Lions have homework to do at scrum time

The main word to keep in mind when discussing how the British & Irish Lions scrum is being officiated in New Zealand is “interpretation”.

It is all about interpretation. Everything is different when you are being refereed by a Southern rather than a Northern Hemisphere ref, so we can’t whinge about it too much — we have just got to crack on.

Much has been made of Marius Jonker, the television match official (TMO), advising referee Angus Gardner to watch replacement prop Dan Cole’s binding when he came on against the Highlanders. But what people don’t see is that the officials do a lot of homework on you.

Referees will look at each prop to see how he’s been going in the last couple of games, how he’s been scrummaging and whatnot.

Gardner will have done that too, so I think he’d have a pretty good idea about how the Lions have been scrummaging.

Personally, I thought that first penalty he gave after the Englishman had come on was 50-50. He’s penalised Cole for some reason, I think via the touch judge, but the second one was an obvious penalty.

He was clearly disappointed following the first one — you always are regardless of whether it’s the first, second or third scrum, you never want your opponent to get one over on you. It’s a macho position to play in.

Usually when you come off the bench, you’re given a bit of time to get up to speed with the game and decisions go with you.

But not always. I remember once, when I made my comeback for the Ospreys after six months out with a shoulder injury, there was a big cheer from the crowd as we were going for a pushover try.

Referee Angus Gardner watches over a scrum during the Lions’ defeat to the Highlanders.¬†Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

I came on expecting to push them over and I got penalised at the scrum! But you can’t let it fester otherwise it’s like a snowball and will get bigger and bigger.

Cole has got enough about him to know whether he went a bit high with his bind and was a bit passive on engagement but he will know it’s something that is easily rectified.

He has been around for a long time, has 70-odd Test caps and is a player Eddie Jones relies on heavily for England. He will know how to put things right.

I don’t think New Zealand have necessarily got an advantage because the Tests are being played in the Southern Hemisphere.

It all depends how the game, and the scrum, is refereed. Frenchman Mathieu Raynal officiated the Crusaders game, and the Lions got a few free kicks and penalties.

What we’re seeing is the back-rowers holding the props back and then on the bind call they want to put a lot of weight through onto the opposition with their head and their bind so they get a build-up effect like releasing a handbrake on a car.

“You’ve got to take the ref to one side, do what you can to butter him up, be nice as pie.”

You let go of the handbrake when you’re going down a hill and the car moves forward.

We’ve got a good bunch of props and a fantastic scrum coach in Graham Rowntree out there, so I think by the time we face the Maori All Blacks on Saturday, and get into Test time, it will be a different kettle of fish.

One thing that’s certain is they’ll be prepared. The squad will have a pretty big dossier on referees, what they like, what they don’t like, what they give penalties for in the scrum, how many scrum penalties they’ve ever given, stuff like that.

The Lions coaches and analysts will know the referees better than they know themselves.

We can complain about the officials but the two bad scrums we’ve had — the one against the Crusaders and the one on Tuesday — are as much because we got a little bit high and that created an imbalance.

The Lions got high, let them drive across us, weren’t quite as aggressive as they needed to be and unfortunately it looks pretty bad then when they trample over the top of you.

Lions scrum coach Graeme Rowntree will be a pivotal figure during the Test series with the All Blacks. David Rogers/Getty Images

Against the All Blacks, the Lions will face the loosehead Joe Moody. He’s a big, strong fella and there are a few clips I’ve seen where there’s a bit of angling in.

But that’s one of those things, as a tighthead you’ve got to have enough in your armoury to counteract that, and again Rowntree will work out a plan to deal with it — there are ways and means.

On their own ball, New Zealand will want it in and out quickly so the chance to attack is minimal. It’ll be a case of scrummaging well on our own ball in order to milk penalties to get field position or points on the board.

The Lions have got to be smart and conserve their energy because that is when the All Blacks will come heavy at them on our ball.

You’ve also got to take the ref to one side, do what you can to butter him up, be nice as pie to him.

But we can’t afford to whinge about it too much, we’ve just got to knuckle down and get to grips with the ref early. If we do that, then I’m pretty confident we have a scrum that can come out on top.

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