It has been the case for several seasons now, a fast flowing exciting game of rugby bogged down in repetitive reset scrums before a penalty is awarded for some supposed or assumed infringement. Here are 4 easy ways that this can hopefully be eradicated and the scrum can become that mighty physical battle forwards love and backs wish they were brave enough to endure.
- Stop the scrum half feeding into the scrum
How can the scrum ever be an even contest if the ball starts in the legs of the second rows? Referees need to clamp down on wonky put ins to the scrum that make it a none contest in the first place. With the ball put down the middle, between the front rows’ feet, a contest between the hookers can actually take place. This contest will not only mean scrums become an event, but a contest. With hookers having to lift their leg to hook the ball back the opposition can either compete or seek to push the opposition off the ball with the opposite hooker unable to push while balancing on one leg trying to hook. Straight away we have a contest where teams will have to work out tactics to out think the opposition scrum just to win the ball back from the scrum.
- Stop pushing before the ball is in
If straight feeds are even going to make an effect we first need referees to be vigilant on pushing before the ball is in. Now that the engagement commands have changed they put the onus on ‘Set’ rather than ‘engage’. As the word implies it is setting the scrum ready for when the ball comes in. That means pushing starts when the ball comes in. If scrums can actually set it will lead to far fewer collapses. As a prop I know its integral to get under your opposite number and drive him backward, and the engagement is the best time to get a dominant position, but if you can get into that position you should be able to hold it until the ball is in, then all you need to do is turn it on and drive your man back. Obviously when the ball comes in that’s when your opposite number tries to rectify his position and that is what makes the scrums such a fascinating contest. The problem is if the ball hasn’t been put into the scrum and you’re opposite number has got into a better position than you then it makes sense to push yourself into a stronger position and if that fails go down. Hence why it is so important to stop any pushing before the ball goes in so that scrummaging becomes an even contest of skill and strength.
- Crack down on binding on the arm
When someone is bound onto your arm, the only thing attaching you to them, it can become impossible to maintain your balance in the scrum and any little twist can cause you to collapse. This has to be stopped not only is it illegal it is dangerous. When both props bind on the shirt it becomes a contest of technique and strength and stabilises the scrum, removing many collapses. I think the referee should give the benefit of doubt once, giving a prop one chance where he may have missed or lost his grip, but after that it should be an immediate penalty for any binding on the arm.
- Use some common sense
Finally the scrum will become a contest, where the dominant team can genuinely gain an advantage without arbitrary penalties here and there if some basic logic is applied to the scrum. If you’re going forwards you are not going to collapse a scrum unless you slip or lose your footing. Likewise, if one prop is dominating his opposite number but the other side is far more even, he isn’t wheeling he’s just going backwards and if the front row going forward pop up first its not because they’re under pressure its because they’ve gotten under the opposition and pushed through them and popped out. If a bit of logic was applied it will make scrums far smoother. Most importantly if a referee officiates every scrum in the context of the game it will help, if a team is on the back foot and being dominated up front, the likelihood is their scrum will be going backwards, and if a scrum is on top throughout the game it is unlikely they are just going to start collapsing scrums all of a sudden.
When running smoothly the scrum is a fierce contest in which games can be won and lost, and also provides an ideal attacking platform when not slowing the game down. If we can get back to this rugby will become a much better watch, if scrums can work at every other level, why do they not at professional?
What would you do to improve the scrum?