Oliver muses on BJ’s scrumming angles

It is a wise old head that will be hooking New Zealand’s scrum ball in the Tri-Nations match against South Africa on Saturday.

With an international career spanning ten years and 52 Test caps, it is fair to say that Anton Oliver has been there and done pretty much everything – bar winning the Rugby World Cup, of course.

So when he talks about possible illegalities in the opposing scrum, it is worth listening to.

The story surrounding BJ Botha and his scrummaging technique, particularly at engagement, has been a favourite debating topic in the media this week, and while most of the coaches have skirted the issue, Oliver was a little more forthright, warning Botha of punishment to come if he does try anything untoward.

“What they (the Australian coaches) were saying… I think the law says you have to align straight at the engagement, your spine has to be straight, and that occasionally BJ’s wasn’t,” explained Oliver.

“I don’t know what our coaches are saying about it, but I know BJ got a healthy dose of media coverage last week with the Australians having a go.

“It’s something he does every now and again, coming in on an angle, professional rugby is such that you have to try and get away with some things like that.

“I do think the Wallabies had a point, but as we have said before, he is a very strong man and a very good scrummager.

“You have to be very good to do it, it’s pretty risky. If you get caught by the loosehead you are in all sorts of strife, so you have to be very skilful and in many ways, quite courageous to try it. There aren’t many tightheads in the world who can do it.”

Like Botha’s counterpart Carl Hayman perhaps?

“Carl doesn’t really come into a scrum like that… I am sure if he could he would give it a go though,” said Oliver with a grin.

Oliver mentioned that players have to try and get away with what they can, and that might be particularly pertinent to the Boks this week, who were surprised by the intensity of the Australian pack last week and had to work hard to get the upperhand.

Australia may have improved – Oliver certainly thinks they have – but the Boks will need to step up a gear and get away with all sorts of tricks this week if they are not to be bullied off the ball.

Without captain and hooker John Smit, that task, according to Oliver, has been made even harder because of the scrummaging role Smit brings to the Bok pack.

“I was surprised at the Bok scrum struggling to get an ascendancy last week,” he said.

“I think that John (Smit) leaving the field had an influence, and I think possibly the Boks thought the Aussie scrum would be at the level it was last year. But clearly from that performance their scrummaging has improved, certainly on last year.

“John is a strong scrummager at hooker – he used to be a prop, which helps.

“If you have a weak scrummaging hooker, it makes it easier for the opposition to budge forward and penetrate their scrum down the middle.

“I won’t say the Boks will lose without Smit, but he is a very strong scrummager. I won’t belittle his replacement by saying the Boks will miss him, but it is up to Gary Botha whether they do or not.”

Presumably as Botha’s opposite man, Oliver might have some say in that as well. Let the mind games begin…

By Danny Stephens in Durban 365 Digital

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