Modern Scrummaging

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Post by The Zec on Sun Mar 17, 2013 9:56 pm

Ok, so we've all heard Brian Moore bang on about it enough by now - isn't it time we put the farce that is a modern scrum back on the straight and narrow? I think so. (TL;DR version - scroll to the bottom)

Once my finals are over and I have the summer to myself, I'm going to write a paper (hopefully backed up with some empirical data from real scrummaging tests) and send it to the governing bodies of our beloved Rugby Union Football. What follows is the (very) condensed version, which I will expand and add to as the paper gets written.

Professional scrums have lost their appeal. It's not a fact, but it's a very well supported opinion. The overwhelming majority are unstable affairs that end in a free kick, penalty or a mess and a reset. In order to resolve the problem, first it needs to be analysed in a bit more depth.

Scrums which don't remain stable usually come about as a result of one of the six front row players gaining a subtle advantage in body position over his opposite number, and forcing him to either cheat his way back in to contention, or capitulate and come up/collapse. Some of these are clearly visible to any nearby observers who know what to look for. Slipped binds, boring in, and similar offences are often picked up by the referee, but equally often go unnoticed, usually on account of being on the far side of the scrum from the ref.

So why do the props get away with so much cheating? Because they're given the opportunity to do it. A traditional scrummage requires the props to hold the hooker up, allowing him to use his legs to hook the ball. Most modern scrummages are simply pushing fests, as the hooker very rarely makes the hook at all any more. Scrum halves feed the ball in on an angle - itself an offence, but almost always unpunished, and often done fairly subtly. This allows all 3 front row players to push over it, and the idea is that the ball will naturally be presented at the no.8's feet as the pack trundles forward.

So, the root of the problem then? Crooked feeds. Hookers don't need to hook, so props no longer need to focus so much of their attention on propping the hooker up, and the whole front row can focus their efforts on the intricacies of gaining the upper hand in the subtle contest of body positions and binding. Any seasoned prop will be able to explain these to you much better than I can, but suffice to know I have propped in the past and this isn't just guff. Differences in things like arched or straight backs, angle of push, angle of shoulders, etc. all combine to make a huge difference in who gets the upper hand in that particular scrum.

Ok, so sort out the crooked feeds then surely? Absolutely yes. On the rare occasion you get a straight feed it either rolls out the other side or just sits in the middle of the scrum, and opportunity for a steal is still butchered because the defending hooker doesn't go for it either. The pros are out of the habit. Enforce the straight feed, and attitudes will change. After the ball sits there for a while in a number of scrums, some canny hooker will clock on to the fact that he can nick that one against the head. Of course he might then get steamrollered when he stops pushing, but a quick hook and a no.8 pickup is enough to ensure the scrum is won against the head, giving a great opportunity for a counterattack. A couple of these shock wins might then wake up the attacking hooker to the fact that his primary responsibility in a scrum is, as his positional name implies, to hook the ball back and secure it for his own team. Rather quickly attitudes will change, hookers will need to hook, and suddenly find the task harder than they remember from school level because - shock horror - the props aren't supporting them properly. Some bitching and moaning later, the props will start begrudgingly holding the hooker up properly, and while the best of the best may be able to carry on as normal, even their attentions will be affected by their newly rekindled responsibility, and they will be less able to do as many subtle things to get the upper hand again.

Yes, I did just admit that not a lot of the cheating would go away. With the best will in the world, it won't go from the top level. International and professional props are just too good at it. That said, it can be negated somewhat by some better refereeing. All your standard offences can be monitored by the referee on the open side of the scrum. There is no actual requirement of the referee to stand on the same side as the scrumhalf, it seems it's just tradition. A suitable crouch is enough for him to adjudge the angle of the feed, as well as binding and boring in/angling offences on the side he is observing. This leads me to the second change that needs to be brought in. At top-flight level, the referee has two, and often three assistants. (Linesmen and TMO) Whilst referring scrums to the TMO is a waste of time, making good utilisation of the linesman is not. Scrummaging offences (particularly in the front row, but also back-row bindings) are easily spottable from 15 metres away. A rugby pitch is 100m x 66m. The biggest the blindside can therefore be, is 33m from the mark to the sideline. My recommendation is that the blindside linesman is brought in as far as the 15m line (or perhaps a few steps further) and is given the responsibility of flagging any offences. He is still out of the way of any blindside moves and if there were no offences, he would return to his line. If there were offences, he would stay on the pitch with his flag and arm out in the appropriate position to signal the result of the offence (penalty/free kick/rescrum).

TL;DR version/Summary:
1. Straight feeds become ruthlessly enforced.
2. Blindside referee's assistant monitors the scrum from a suitable position and has the power to call offences.
(bonus). Front row to wear jerseys more suitable for binding. (separate discussion)

Result: Hookers are forced to hook, props are forced to prop. Increased visibility of offences reduces their likelihood over time as props realise they simply can't get away with it any more, and their skills are better put to use actually winning the scrum by a good drive from a good body position and solid bind.

Final thought: What I'm suggesting here is by no means a "Quick fix". These are two changes in refereeing mentality and attitude that will bring about a change in culture of the game. If you don't understand that as the driving force of the argument then you may well be missing the point.


_____________________________________________________

And for the sake of balance:

Counter argument: 8 man shoves will result in too many scrum turnovers.

Response: Hookers will learn to hook quickly and accurately (they are professionals after all) and the ball will be delivered before the defending scrum can gain enough advantage for a turnover. It's then up to the 8/9 combination (and a certain amount of channeling from the locks) as to whether the scrum gets driven back and turned over, or the ball is quickly cleared. However, I will acknowledge turnovers are going to increase, possibly to levels greater than at the beginning of the professional era. That said, is it such a bad thing? Surely that's going to make for much more entertaining rugby than penalties? With the forwards all tied up from the scrum, the backs will have more room to run their first phase moves, and these much-lauded international defences will be stretched.



All comments are welcome, especially structured counter-arguments, and very especially supporting comments with further thoughts for me to write up in the paper.
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Post by quind on Sun Mar 17, 2013 10:29 pm

IRB has issues with a straight feed. I make no claim their objections are logical, simply how it is.

In essence they believe the casual TV fan expects the team putting the ball in to win ball from the scrum, and such things as ball against the head will erode faith.

To them they're happy to see the scrum as a restart with the team putting the ball in allowed to do so with the ball going into the 2nd row. The scrum is not being thought of as an area where contest for the ball is sought or desired.

Their concern is if ball is won against the head it will confuse those who at best follow rugby in a casual fashion, and should they lose those numbers revenues from marketing the game will fall.

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Post by The Zec on Sun Mar 17, 2013 10:59 pm

Throwing logical and well structured arguments out the window for a minute, that's largely due to a lack of faith in TV commentators to accurately describe the turned-over scrum. Certainly not unfounded with T**ts like Eddie Butler making a regular hash of it Evil or Very Mad
</rant>

It's a sad truth. I don't understand how they see it as more confusing than the random penalties though...
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Post by mmm on Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:25 am

I pretty much agree with The Zec's first post, as to it loosing revenue coz morons don't understand the scrum, they don't understand it now and don't see how changing the rules to make scrums fairer and fought properly will make any difference at all. If scrums are not an area where contest is sought why not get rid of them altogether, and replace them with free kicks, or make them like the league chickenscratch. Personally I'd not want to see that, as scrummaging is one of the great areas of the game as far as I'm concerned. (I used to play prop).

The laws are in place, they just need to be enforced, this is something I've also heard Mr. Moore say. That they are not being enforced is a dereliction of duty by the refs.

A trickier situation comes about when the scrum has rotated somewhat and thus a straight feed (with regards to the pitch) goes into the second row anyway. Maybe the feed should be straight with regards to the tunnel, but that then becomes harder to adjudicate, especially from 15m away.

Having said that, the refs should just learn to be better, they manage to see all sorts of other stuff on the pitch and I'm sure if they get told to make sure the feed at the scrum is straight they can make a reasonable job of it. Maybe there should also be a modification to the law saying that the team who's got the ball's hooker has to make a strike, ie his foot must be raised as the ball comes in, or the scrum gets reset with the ball in the opposition hands.
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Post by Raggs on Mon Mar 18, 2013 4:29 am

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Post by quind on Mon Mar 18, 2013 8:02 am

mmm wrote:The laws are in place, they just need to be enforced, this is something I've also heard Mr. Moore say. That they are not being enforced is a dereliction of duty by the refs.

I do feel a bit for the refs on this. And that's a very unusual thing for me to think. They know if they enforce this area the teams, and the teams' management will complain bitterly, and they suspect (know) they will not have IRB support to enforce a straight feed. So to the refs it likely seems if they enforce the straight feed they'll just end up being invited to officiate lower tier matches for less money.

Until the IRB get serious about this I can't really blame the refs.

I agree with the point that scrums ending in free kicks/pens is both frustrating, and given the absurd way many are awarded surely actually worse than heels against the head. But the expectation that teams with the put in should win the scrum is a real one for the IRB, and they've not been much for moving on this. There is the latest trial announced which will see some pre-binding, hopefully that helps reduce the hit and has the scrum more stable.

I'd tend to agree with Brian Moore on this, but I'm not holding my breath.

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Post by Basil on Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:11 am

If the referee in the first scrum of the game enforces the straight feed then the management cannot complain - it is only when they let some go and then enforce it that there can be complaints.

So, should they say that in the lineout the opposition aren't allowed to compete - after all, the side throwing in should win it shouldn't they.

Not sure why the TMO cannot be involved - he is watching it so can see the offences and can immediately tell the referee; it should also be a factor when he is asked whether there is a reason why a try cannot be awarded

The IRB need to get a grip on this area - i have never heard of this expectation that the team putting it in should win the scrum - what a pile of nonsense

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Post by quind on Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:20 am

Basil wrote:If the referee in the first scrum of the game enforces the straight feed then the management cannot complain - it is only when they let some go and then enforce it that there can be complaints.

Possibly they shouldn't, but it would be far from can't.

I don't see any way making such a fundamental change to the way a scrum is ruled, even if it should never have come to this, would go without significant complaint to the game authorities.

I suppose it's just possible if all the refs agree together and enforce 100% compliance the IRB would be left with nowhere to go but allow it. But for that the refs would have to trust the other refs to rule as agreed, and as they'll have seen each other ref I doubt there would be much trust.

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Post by Basil on Mon Mar 18, 2013 11:34 am

Before the match the referee can say to the teams - i am not allowing crooked feeding to scrums.

If the teams know this is the case and he doesn't allow either team to do it then there should be no call for complaint

Doesn't matter what is happening in other games the same day

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Post by quind on Mon Mar 18, 2013 12:31 pm

But there will be complaints. And very likely that ref doesn't get big games in the near future

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Post by mmm on Mon Mar 18, 2013 3:28 pm

Well someone needs to stand up and make the change coz the current nonsense isn't doing the game any favours.

If the IRB won't do it and the players won't do it and the refs won't do it then maybe it's up to the fans.

Not quite sure what we can do, I've tried shouting at the telly.
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Post by Radiohead on Mon Mar 18, 2013 9:23 pm

The scrum is by far the most frustrating thing in Rugby.

Referee's always pull the second offence and never the first which is the scrum half feeding the ball straight to the second row.
I've never played in the front row but appears to me that the ref's have trouble determining which side has caused some of the more subtle offences and just takes it in turn to penalise each team evenly just because they have been told to clamp down on this area of the game.
A well contested scrum is a great part of the game lets hope something can be done to get rid of the farce we have at present.
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Post by Flu444 on Thu Mar 28, 2013 7:24 am

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/21952652 interesting article from the man himself

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Post by mmm on Thu Mar 28, 2013 9:58 am

Yup, thanks for that Flu, and BM is, as ever, right.

There were a few people in the comments suggesting that the seconds should come in after the frontrows bind. From my experience as a prop (albiet at a low level) I can't see that working you need the second row and the flankers in to give you the stability to bind. But yeah we need to go back to straight feeds and no pushing before the ball is in. Also we need to have proper rugby shirts, not these nancy-boy shinies they wear today.
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Post by quind on Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:14 am

Why do 2nd rows and flankers add stability? Especially if there's no pushing before the ball comes in.

There may be a good reason, but I know in training I've seen just the front rows line up any number of times, either to engage another 1-2 players or another front row, or just to work front row on the scrum machine.

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Post by quind on Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:15 am

I would wonder though how easy is it to call locks in if you've already engaged as the front row, or how easy to notice if the locks have the space they want.

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Post by The Zec on Thu Mar 28, 2013 10:52 am

Locks shouldn't have space, it should be difficult to get your head in in the first place, then painful to keep it there. If the front row are bound tight enough, then that happens.

As for stability - a well balanced set of locks pushing low enough to supplement the front rows' drive adds to the stability. Of course with the engagement the careful positioning can get knocked about somewhat and cause instability - controlling that is all part of being a good lock.

Flankers add stability too: both by driving forwards to balance the effect of the 2nd row somewhat, and also driving in to keep the front row bound tightly.
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Post by quind on Thu Mar 28, 2013 11:58 am

do the front row not need to shift to allow the locks heads to come in at times?

I'm not saying without the 2nd row and flankers there's a lack of stablity, I don't know. but I'd have thought the power coming in from the same one could easily claim detracts from stability

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Post by quick on Thu Mar 28, 2013 1:18 pm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/rugby-union/21952652

Brian Moore's take. Not a bad read.

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Post by mmm on Thu Mar 28, 2013 2:59 pm

Dint Flu say that, like 6 posts up?

As to the stability, a good 2nd and backrow working well together definitely made me feel more stable, there's a whole 5 sets of extra muscles keeping you square and straight. Of course if they're clueless and not working in consort then things are different, but that's didn't happen often at College level (which is about as amateur as it gets) and certainly shouldn't be an issue for pros.
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Post by quind on Fri Mar 29, 2013 7:26 am

Not a bad listen, quite long though (more than an hour) -http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/5lspecials

And then select the program The Scrum

Basically Brian Moore getting very vexed with anyone who doesn't agree with him, so much so he forgets to use big unusual words. But on the whole a fair amount of agreement. If you do stick with it the comments late on from Mike Cron are wroth a listen.

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Post by The Zec on Fri Mar 29, 2013 11:53 am

I set a reminder on my phone and somehow forgot to listen...

I anticipate it's basically BM going on about the fact that there is a problem, but not doing anything about it.
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Post by quind on Fri Mar 29, 2013 12:47 pm

Moore kept asking who authorised the refs to change the existing laws. Which isn't wholly fair, we didn't jump from 1970s style to the current situation, rather changes in style have drip fed in.

He was though very vexed not getting an answer to why can't they just enforce the current laws, i.e. why are trials needed.

Mike Cron later on does suggest he's not sure going back is a way to go forwards, and I'm happy to trust him in this, certainly I'm in no position to argue the scrum with Cron.

I was also amused the IRB chap who had spoken to the AP DoRs amongst others confirmed not one AP coach didn't want their 9 to be allowed to feed the ball

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