Tuesday, 22 October 2013

How's the scrum going ?

PHave to confess I was delighted when the IRB announced the changes to the scrum engagement and indeed the call to encourage the application of the existing laws, that is a straight put in. The IRB announcement was late in the day with the season fast approaching and hence some degree of tolerance was required, many commentators and significant voices in the game suggesting we all reserve judgement until the season has played. I completely agree with this, however feel a little review of how it's all progressing may be of some use in order to achieve the objective.

The objective overall is to speed up the game by cutting down the need for scrum resets and in turn make the scrum a fairer contest with the need for hookers to hook. Equally there was a safety element within the proposals which supposedly reduced the "hit" by some 25%. Now for me the exciting side effect of these changes is with the back row, having seen back row move options just about disappear from the game with the ball stuck with the locks and the scrums trying to work the penalty as first option under the old laws. Now, hopefully, particularly with back lines 5 metres back from the scrum, No. 8's and 9's will start to exploit the space. Equally as we have witnessed the role of the props has been made much easier or more even....not simply your size which makes the difference.

My impression to date is still very much work in progress. We have seen many more teams using back row options, mostly very basic but nonetheless effective. Again some teams seem to have embraced the hooking element with more enthusiasm then others which of course in turn affects the ability of the No. 8 to operate options off the scrum base. There has been a lot of talk about the safety aspect with hookers being on one leg with all the power coming through. However the scrum power has clearly been  reduced and with the strike only taking no more that one second, the modern day hookers need the engage some of the best exponents skill sets from the past and return to a strong pushing position after the strike. From Wasps this would be Alan Simmonds, from outside Wasps maybe Brian Moore and Graham Dawes. The key point here is that the referees although understandably tolerant during the first part of the season need to apply the straight feed law more strictly. As I say some clubs have embraced the hooking element of the changes fully and made great efforts. Those that still have not need a bit more encouragement from the refs.

Those teams in need of hooking encouragement have developed some interesting strategies, still working on the principle that drawing the penalty is the stronger option at scrum time. Currently we are seeing more collapses from advancing tight heads leaving their feet and occasionly turning in and dropping the shoulder from a retreating scrum but this is rare. The reality is the scrum moving forward is more often causing the collapse, however the ref is likely to award the penalty the other way, teams are well aware of this refereeing trait and milking it.

The overall affect, albeit making very slow adjustment, is that the skill set requirement for the front row is changing. The "hit" has been reduced hence technical requirements have been reintroduced. A tight head still has a difficult job but based more on strength, body position and flexibility than simple size. Is it an easier role, well I think there are now many more players who can perform this role now than previously so from that perspective then yes it is easier, hence a successful THP this season may well not have coped last season.....lucky coaches !!!! However in order to reach and perform an effective role at the top levels the props now need to be able to make higher contributions in the loose with higher tackle counts, turn overs, ball carries and off loads.....simply being in the team to scrummage is no longer enough. Equally with the hookers the role has or is changing, most likely more significantly. The trend of sticking a big ex prop in the middle has gone for good...I hope. Hookers need to hook and not simply push.

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