Has the rolling maul become too powerful as an attacking weapon?

All Blacks great Justin Marshall has taken aim at the proliferation of rolling mauls in Super Rugby Pacific, suggesting it's time for a rethink on the powerful set-piece play to achieve a greater "balance" between attack and defence.

The Highlanders on Friday night scored three tries from five-metre lineout drives, and two more as a result of the set-piece, to easily account for Moana Pasifika 37-17. Then, 24 hours later, the Brumbies had similar success against Fijian Drua, with hookers Billy Pollard and Connal McInerney each grabbing a try, while the platform also helped fullback Tom Wright go over.

Marshall first reflected on the lineout drive on Saturday morning, but further elaborated on his SENZ radio show the following day, albeit ironically after the Hurricanes had repelled the Crusaders' drive and then also failed to convert an opportunity themselves having spurned a potential three points and a golden-point tie-breaker.

"I was reasonably outspoken about that, it would be fair to say, on Saturday, chatting through the theory for me of why the law, for whatever reason, teams haven't been able to combat the driving maul," Marshall said in response to a listener's question as to whether the lineout drive was affecting the entertainment value of Super Rugby Pacific.

"And it seems to be that most teams now are that confident that they can either score from the driving maul or they can put enough pressure on -- or suck enough players in that they can score from setting up a rolling maul -- that they are turning down very kickable opportunities for goals. Because that's how sure they are of the fact that if they get set they can mount full-on pressure or create another penalty close to the line.

"The one sort of anomaly in the mix, interesting enough, was last night, where the Crusaders had two to three to four possible digs at the Hurricanes in that type of situation...but the Hurricanes combated every single driving maul.

"So this sense of inevitability that I had been dreading this rolling maul because it's been rife in Super Rugby Pacific so far, not only in New Zealand [but] in Australia as well, didn't eventuate last night. So the Hurricanes came up with a really good way to combat the driving maul.

"But in general to answer the question, I don't know why teams aren't sacking more, I don't know why they can't get the ball-carrier on the ground, whether that's because they don't want to defend that zone with players picking and driving and they prefer to defend the maul; or whether the law doesn't enable them to get to the jumper to sack the maul.

"But it is a bit of a concern that it is so hard to stop, and it is very much a part of our game because it's not entirely pretty to watch. I think it's worth a conversation when we review the season to have a look at why teams are finding it so much easier this year to score in that particular part of the game."

The Blues' Kurt Eklund currently sits equal second on the try-scorers list in Super Rugby Pacific this season, but the only other hooker inside the top 10 is Crusaders rake Codie Taylor. Three of Eklund's tries were also scored against Moana Pasifika in Round 7.

While there are still seven regular season rounds to run, the number of hookers filling the top five on the try-scoring chart isn't actually as concentrated as it was in the concurrent Super Rugby AU and Super Rugby Aotearoa competitions of last year, where hookers Alex Mafi and Codie Taylor topped the respective counts and Folau Fainga'a and Eklund were also prominent. It is also worth nothing that Taylor was particularly dynamic in open play in 2021.

Meanwhile, it's no secret that the Brumbies have long possessed an excellent driving maul under the coaching of Dan McKellar and assistant Laurie Fisher, which has long made Fainga'a a leading try-scorer at the club.

SANZAAR has made a conscious effort to better police binding and obstruction in rolling mauls this season, but when executed correctly the tactic remains a weapon and incredibly hard to defend the world over.

So perhaps the actual answer might lie in the fact that given their short preparation times, Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua haven't had the same opportunity to hone the craft of defending the set-piece drive from close range.

"That's how Moana Pasifika are getting beaten, quite often, because they're not very good at defending that particular skill set," Marshall admitted.

"The Crusaders game, they were incredibly resilient in their first hit-out of the year, but the Crusaders, I think Codie Taylor came on and possibly got two tries...so it's very much something that teams are using a lot.

"I think we had four tries to the Highlanders hookers on the weekend, two to Mafileo and two to Reece Marshall when he came on. So four tries out of that game and they're all from rolling mauls...we want to see that be a contest and we want to see teams have the ability to go to the driving maul but we don't want to see 80 minutes' worth of it."

Asked about tweaking the law to make it so that teams had to move the ball when a driving maul stops for the first time, rather than the second, Marshall agreed it would be a discussion worth having.

"I think that that is something that we should really look at," he said. "And it's been mooted in the past, and we probably haven't gone back there. I think it's a really good point.

"The way they could police that is to allow the [attacking] team to get set first, so they don't have to get it moving straight away because that can prove a little bit difficult...but once you get it moving, then it has to got to keep moving, rather than it stops and they get another go.

"I think that would make defence a lot easier and it would also make you have to be more proficient, making sure that you have got good quality ball, got your blockers in, got your hooker in place, and then you get it going.

"And you know that if it stops and you'd don't get good momentum, then you're going to have to free it. I quite like that idea and I think it's a good way to perhaps get a better balance in that area."