Need for new scrum engagement sequence
FRENCH NOTES:It is time to revive scrum ‘fast ball’ so a new generation can sample the joy of attacking play from scrums, writes MATT WILLIAMS
SCRUM TIME across the globe is in a diabolical state. Last week I watched rugby from the Heineken Cup, the Bledisloe Cup, the New Zealand ITM Cup and the Currie Cup from Africa.
The scrums were appalling. Scrums that produced attacking ball were minimal and the vast majority of scrums resulted in a penalty.
In less than a decade the scrum has been eroded from the best attacking platform in the game to a time-wasting penalty lottery.
The scrum is an attacking opportunity because it ties up all the opposition forward defenders. The defending backs split to cover both sides of the scrum and on most occasions the fullback is behind the defensive line. This set-up empowers attackers to create overlaps.
The problem is the ball is simply not coming out of the scrum so quality backline attack and backrow moves are rare.
Years ago much of the attack from scrums came from ‘channel one ball’. This is created by the hooker heeling the ball out between the left locks feet so it arrives to the left of the number eight. It is ‘fast ball’ and allows backs to create glorious left-side attack. Sadly many of you have never seen this exciting play. The past is the only place it exists.
In the 1980s the free-kick was introduced for scrum infringements. There was agreement that matches should not be won or lost on a scrum technicality.
It also implied the referees of the time were not getting it right. Scrum infringements were penalised with free-kicks. You could not attempt a shot at goal. Over time this positive philosophy has been so eroded that currently scrum penalties are determining the result in many matches.
In French rugby, dominating scrums hold the ball at the number eight and drive forward until the referee awards a penalty. This is an abomination to the attacking philosophy that is at the game’s core. William Webb Ellis picked up the ball and ran. He did not take a shot at goal.
The scrum engagement sequence of “crouch, touch, pause, engage” is the problem. It had its genesis in the series of shocking injuries to frontrowers that occurred across the globe in the 1980s and ’90s.
Let me make this clear – player welfare and safety is paramount. Excellent measures were put in place and thankfully catastrophic scrum injuries have been drastically reduced.
However, like the free-kick, after years of evolution the original concept for engagement has morphed. Today both packs charge at engagement. Two sets of eight giant men acting as a bound mass, moving very fast across a short distance with the aim of physically dominating the other, and meeting with staggering force, is a recipe for neck injury. I hold special fear for young players who copy their heroes. I watch a lot of schoolboy rugby and I do not say this lightly, I urge lawmakers to listen and act.