Video: Part 1 Tri-Nations Breakdowns - Green and Gold Rugby
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Video: Part 1 Tri-Nations Breakdowns

Video: Part 1 Tri-Nations Breakdowns

What’s going on at the breakdown?

It’s been about a year now since Scarfman, our colleague here at Green & Gold Rugby, produced his All Blacks at the Breakdown video exposing some of the tricks the All Blacks got away with in the first match of the 2010 Tri Nations between the All Blacks and Springboks.

That video proved to be a worldwide hit and evoked plenty of comment from All Black supporters who claimed we were biased in our approach as all teams were guilty of the same breaches, and from the rest who lined up to decry the All Blacks and the referees who let them get away with their disregard for the Laws of the Game.

When I first watched the video I was quite surprised at how much illegal play was being missed by the referees at the breakdown. I went back and looked at some other games and could see plenty of examples of similar play from most teams.  While the All Black fans claimed you could produce a similar video and show the Springboks and the Wallabies committing just as many breaches, I’ve never seen anyone come up with such a video.

You can revisit the original video from Scarfman here but I thought it might be interesting to have a look at the corresponding match this year and see if the referees are policing the breakdown any better than they were.

To do that I reviewed all 151 breakdowns from last weekend’s game — 80 where the ball was taken in by the All Blacks and 71 where the ball was taken in by the Springboks — to identify incidents at the breakdown that should have been penalised, whether they were or not.

Of course this is a subjective process so not everyone will agree with every decision I made in my review. While I’m not a referee and I’m obviously a Wallaby fan, if you’ve read some of my other articles I hope you’ll credit me with being fair. The purpose of this exercise is not to target any particular team or any particular player.

In my review I found 57 penalisable offences at the breakdown by both teams compared to the 11 breakdown penalties awarded by Alain Rolland (who also refereed the corresponding game last year that Scarfman analysed). There were plenty of other incidents that were also could have warranted penalties but I decided not to include them as they had little impact or the indiscretions were quite minor.

As a rugby fan I wouldn’t want to see 57 penalties at the breakdown in any match as it would ruin the game, but there’s no doubt in my mind that the referees are missing far too much. I know they’ve got plenty to keep an eye on and there’s no way I could, or would want to be, a referee. Any player who’s had me as a referee in training runs will attest that I’m hopeless and let most things go. As you’ll see in the video I’ve prepared, some of the offences are blatant and occur right in front of the referee and/or the assistant referees.

Before I move on to the video, here’s a summary of the offences I found when the All Blacks had possession:

All BlacksSpringboksTotal
Team Infringing28634
Penalties Actually Awarded Against Team Infringing3 (11%)2 (33%)5 (15%)

Of the 28 offences committed by the All Blacks when they had possession, 19 (68%) were a result of a player coming from the side and not entering through the gate, although not one of those was actually penalised. Richie McCaw was responsible for 12 of the 28 offences (43%) but was penalised for only 1 of those offences. Ali Williams was the closest with 5 offences (18%).

A summary of the offences I found when the Springboks had possession follows:

SpringboksAll BlacksTotal
Team Infringing17623
Penalties Actually Awarded Against Team Infringing4 (24%)2 (33%)6 (26%)

Of the 17 offences committed by the Springboks when they had possession, 12 (71%) were a result of a player coming from the side and not entering through the gate, although only 1 of those was actually penalised.

From those statistics it’s clear that Alain Rolland was refereeing in favour of the team that had possession and it’s clear that neither team was concerned about being penalised for coming from the side to ensure they retain the ball or to stop defending players from slowing down their rucks.

In this particular game it was the All Blacks who got away with more infringements and Richie McCaw was the chief beneficiary.

My conclusion is that not much has changed since Scarfman produced his video a year ago.

I hope we’re going to see more emphasis placed on eliminating some of these breakdown infringements in the future, particularly in the looming World Cup. But I wouldn’t bank on it.


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  • Ooaahh

    I’ve been sprucing this theory a bit recently but I think maybe it’s the black jerseys are not as ‘visible’ to peripheral vision and hence you can naturally get away with more.

    • Dan

      NOW we know why the English have picked an all black uniform for one game…

    • Greencap

      Yeah that… plus bags full of cash

    • Disco

      Maybe the English agree.

  • Ooaahh

    note to self. Hence will not be used on GAGR anymore.

  • Duncher

    Do the referees have a boss that reviews these games in this sort of depth??? Ohh wait they do… That Irishman Paddy O’Brien… Ohh wait he’s an All Black, I mean Kiwi…

  • The Rant

    be interesting to do this exercise again after this weekend and see how the wobs stack up.

    • Scott Allen

      I’ll do that early next week

  • redbull

    Just what percentage of breakdowns does McCaw actually get to? It must be a largish number. How do other 7s compare (Pocock, Brussow)

  • Alan

    I hope this video causes a stir similar to the last one

    Its a truly damning review of the officials who chose to ignore the most basic of rules. This piss poor level of officiating could plunge the game and breakdown into anarchy as im sure any coach who sees this will instruct his team to fight fire with fire – no one is policing the breakdown so fuck it, copy the AB’s and do whatever you can to get the ball!

    Those weren’t marginal, maybe instances, they were deliberate and planned. shocking

  • ozabroad

    Rucks are Refs problem, not the players. Some of the entry angles are staggering though. early penalties would chnage things up

  • Jay

    I agree with most of the video, except a few times when you’ve said a player comes in from the side, they haven’t really. For instance the McCaw entry at :53 is legal, or marginal at worst. He has to come from directly behind the tackled player (note, not the tackler) – on balance you could say he’s come from a slight angle, but it’s hardly an egregious foul. And of course he makes no effort to move, he’s nowhere near the ball so he’s not actually required to.

    Just one example, the video is mostly fine.

    • westy

      “egregious”…A word used by a male of over 40 years to describe the play of Richie McCaw. Meaning “conspicuously bad”, this word is more commonly replaced with simply “Richie”. As is “doing a Richie foul”.

      • Jay

        I’m only 37!

    • ash

      I tend to agree that that particularly McCaw entry wasn’t from the side, but he went straight off his feet and didn’t bother to roll away on the wrong side of the ruck preventing other players entering – was still a penalty offence against McCaw.

      I think this video was a lot more balanced than Scarfman’s original (of which I found myself agreeing with most, but there were too many things in there that I didn’t think were penalties).

      Really, a lot of it is lazy and blatant, and if penalised would stop happening pretty damn quickly.

      Looking forward to the one from next week. I reckon both teams will have loads of similar unpenalised transgressions then too.

    • Roman

      fully agree with your comments as far as the angle goes, this video is of good quality and besides a ‘few of the from the side’ calls is showing illegal play..
      however, if u deeply analyse any rugby game, you will see the same thing happening, not just in the breakdown but how many forward passes are missed. as long as the ref is consistent and not missing too much, i’d rather see rugby at pace than penalties every 2minutes and having a kick off.

  • Darkhorse

    Geez i dunno, some where blatant.

    Although, when you have driven over the ball and you see someone about to enter the ruck, what are you going to do? Leave them and let them run through and pick up the ball?

    The other thing you aren’t considering is that in the smith incident he essentially makes the ruck bigger when he steps onto the other side, as it includes him, and when takes out the springbok that’s within the ruck.

  • Jay

    The unfortunate reality is that the game is basically too fast for one ref, and as Mark Lawrence pointed out, the attacking team tends to get away with joining in front a fair bit more and the stats seem to back that up.

  • defunkt

    Haha, what a beat-up, the actual problem here is that *your* gate is only about 6 inches wide.

  • Jay

    Actually – what is the assistant ref’s remit in terms of what they watch for? Obviously foul play, but I struggle to recall them actually notifying a ref of anything relating to entry to the tackle/ruck.

  • Bally Moore

    it is so obviously tactical, a coached behaviour. I wonder how those sessions go … Sad because they are such a good team without it.

    Well done for putting the video together, and I’d be very pleased to have the same scrutiny put to the Wallabies too – who are surely not squeeky clean. I reckon the more focus and evidence put in public the better – things might get so hilariously stupid and obvious that Paddy O’Black (whose most active day in the role was making an apology to AB’s for Stu’s officiating against Italy) has to do something – and the All Blacks have the most to lose from it being cleaned up.

    It didnt matter on the weekend, but could end up impact trophies later this year…

    • Garry

      What is a travesty is that we have have a neutral S hem ref (from NZ) for the WB v Springbok game, but for the AB V Springbok game they fly in one from the Nth Hem. Stu Dickenson is the obvious choice, but once again Paddy O’Black is bending over the barrel for his Blacks.

      • Jay

        Travesty is a bit strong, the matches were jokes from the moment PDV left all his best players at home. They could have been reffed by PDV himself wearing a fright wig and a clown nose and it would have only made them slightly more farcical.

    • Nipper

      I was thinking along the same lines. Although this is a bit cynical, would it pay if an opposing team was blatantly and obviously infringing (in from the side, not rolling away, etc.) in the first 10 minutes of the game, giving away a few penalties and warnings — BUT calling the refs attention to the breakdown (assuming he would ref both sides the same way…) and increasing the scrutiny on the AB’s tactics?

      Or would that just backfire?

  • Roo

    I can’t believe all that blatant cheating is happening right in front of the ref in almost all those examples. I’m so sick of watching Richie casually roll around the wrong side of the ruck like it’s his personal beanbag. It makes me puke.

  • Jon
    • Exactly.

      *Every* team does it. A bit rich for this GAGR analysis to come across as “objective” when the rule is only being run over opposition teams.

  • Robson

    Winning is EVERYTHING to McCaw. He eats, drinks and sleeps WINNING. That’s not a bad fault, in fact it’s not a fault at all unless there is NOTHING you won’t do to avoid losing. Is McCaw like that? Well he doesn’t involve himself in foul play like ear biting, late tackles and that sort of stuff and in this sense he is one of the cleanest international forwards around. But cynically bending the rules like this is IMHO not in the true spirit of clean sport either. But it is what you do if you are hell bent on winning at all costs.

    The worrying thing is that, whilst every team has their moments at the breakdown and nobody – but nobody – is as pure as the driven snow, there seems to be an ingrained culture of illegal play among the ABs at the breakdown. I think they know that the task of referees trying to police the breakdown is like trying to count drops of water in a water fall . There is so much going on that only the most blatant of acts gets picked up.

    I would like to see this vid joined by one on the forthcoming test ABs v WBs and then sent to Paddy O’Brien with a message that his officials need to clean up their act before the RWC and it is absolutely essential that the guys running the touch are emphatically instructed to be actively involved in policing this aspect of play. It really must not be allowed to continue at this rampant level.

    Excellent analysis btw Scott.

    • Nipper

      Agree – McCaw seems to do whatever it takes to win – not a bad trait is it? He plays to the edge until he’s forced to dial it back. It’s not like he’s an ogre – I put more blame on the refs who let him (and his teammates) get away with it.

      You play as close to the edge as the refs let you. Good on him – it’s up to the refs (or the opposition) to police it.

      Pocock, who IMHO is now shading out McCaw as the world’s best, isn’t exactly an angel at ruck time, nor should he be – he’s just not a blatantly obvious as McCaw. And that’s because he’s not ALLOWED to get away with it!

      Great work, as usual, Scott.

  • KingofDubai

    I don’t condone cheating but fhhark if everyone else is getting away with it then we need to play along other whys we’ll be severely handicapped come WC time and wont be ‘experts’ like the AB’s and Boks.

    Our best cheaters need to up their game and need to learn from proven scholars like Bill Young and Melon to name a few.

  • jimmydubs

    Great work on the video!!

  • pants

    Refereeing inconsistency is the biggest blight on rugby and always has been. The way the rucks were controlled was disgraceful. I also noticed tacklers weren’t releasing players on alot of occasions in that match which also wasn’t policed. When breakdowns are reffed this way, its a massive advantage to the ABs cause no team can pile bodies on a breakdown and slow the ball down like they can. This reminded me of how the breakdown was handled in the S15 final which was in stark contrast to the Reds v Blues semi final. It seems since the final, the refs are getting ready for the world cup, and this is probably the way the wc will be reffed. I wonder why that could possibly be? Surely Paddy O’Brien must be deeply concerned about the standard of refereeing we are seeing here?

  • Westy

    Can we get a ref to respond on a Monday night podcast? Turn it into Gagger’s personal Q&A #qanda!

  • RedsfanDan

    How that Ali Williams shirtpull/interference wasn’t picked up is beyond me, McCaw did a similar thing just before they spread it wide for the Crockett try from memory.

    There are two things that teams can do from here to remain competitive and neither of them are good.

    1. Players can police the breakdown themselves with gouging, biting, rucking and hard cleanouts, just like the good old days. Bet your bottom dollar Richie wouldn’t loiter on the wrong side of the ruck if he knew he was gonna cop a Bok shoulder in the liver. However, in this day and age when playing this sport is all these men do, how they earn their living, noone wants to see anyone hurt or put out of the game (right?) Besides, no mums are gonna let their little boys (or girls) play if they’re gonna grow up to cop a Bok (or AB) shoulder in the kidney and piss blood for a week.

    2. If it’s good enough for one team it’s good enough for everyone. The S15 final was the perfect example of why you don’t want to leave the breakdown as a free for all. Messy and frustrating to watch, noone wants to see the outcome of a good game hinge on a couple of dodgy turnovers or some blatant interference at a ruck that creates a gap for a try that everyone in the ground but the ref saw.

    In summary, all players, everywhere, will push the rules to the point the ref pulls them up. The problem we have is that the refs aren’t pulling them up soon enough.

  • Chris

    I think bringing proper rucking back is the key. It solves the problem of players sealing the ball off by lying all over the opposition’s side without having to give away penalties constantly. Don’t know why we can’t just go back to the rule where rucking was allowed, but stomping or rucking to the face was illegal. Nothing better than seeing a bit of the old tap dance over someone’s back.

  • Zeno

    If you can’t ruck ‘em I say clean ‘em out. A diving shoulder-charge into the small of the back, or drag them out by the hair, or two blokes grab a boot each and break the wishbone… it should be open season on anyone who’s on the wrong side.

    • Dilip Doshi


    • Tyrone

      Funny you should mention giving “a diving shoulder charge into the small of the back” if they’re on the wrong side – if thats the case do we say well done to Tony Woodcock for his shot on Faingaa when he found himself on the wrong side last year in Christchurch?

      Good in theory, but Tony got a couple of weeks for that didn’t he? Some say it was dirty, I reluctantly admit it was a fair clean-out to someone on the wrong side of the ruck. The worst thing to happen to the game was the outlawing of RUCKING! A few sprigs to the balls would clean up the ruck area quick smart!

  • Skippy

    Bring back rucking… McCaw and others may think twice if they are going to get a few size 12’s down their back.

    Maybe Ali Williams won’t grab someone’s shirt offside if he knows he is going to get a left hook to the jaw at the next chance the opposition get.

    Take matters into your own hands lads if the ref isn’t doing his job!

    • fr3ak

      Facetious as your last statement may be, there is something that Australian and New Zealand teams pride themselves on and that’s discipline, taking matters into your own hands just means points against you when in your own half (or even from 60 out against SA). The flipside is that a good captain should be able to communicate with the ref to point out consistent illegality, whether or not the ref listens is another thing. I think the general problem is that the rule(s) is/are, across the board, not being referee’d properly or consistently after some good early efforts by the refereeing fraternity.

  • Gax

    Agree with ozabroad here. I’m also an Aussie living abroad and the referee must put his stamp on the game from the start to make sure the players know they can’t get away with it. I must admit your gate did seem a bit small but either way a lot of infringing.

    I believe that the Wallabies have always been a team that likes to play by the rules, but these days will follow suit if the other team is doing it. That is why I think John Eales was such a great captain. He was very good at pointing out to the ref what the other team was doing wrong. George would then point and yell when they were doing what John had just complained about. Worked very well and got us a lot of penalties.

    Anyway go the Wallabies this Saturday. Lets smash these all blacks and put the fear of god into them before the world cup!!!!!!!

  • pants

    One thing you have to give credit to McCaw for is ‘ref man management’. He’s a master at manipulating them. It’s the little things he says to the ref during the game that make him the refs ‘friend’ and has a subconcious effect on how the ref treats him (ie. very leniently). Look at the AB v Springbok game, at half time, Richie walks off the field with the Ref having a good old chat, probably about the weather, oh and probably also about how can he do things better (stroking the refs ego). That combined with his reputation, its nigh on impossible for him to ever be yellow carded despite multiple infringements and my personal favourite, multiple final warnings. Compare that to a front row prop who is likely to get yellow carded for 3 of the same type of infringment. Making your 7 the captain and one who is as good as McCaw at manipulation, is what makes McCaw so good, not his rucking ability. That gives the ABs an advantage at every breakdown which they know is where the game is won or lost. Everything else is gravy.

    This is where i question Rocky’s ability as captain (note, not as a player). I don’t see him interacting with refs in a positive way. More often than not, he looks pissed off when talking to the refs and this will have the opposite subconcious effect on the ref to McCaw. I wonder how much attention is paid to the personality of the captain and how they favourably interact with refs by the Wallabies? In my opinion this has to be in the top 3 characteristics required by your captain.

    • Mart

      I think your bang on!
      Horwill seems pretty good at it too. See the waratah’s scrum smashing the reds to no result, as he chatted to the ref about the surface being the issue.

      • pants

        Yep, Horwill is great at interacting with the Refs and for that reason alone I would put him as captain of the Wallabies (not to mention he’s proven he’s a winner).

        A classic example of bad ref interaction was Stephen Hoiles for the Brumbies..oh and Paul Gallen for Origin to cite the other game.

        I think its something that often gets overlooked when captains are chosen, but clearly not by the ABs. The last captain we had that was excellent at dealing with refs was John Eales, although Gregan did well to distract attention from our back peddling scrum for years.

    • Jay

      “Making your 7 the captain and one who is as good as McCaw at manipulation, is what makes McCaw so good, not his rucking ability.”

      Cause McCaw was completely ordinary until 2006, of course.

      Making McCaw the captain has confused a lot of opposition fans who don’t know the difference between a warning for team infringements and a warning to a player for repeated infringements.

      • pants

        To put it simply, making McCaw captain just adds to his cloak of invisibility.

      • Bally Moore

        I would say though that Scarfman’s original analysis (link at top) showed a pretty clear case of several player (Richie) specific warnings for repeated infringements that were not followed up (to be clear, the infringements were, the card wasnt).

        You know when the *NZ commentators comment on it, its pretty crazy (as they did the Mils shutdown on Saturday)…

        * I know the Aussie commentators are often no better…

        • Jay

          There were two warnings – the first was a warning to McCaw for repeated infringements in the 22, the second was a team warning (after an offence by Dan Carter). After his personal warning, McCaw was next penalised something like 35 minutes later and in the opposition half (rather than in his own 22). It’s pretty clear alright, but not for the reason you think.

        • liam

          mate, the aussie commentators are horrific. kearns is basically the most one-eyed guy in town. even the nz commentators will immediately remark upon aninfrongement by an allblack…. when cooper throws a pass 2m forward on the inside, you just hear kearns go “ahhhh”… then silence, then on to chatting about the next ruck. ridiculous.

          quite amazing all the conspiracy theorists especially about paddy o brien. this is the guy that after the quarterfinal in 07 defended wayne barnes and said he did a good job. you really think he’s batting biased for the allblacks? unbelievable.

          some interesting vids but unfortunately, the stats are worth absolutely nothing unless you conduct them in some semblance of proper fairness. eg, you need to give the games (games, not one game) to someone who doesnt know about or give a stuff about rugby, ie not any kind of fan, explain the rules and exactly what to record for each team, without even telling them which uniform means which country. then look at your results and see how they fare, also comparing home and away fixtures as it’s proven that home grounds affect refs calls.

          until you do anything like that, and really you have to do it properly if you do it at all, the pretty video means exactly squat, and certainly there is no way any sane ref would take any notice of it. get some uni students to do a project on it, like a paper? then you’d have some credibility with it.

          awesome to see so many people on this site so into their rugby, but wow, on the kiwi sites dozens of saffas and poms constantly troll and every post is about what terrible whingers and whiners and moaners and cheaters and chokers nz people in general are etc etc etc… well i hope those trolls leave this site alone cos it’d p*ss you all right off like it does me.

  • nufz

    yeah good video, maybe i’ll put one together of the wobblies infringing all over with offsides . sheperds and scrum should be penalties if the refs knew what a scrum was.

    But then again maybe i’ll just enjoy the games.

  • NP

    if the ref doesn’t ping them then they are doing their job which is to play to the whistle….Do you really think the wallabies don’t do the same???

    • pants

      The problem isn’t with the players, its the ref bias towards the ABs at the breakdown when they are in possession.

  • NP

    you only think there is a bias because the AB’s gage the ref’s “vision” of the breakdown and play to that limit better than other teams. they are very good at the breakdown and to claim that they are getting away with murder, or getting away with more than the wallabies because of some favouritism is just whinging…

  • Zeno

    If you just respond that the Wallabies do it too so there’s no issue, you’re not seeing the important stuff:

    * The referees are not applying the Laws, or at best are enforcing them inconsistently.

    * The players are apparently coached to do this shit, and practise it.

    * The refs have an evident bias in favour of the team in possession.

    * The breakdown is an inconsistent mess and not an open contest.

    As for the Wallabies, they have been heavily penalised at the breakdown over recent years, chiefly for going off their feet, holding onto the ball and hands in the ruck—i.e. when they’re in possession, as well as when defending. They don’t have all the bad habits shown in the analysis above—joining from the side, obstructing players near the ruck, flop-and-seal-off etc.—and aren’t given a free pass from the refs.

  • NP

    Everything about the breakdown is true except for the fact that there is some bias between the teams. the AB’s are not getting pinged less than the wallabies (probably more…) and to say that the wallabies don’t have those bad habits is nonsense!! you just keep looking for AB infringements! as an AB supporter i look for the wallabies infringements and see them all the time!!!

    • Zeno

      NP, just read a little more carefully and think a little bit harder, huh?

      This issue is not about which team breaks the rules more than another. It’s about the enforcement of the Laws for the good of the game.

  • Bally Moore

    maybe NP, but this previous analysis (penalties vs Yellow Cards) was pretty interesting on that point…

  • NP

    those stats show that the AB’s were pinged a hell of allot more than the wallabies or the books!! and you can’t really analyse the numbers for the yellow cards like that because a) sample size is too small b) most yellow cards come from dangerous play or stupidity (e.g. Mitchell smacking down the quick line out ball after being warned).

    there is an argument that the AB’s should have gotten more yellow cards for repeated infringements, but not that they get some kind of favouratism in the penalty calls.

    • Bally Moore

      I’d like to see a larger sample too, but 99 penalties over 5 games isnt so bad. Remove Mitchell’s slap down and from memory bakkies late and high hit on Cowan, and you get 43 vs 8 vs 11 – still a pretty big gap.

      Scott counts above that penalty’s were even at AB 5, SB 6 but actual infringements were AB 34, SB23. Just one game, but in this case, the numbers suggest AB did get some favourtisim around penalties. Looking at those numbers though, i was surprised that the majority of ‘missed’ AB penalties were when they were in possession, not slowing down opposition ball – which i think is what most of us fear and rant (whinge) about….

      more yellow cards for the times they do get penalised would be a good start for most people on this forum…

      Just to be clear – your original point was that it is illegal the way that the AB’s often contest rucks – but all teams do the same…?

      • Jay

        The majority of those yellow cards (and yellow cards in general) are for specific incidents, not repeated offences. So the number of penalties per yellow isn’t really a useful statistic. And even in the case of repeated offences, teams are given a warning and then can adapt their play (or not) subsequently.

        Really, it’s just a graphic equivalent of a snippy soundbite with little relevance.

  • NP

    All very interesting. My point is that, in my opinion, everyone tends to look at infringements of the “other” team and that the same kind of video analysis (which by the way i like very much and think that this site is doing a great service in understanding the games and trends!) could be done on the wallabies breakdown work as well, with the same or very similar results….

    • Patrick

      It’s possible, NP, if not plausible – happily, there is an easy way to prove it, or are NZ fans not sophisticated enough to do this?

      • NP

        haha don’t get your panties in a knot :) i don’t actually have a way to record the games and do all this “complex” analysis… which is why i said i was grateful for the work of others, even if it was a little one sided :)

    • Scott Allen


      As noted above, I’ll do exactly the same analysis for this weekend’s game between the All Blacks and Wallabies.

      I have no doubt that there will be plenty of examples of Wallaby infringements.

      The point of this analysis for me was not to target any particular team but to see what level of infringements were occuring at the breakdown and being ignored or missed by referees.

      • NP

        Point taken. Looking forward to seeing your analysis. Should be an epic game!!

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Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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