Rassie Erasmus and Conor O’Shea made it clear with their selections this week that South Africa’s contest with Italy would be a battle up front. Both head coaches named six forwards on the bench to indicate that.
So it was a bit of a let down that 60 minutes of the match had uncontested scrums. However, this seemed like a blessing in disguise for Italy.
It was clear from the very first scrum of the match that the Springboks had the upper hand, so much so that they concertinaed tighthead Simone Ferrari and caused him to leave the field with what looked like a hamstring injury.
It was not much easier for his replacement Marco Riccioni at scrum time before he sustained an injury to his torso after 15 minutes. Bizarrely, he went off for a head injury assessment after 20 minutes and did not return, leaving the game with uncontested scrums.
This looked like it was going to be a successful part of the game for the Springboks, and some think that Italy were somewhat lucky to only face 20 minutes of the South African pack going at them full bore.
Former Springboks captain and Rugby World Cup winner John Smit said on Twitter that it was “convenient” that Italy should lose two tightheads so early in the game.
Helluva convenient for both tight heads to be down in first 20 min…..
— John Smit (@JohnSmit123) October 4, 2019
Now Smit may not be suggesting this was intentional, but everyone watching the game clearly saw that Italy benefitted from having uncontested scrums, and there are undoubtedly those who think that this may have been a ploy.
Since then, people have been suggesting that props should know how to cover both sides of the scrum, which is far easier said than done as only a handful of players know how to do so. The move from loosehead to tighthead is particularly difficult, and one that would be hard to make all props do.
Other suggestions have been to have more players on the bench, who are not all allowed to be used, but are there to prevent something like this happening again. Scrums are part of rugby, and some feel that having them uncontested dilutes the game.
Something may need to be done to stop this happening again, as this could become a tactic that teams use when their scrum is under pressure.
The irony in this game was that starting loosehead Andrea Lovotti was given a red card, and replacement loosehead Nicola Quaglio, who came on for the two tightheads, should have seen red as well as they committed an atrocious clearout on Duane Vermeulen. Italy could well have finished the game with absolutely no props to play.
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