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Rolling mauls should gladden the hearts of New Zealand rugby fans

By Hamish Bidwell
(Photo By Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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At last some pragmatism.

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Far from being a blight on the game, the sight of rolling mauls in Super Rugby Pacific should gladden the hearts of New Zealand rugby fans.

Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the All Blacks haven’t been in vintage form of late.

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They failed at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, lost to Australia and Argentina the following year and were utterly outplayed by Ireland and France a few months ago.

It’s a far cry from what we’ve been accustomed to.

We seem to believe the All Blacks have a divine right to win but, not only that, we cling to the notion that every other nation ought to play the same way.

And when they don’t and when they employ tactics to stymie the All Blacks’ strengths we a) look utterly flummoxed, b) whinge and c) lose.

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How many times have we talked and written about the All Blacks’ inability to adapt? To employ different methods, when playing at pace and trying to move the ball doesn’t work.

We look down our nose at dropped goals. We pour scorn on teams who use scrums as a mechanism to earn kickable penalties.

And now we’re complaining about rolling mauls? Give me strength.

Rolling mauls are worth points. Whether it’s tries or shots at goals for infringements, mauling makes sense.

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It sucks up time and energy, commits defenders and might end up winning us a game or two one day.

People talk about New Zealand rugby fans being arrogant and that’s a view I would share.

I could list multiple examples of this, but I’ll just stick to the one at hand; the notion that there’s a right way to play rugby and that everyone else does it wrong.

France, England, Ireland, South Africa, you’re all doing it wrong. You’re negative and you spoil and you turn rugby into a 10-man game.

Now that’s hogwash, obviously. Those teams all have plenty of footy in them.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we think rugby is about pace and skill and the ball going through lots of sets of hands. We favour brilliance over brawn and that’s fine when you’re winning.

But the All Blacks aren’t winning at the moment. Or at least not to our satisfaction.

Sure, we can run rings around Tonga and the United States, but give us a real opponent and all the flicks and tricks aren’t quite so effective.

New Zealand teams, fans and former players have to grow up. They have to accept that bold isn’t necessarily beautiful.

It’s winning that matters and by any means necessary too.

If that’s by mauling or kicking dropped goals, then so be it.

Some of my happiest rugby memories are of watching Christian Cullen play for the Hurricanes. I still have a documentary of him stored on the television that my son and I watch on occasions.

The man was brilliant and the team’s devil-may-care attitude infectious.

But they never won a bloody thing.

Sure, they scored some tries that will live long in the memory, but they were forever demolished up front.

Well, our modern-day All Blacks aren’t dissimilar.

Wales gave them a game last year and they battled to get any ascendancy over Italy, even if the final score suggests different. By the time Ireland and France rolled around, it was almost men against boys in the forwards.

We have to add strings to the bow and the rolling maul is an obvious one.

But let’s not stop there. Style isn’t winning us much right now, so we need more substance.

Scrummaging has to be the big work-on. When you’ve a strong scrum, referees invariably whistle in your favour.

Sure, kicking penalties from scrums is maybe a bit dull. So is kicking for the line and trying to maul the ball over.

But it works and we’ve all been mugs for not trying to do it sooner.

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