Spotlight on the scrums

RYAN VREDE writes that based on an analysis of referee Craig Joubert, discipline at scrum time could be crucial to the outcome of the Newlands showdown.

Joubert, who’ll referee Saturday’s Stormers-Crusaders semi-final, was heavily criticised for what was perceived to be a poor performance in the Super Rugby final in 2010. Certainly there were some questionable calls, but my observations and a statistical comparison with other elite referees in 2011 suggests he is maturing (although statistics alone are not a complete measure of a referee’s skill).

However, it would remiss not to note Joubert’s tendency to clamp down at the shove. Scrum resets have been an ongoing topic of discussion, and indeed a point of great frustration, as it undermines the quality of the spectacle. Statistically, Joubert is reluctant to reset, ranking second last of the 17 Super Rugby referees in this regard, according to ruckingoodstats.com.

This will be of concern to the Stormers, who rank fourth highest in the tournament for resets on their own feed on average, and fourth highest for resets on the opposition’s feed . The Crusaders rank 9th and 7th comparatively.

Ominously for the Stormers, Joubert is the fourth highest awarder of scrum infringements on average (significantly more penalties than free kicks), and the highest of the elite group. The hosts are third for infringements on their own feed.

However, Joubert’s habit of not being pedantic at the breakdown bodes well. He is the second-lowest awarder of ruck infringements on average and overall Joubert has averaged 18.5 penalties per match (12th in the tournament).

Naturally this raises the issue of the importance of the goal kickers, Peter Grant and Dan Carter. The Stormers pivot leads the competition, kicking at 85 percent, while Carter is 10th on the list with 73,1%. Grant has succeeded with 50 of his 59 kicks at goal, while Carter has slotted 57 of his 78. The Stormers’ attacking impotence means that the bulk of Grant’s points off the boot have come from penalties – 37 of the 59.

It is interesting to note that the Crusaders’ ill discipline has cost them on two of their three previous semi-finals in South Africa. The Bulls’ prolific goal kicker Derick Hougaard punished them to the tune of eight penalties in the 2007 play-off, while in 2010 MornĂ© Steyn kicked six in a 39-24 victory at Orlando Stadium.

There are undoubtedly lessons to be learnt in those statistics for the Stormers.

By Ryan Vrede