Analysis: Tadhg Furlong got a handle of The Beast, but just how legal was it?

FOR THE FIRST couple of scrums last Saturday, it looked like Ireland had found a road through ‘The Beast’.

However, it appears they found that road via a shortcut.

In each of the first two scrums, Tadhg Furlong made significant ground on Tendai Mtawarira, a huge statement on what was his first ever test start, despite six previous appearances for his country. The problem was that it didn’t look particularly legal, with Furlong appearing to bore in on hooker Adriaan Strauss.

In the first of those scrums he was penalised for it, and Elton Jantjies kicked South Africa into the lead.

In the second, he won a penalty which Paddy Jackson put between the sticks. I suppose you could say it evened itself out.

While you can probably argue over Furlong’s angles in the opening scrums, you can’t dispute Jack McGrath’s, who absolutely destroyed Frans Malherbe.

The opening scrum of the day was funny, and sums up just how difficult a job the referees have. In the end, Angus Gardner penalised Furlong, but had he been on the other side of the scrum, he would certainly have given Ireland a penalty.

After South Africa brought back the hit-and-chase last week, we could see straight away that the Irish pack weren’t allowing them to gain the extra half yard off the engagement, putting in a good, solid hit.

Malherbe struggled with McGrath’s power in the first Test, and we can see just how much difficulty he was having again on Saturday. He is forced to fully lock out his legs, giving him no power whatsoever. Compare them to McGrath, who has a flex of around 120 degrees at the knees, allowing him to push from his legs.

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It’s also important to note the feet of each player: Malherbe has his feet fully planted, putting all of his weight on the back of them, which in turn puts him even further off balance.

It’s also very dangerous. In 2015, Samsom Lee spent the best part of six months on the sidelines with a ruptured Achilles tendon, sustained while putting too much weight on the back of his feet and locking out. In contrast, the back of McGrath’s boots are off the ground, with all of his weight towards the front of his feet. It gives him a better distribution of power, and more maneuverability with which to use it.

And the more Malherbe locks out, the more McGrath drives. Eventually, Malberbe collapses to his knees, but crucially, McGrath is still driving perfectly.

McGrath keeps driving and driving, and eventually it sends Malherbe back over himself.

When the whistle went, everyone expected an Irish penalty, but Gardner was watching Mtawarira and Furlong and judged that Furlong had driven in across his opponent.

Simply down to the fact that we aren’t given a replay of that side of the scrum, it’s hard to make a definitive call, but I’d be inclined to give the referee the benefit of the doubt.

If we pause it just as the scrum is about to collapse we can see the position Furlong is in, with the yellow arrow marking him. He appears to be driving at the right shoulder of Adriaan Strauss, with the jagged red line showing where Furlong’s starting position would be.

Funnily enough, on the next scrum Furlong was awarded a penalty, when this time it looked even more obvious he was shearing across the front row.

This time though, Gardner was positioned on McGrath’s side of the scrum, and will just have seen McGrath moving straight and square, with Malherbe popping up and disengaging from the scrum.

However, it does look like Furlong was boring across the front row.

If we look at it a bit closer, and in slow motion, we can see how as the South African front row break away, Furlong seems to be driving in towards Rory Best’s chest.

And if we freeze it, we can get a better look at it. We can see the angle Furlong is coming in at, and it certainly appears that he was angling in.

That appeared to be the end of Furlong’s boring in, however. It’s likely Mtawarira was sightly complacent early on, and after the opening two scrums he closed the gap in between himself and Strauss.

Whatever happened, Furlong angered The Beast.

Early in the second half Furlong put in what was probably his best scrummage of the day. With Ireland under pressure close to their own line, Mtawarira really tried to have a cut off Furlong, but the Wexford man wasn’t to be budged.

It’s all down to a good initial position: head no lower than the hips, good flex in the knees, and weight on the front of his feet.

If we watch the scrum in full we can see just how much jostling and wrestling is going on between he and Mtawarira. From the time the ball is put in to the moment it leaves, it’s around 13 seconds, which is a huge amount of time to keep a scrum going.

Every time Beast tried to attack, Furlong readjusted himself, and countered it, keeping his side of the scrum stable.

Keep an eye on his feet, and how he’s constantly taking slight steps forward and and backwards and to the side, making sure that his weight is distributed perfectly.

It was a game that really showed up just how difficult a job referees have, with an Irish penalty soon after giving us another example of a ref only being able to penalise what he can see in front of him.

On this occasion, McGrath destroyed Julian Redelinghuys, who had just come on as Malherbe’s replacement, and this is what was seen by the referee. However, things were very messy on the other side, where Furlong initially collapsed, before Rhys Ruddock began to drive in on Mtawarira.

To start with, Furlong found himself under a lot of pressure, locking out his legs.

However, eventually he dropped to his knee. With referee Angus Gardner on the other side, he couldn’t spot it.

Mtawariri continues driving, but to help out his prop, Rhys Ruddock slides up alongside Furlong and begins to drive in on the Beast.

It’s an illegal move for a flanker to do this, with the rules stating that all second and back rows must remain bound by an arm to the second row of the scrum at all times. ”An arm” is a vague enough description, but the interpretation of the law is that the armpit should be in contact with the second row.

We can see below how Ruddock just has a hold of Quinn Roux’s jersey with his hand, while his armpit is resting on Furlong’s back.

It’s quite a dangerous move, as it seriously destabilises the scrum, and in this case turns Mtawarira from a loosehead prop into a hooker.

We can see below just how much influence Ruddock’s drive has, hitting Mtawarira with pressure from both angles.

It was Mtawarira’s last action in the game, with Trevor Nyakane brought in for him soon after.

The Boks are lucky Nyakane is injured this week because after his less than inspiring showing in the first Test, he was quite poor again second time around and was very lucky to avoid picking up a few penalties.

In his first scrum, he completely buckled inside, and only for the fact that the ball was available at the back, it could have been an Ireland penalty.

We can see below how, as soon as the pressure arrives, he folds inside.

If we pause it, we can see his backside sticking up into the sir, with his body pointing in towards the touchline.

Nine minutes from time he once again found himself driving inside, this time on Finlay Bealham. Below, we can see how the pair initially line-up, with both body shapes relatively normal, although Nyakane’s head is probably just slightly below his hips.

But as soon as the ball comes in, we can see him pushing off his left foot and across Bealham, lifting him up. Keep a close eye on his left leg, and how he powers up off it, rather than stepping forward.

It was a very messy scrummaging battle, with Ireland probably just edging it. However, there is a caveat attached to that statement, with question marks over their legality in each of the scrum penalties they won.

It’s set up to be another fascinating encounter this weekend. Mike Ross is back for redemption against Mtawarira, Nyakane is injured so the huge Steven Kitschoff will make his debut from the bench and the potential battle between he and Furlong is one that could be very interesting.

On the far side it’s as you were. Jack McGrath will largely control Frans Malherbe and Julian Redelinghuys, and that could be enough for Ireland.

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