Power game returns in time for Saints’ title push

Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero will look to push Saints to title glory (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)
Dylan Hartley and Alex Corbisiero will look to push Saints to title glory (picture: Kirsty Edmonds)

The scrum: an area of rugby that bamboozles most - even those involved in it.

Referee’s interpretation rules supreme, with members of each pack desperate to dominate the opposition.

For Saints, it has been something to build success upon.

A solid foundation for a side that has gone from strength to strength since the return to the top flight in 2008.

Under Dorian West’s tuition, Saints have smashed many a side into submission, with the 2011 season a particular high point.

Then, with a front row containing Soane Tonga’uiha, Dylan Hartley and Brian Mujati, they rampaged across Europe, storming into the Heineken Cup final.

Tiredness eventually overwhelmed a team that had again used the set piece to secure a 22-6 half-time lead against a mighty Leinster outfit.

And since then, despite the departures of Tonga’uiha and Mujati, Saints had managed to maintain their tradition of bossing the shoving game.

However, in 2015, sides had appeared to work them out, with the muscle of their eight big men not quite striking such fear into the hearts of opponents.

Clermont Auvergne and Exeter Chiefs were far superior up front, laying the platform for big wins against Jim Mallinder’s men.

That led to a return to the drawing board.

“Dorian does a lot of work on the scrummaging machine, but during the past couple of weeks (before the Saracens game) we’ve been doing it live, and sometimes it’s the right thing to do,” said director of rugby Mallinder.

“It’s a difficult area. You never know quite what’s going on and if you can get the opposition doing what you expect on a Saturday, it helps with the preparation.”

There was a desperation to get back to what Saints have traditionally been good at.

And, as Mallinder alluded to, West used what he called ‘scrum fitness’, pushing his players into relentless live battles on the paddock in the bid to get them back to their best.

It certainly had an impact at Milton Keynes a couple of weeks ago as they outlasted Saracens.

The effect was not immediate as the Barnet-based team continued Saints’ set piece misery during the first half, but in the second it was very much one-way traffic.

Penalty after penalty came the way of the home pack and they totally dominated their title rivals.

It was reminiscent of the encounters at stadium:mk in 2011, when Ulster and Perpignan were crushed under the weight of Saints’ boots in the Heineken Cup knock-out stages.

And now the power game is very much back, it means the signs are good for an end-of-season shove towards a second title in as many years.