The front row (both props and hookers) in rugby has come under a lot of both scrutiny and criticism in recent times for a variety of perceived failures on their part. Whether it be issues at the scrum, lineout or other areas of the game there seems to be an unnecessarily large amount of criticism coming their way. As an honorary member of the front row (having spent most of the last year at the front of the scrum) I feel the need to defend my front row compatriots and clear up a few issues.
The first area I would like to address is the scrum. The scrum is obviously the bread and butter for the front row; it is pretty much their primary function in a game. Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly harder to defend the actions of props in this instance as the number of them dropping their bind, knees or anything else they can is rising. This obviously results in the scrum collapsing which means a reset and everyone having to hang around for a while in order for the reset to take place.
So, no issues with the criticism players receive for deliberately dropping the scrum. Where my issue lies is in when a scrum collapses or pivots and a player has done their utmost to hold it up. Recently I have been seeing props being sent to the sin-bin simply for going backwards in a scrum. Now as someone who has experienced this before, when the bloke opposite you is considerably stronger or has much better technique there aren’t too many options. Yes award them the penalty, but it does not automatically mean the player going backwards requires punishing, especially if he has been keeping the scrum up.
This kind of penalisation from referees is part of the reason scrums go down. Why risk being yellow carder for going backwards when you could drop the scrum and potentially give yourself a 50/50 shot at being penalised. I would really like to see referees put into a scrummaging situation where they are going backwards, because I can tell you now they would be immediately re-thinking how they referee them. The amount of pressure that can go through your neck is quite unbelievable so it’s no bloody wonder players try and go back, up or even down to get out of it.
Referees need to understand this finer aspect to the game and accommodate accordingly. Players should not be yellow carded simply for going backwards! Just imagine if this kind of thinking was applied across the rest of the game. We’d have wingers who went backwards in the tackle, or full backs who slip backwards in the mud receiving yellow cards left, right and centre.
The other, and slightly less serious issue in the scrum is the impact other players have on its performance. If a scrum goes backwards it is usually the front row who are criticised, this however is not always the case. The front row’s main focus should be on getting themselves into the best possible position whilst the rest of the pack provide the force to push them forwards. The locks must bare the brunt of the responsibility as for example if the number 5 (the right-hand side of the second row) is not pushing properly in the scrum it can make the tighthead look like they are not effectively performing their job.
The back row must also take some of the responsibility hear as all too often people forget that in addition to breaking off the scrum, they must also be pushing. The failure of just one of the back row to be effectively pushing in the scrum is more than enough to see the scrum go backwards. Number 8’s are often most guilty of this as their heads pop up to see what’s going on in front – watch for this next time and see how it affects the dynamics of the scrum. The scrum half must also be noted here as if they fail to adequately warn the hooker that the ball is about to come in then it can put the scrum on the back foot.
The line-out is the other key area that hookers in particular come in for unnecessary criticism. Yes, the onus is on the hooker to time their throw correctly whilst also ensuring that their throw is straight, this does not however mean that a failure to hit their jumper is their fault. The automatic assumption is that if the ball does not reach it’s intended target that the hooker is at fault, more often than not this is not the case. The failure of players in the line-out to adequately time their jump or lift is often just as much of an issue. Players not reacting to the right call can also be an issue, all of this leaves the hooker looking like they have failed to do their job when in fact it can often be far from the truth.
The final thing to remember is that the front row put in a huge shift, even if you don’t notice it. From lifting/throwing at the line-out to scrummaging and often back again is seriously tiring. So don’t take the p**s too much when you see a prop hanging out on the wing for a minute trying to catch their breath, they are often one of the heaviest players on the team and are constantly having to use their strength and fitness in ways that may not seem obvious.
Would you agree that the front row come in for some unnecessary stick?