winner [eLit Awards] - Enthusiastic writer on Rugby and Bipolar Disorders - International Rugby Consultant and Public Speaker - www.expertrugbyconsultants.com
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