When the perfect rolling maul is on the move it is almost impossible to stop. It is like discovering the secret of perpetual motion. You cannot tackle a player legally. You cannot get at the ball. There is not much of a front to drive against. The only option left is to…infringe.
That is why the opposition will come at you with such intensity. In the beginning is the creation and that is when the maul is at its most vulnerable. The other side will commit everything to destroying the first building blocks, but if you can hang tight, if you can take the heat, then the storm abates. Hold together and then go back at them.
The glory of a rolling maul on the move is a wonder to behold. There is nothing more likely to drive a coach insane than when you have built the front, repeled the intense initial heat of an opposition intent on destroying your setup and have a maul on the move. Only to see a loose forward or hooker peel off in isolation with the ball.
For a while Argentina became so good at the rolling maul that even France had a job destroying it. Building the platform is paramount. Make the ball winner responsible for initial ball security. Eventually the ball will be transferred to the back, but build the platform first, smuggle later. There are two men at the front, the point of the arrow, because the narrower the front, the less mass there is for the opposition to drive against.
Once the catcher is down and the initial platform is set, he has to get the ball back quickly. Get low, seal it off. The ball carrier at the back is the talker like the cox of an Olympic eight. Budge Pountney used to do the job for us at Northampton. Neil Back always took the role and was a prolific try scorer at Leicester. But with other teams it is often the hooker who is the carrier.
There is a school of thought that teaches sacking as a way of destroying the rolling maul. You give them two metres of go forward, your jumper goes in and pulls them over. But I don’t like the element of submission in sacking.
If you destroy a rolling maul properly by dismantling it before it gets set, you give the opposition nothing and win one of the toughest physical contests in the game. I like the mindset to be: “We will not submit.” If the opposition builds a platform, then they’ve won. They’ve beaten you in that contest.
But if your team builds the platform, then it is the most beautiful sight in rugby. It’s beauty is in an understanding of how hard it has been to create. If referees understood what a perfect bio-machine the rolling maul is, then they would award far more penalty tries. It is almost impossible to stop legally. The power and the glory. Sometimes even backs get so excited, they can’t help but rush in.