The Lions scrum came under scrutiny in Christchurch, but this 42-cap Kiwi prop has taken an outside look at the British & Irish set-piece

After the British & Irish Lions defeated the Crusaders 12-3 on Saturday, there were some grumblings down under about how the scrum was refereed. Post-match, there were some concerns voiced over referee Mathieu Raynal’s ruling on the Crusaders’ approach to creating a gap between two scrums, with All Black loosehead Joe Moody falling foul of the French official on a handful of occasions.

On the eve of their match against the Highlanders though, the Lions scrum received an endorsement from 42-cap All Black prop Kees Meeuws. The former Highlander and Scarlet, who has played elite rugby on both sides of the scrum, believes that one powerful shove from the Crusaders belied a good day at the office for the Lions.

Graham Rowntree Lions scrum

Man in charge: Assistant coach Graham Rowntree looks after the Lions scrum

“With referees interpretations, it takes you some time to understand what they want at scrum time,” Meeuws told Rugby World. “On the weekend, the Crusaders had a great scrum and it was just an opportunity that they took and got the better of. But if you take a look at the whole game, the Lions scrum was pretty solid. And if you go back to the game before, against the Blues, they dominated. Dan Cole got in there and really smashed the Blues scrum.”

Talking with a Test prop’s perspective, Meeuws explained why the Crusaders did so well in that one eye-catching scrum: “In the last game the Lions got caught at a funny angle, you could see the hesitation. They may have been waiting for the referee to pull it up, but he didn’t and the Crusaders took it. It takes a little bit of time to understand your referees and I think that’s what happened.”

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After the narrow 22-16 loss against the Blues in the second match of the tour, many were trumpeting the scrum as a major strength for the Lions. After game three the set-piece was under the microscope again. Clearly the shove will be a vital battleground throughout this series, but according to Meeuws, you need some perspective when looking at the scrum.

“When it comes to front-row play, every minute in there is different. You could be set up right and then the angle is wrong for you and there is nothing you can do about it. You just try to battle your way out of it.

Kees Meeuws haka

In All Black action: Kees Meeuws performs a haka against Australia

“First game, the Lions had just got off the plane and were just finding their feet in New Zealand. Against the Blues their scrum got better and got a bit of dominance, and then last week – and the Crusaders are a very well-drilled pack – they (the hosts) got an opportunity and took it, but it looked worse than it was.

“This is early days in the tour. You have tomorrow and then the Maori, which I think will be the real big test. I believe the Lions are on the right track before the first Test match. Each game they’ve gotten better and they haven’t shown all their cards yet.”

Talking about the set-piece challenge on Tuesday evening, starting Lions tighthead Kyle Sinckler had his own view on the matter.

“The scrum’s going to be massively, massively important, we’ve got to focus on ourselves, stick to our process, and we need eight guys coming together as one for a good outcome, doing the same thing at the same time.

Kyle Sinckler Lions

Loud and proud: Kyle Sinckler during the Lions match against the Blues

“It’s not about going out there trying to make a statement, if the occasion comes and the opportunity is there, then as an eight we’ll stay within our process and just keep doing what we’re doing.

“But having the likes of Tadhg (Furlong) and Dan (Cole) and Jack McGrath and Mako (Vunipola) and (Joe) Marler, as a unit with the hookers we’re all working trying to make each other better, sharing little secrets with each other, hoping we’ll probably forget all that when we get off this tour and face each other again!

“We’ll just work as a unit and if the opportunity comes we’ll be ready.”