Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art
Please don’t misunderstand, Taniela Tupou is one hell of a footballer. He is every bit as athletic as his original schoolboy highlights package had shown. He possesses elite size and strength, good rugby skills, and except for the occasional brain explosion a decent rugby brain. His unique blend of size, athleticism, and rugby skills give him the building blocks to be a truly world-class tighthead prop.
But, let me ask you this. What is a tighthead props role on a rugby field? In my opinion, it’s primarily to win scrums, lift lineouts and make tackles around the ruck. Everything else is icing on the cake.
Tupou possesses an elite skill that not many other props have. He is a devastating ball carrier. But currently, he doesn’t do some of the other things that are necessary to make him truly world-class.
When watching his performance on the weekend and throughout the year he has one huge deficiency in his game. And, despite what you’ve been told. As a tighthead prop, he’s nowhere near being a superstar.
The Dark Art Of The Scrum
I appreciate that the scrum for many fans is a bit of an unknown. And, even to most players operating outside the tight 5, what happens in the scrum is a bit of a mystery. But, one thing that almost everyone knows about scrummaging, is that the players upfront must remain relatively straight/square in relation to the opposition scrum and their own.
This is a pretty good example of what a scrum should look like from above. I appreciate the English tighthead (top of the shot) is angling in a little bit but it’s never going to be perfectly square. Additionally, he’s not angling in enough to constitute “boring” on the hooker.
Now, Rugby Union’s Law 19. Subsection 19. States that: Players may push provided they do so straight and parallel to the ground. Failure to comply will result in a penalty.
Of the 14 scrums (there were 15 packed scrums but I wasn’t able to get a good angle of the last scrum), I’ve captioned below. Can you tell me how many of them Taniela Tupou is abiding by this law? Scroll down I’ll wait.
Actually, before you do it’s important to compare his position with that of his fellow front-rowers. Straight means he’s square relative to the rest of the scrum.
Ok, go for it.
Before you start this next part I’d like to acknowledge that the Brumbies front-rowers aren’t always straight. However relative to each other they’re generally pretty good and it’s not every scrum.
Ok, Is the answer to my question above none? you could maybe convince me that one of those 14 scrums he’s maintaining a square body shape. What’s more concerning is that all of these are taken from a single game. I don’t like throwing this term out there willy-nilly but Tupou appears to be a one-trick pony. And, that trick is illegal.
However, my biggest concern has nothing to do with Tupou. On three occasions he was rewarded with a penalty for his illegal scrummaging. Re-enforcing this bad habit. I can assure you that long-term, scrummaging this way will be detrimental to his career. Just ask Bill Young.
Why Does This Matter?
I want to preface this by saying that I absolutely tinkered with this during my career. And, when I could push the boundaries I definitely did. However, I didn’t have the luxury of being as big and strong as Taniela Tupou. I had to develop multiple strategies to survive.
Unfortunately, scrummaging this way against a world-class loosehead prop (or a good referee) will not yield the type of results it did during the Super Rugby Au final or the Super Rugby Au season.
Over the next 6 months, Tupou is likely to face some truly world-class front-rowers. Joe Moody, Francisco Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro and Cyril Baille are all players that come to mind. Additionally, he’s not going to have the luxury of Australian referees allowing him to scrummage this way.
What Do We Do About It?
As I mentioned above I don’t blame Tupou for this. He’s still young and learning the position. If Australia is to have a truly dominant set-piece moving into the next World Cup, they are going to need Tupou to develop more tricks. It’s up to the coaches at the Reds and the Wallabies to really start working with him on his technique. It’s really the only major flaw in his game currently, he has just about everything else.
I’d also like to challenge the Australian referees to educate themselves appropriately on the scrum. I think Dan McKellar makes a great point “Just as long as everyone’s accountable for their performance out there tonight.” I think you’d agree based on the above that at just about every scrum a penalty could have been called on Tupou. The referees generally, but probably most egregiously Nic Berry are letting Tupou down by allowing him to get away with scrummaging this way. The referees like the players do need to be held accountable for this.
I hear you saying ‘come on Liam you’re just salty because the Brumbies lost the game’. Yes, yes I am salty, but I’m also not here claiming that the scrum was the reason the Brumbies lost.
What I want more than anything else is a Wallabies team that can win international games and compete for a world cup. I see Taniela Tupou as a serious weapon for the Wallabies moving forward. However, unless he can develop as a scrummager he is quickly going to become ineffective.
Australia has plenty of blokes who can carry the ball well. We have very few with the potential to become elite scrummagers. If we can get the coaches and referees in Australia on the same page as the rest of the world we might have a superstar on our hands. But, he’s not there yet.