Tue 21 Nov 2006 | 12:00

Scrum engagement as change comes

Scrum engagement as change comes
Tue 21 Nov 2006 | 12:00
Scrum engagement as change comes
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November Tests, Week 2

Scrums continue to trouble law-makers, partly because there is danger in a scrum, and partly because they can so easily break down the quality of a game.

Often the danger and the annoyance come at the formation. The teams hit in, go to ground, and the game is stopped.

That is where a front row player risks his neck. And then, boringly, the scrum has to be reset again.

The process of setting, the going down and resetting of the scrum is not enthralling.

This is a record of scrums and their resets in Week 2 of November's Tests.

(i) Wales vs Canada

Wales: 5 (2 reset, 2 free kicks, 1 penalty try)
Canada: 9 (5 reset, 1 penalty, 2 free kicks)

(ii) England vs South Africa

England: 12 (8 reset, 1 penalty)
South Africa: 4 (3 reset)

(iii) Italy vs Argentina

Italy: 7 (5 resets, 1 penalty)
Argentina: 7 (4 resets, 1 penalty)

(iv) Scotland vs Pacific Islands

Scotland: 12 (7 reset, 1 wheel, 1 free kick)
Pacific Islands: 10 (2 reset)

(v) Ireland vs Australia

Ireland: 12 (5 reset, 1 wheel, 1 penalty)
Australia: 12 (4 reset, 1 penalty, 1 free kick)

(vi) France vs New Zealand

France: 8 (6 reset, 1 free kick)
New Zealand: 10 (13 resets)

Totals:

Scrums: 98
Resets: 64
Free Kicks: 7
Penalties: 7

That means that on 78 occasions the scrums had an "unnatural" end. That is 80% of the time.

That cannot be good.

Unnatural endings by match:

Wales vs Canada: 13 from 14 scrums – 93%
England vs South Africa: 12 from 16 scrums – 75%
Italy vs Argentina: 11 from 14 scrums – 79%
Scotland vs Pacific Islands: 10 from 22 scrums – 45%
Ireland vs Australia: 12 from 24 scrums – 50%
France vs New Zealand: 20 from 18 scrums – 111%

In a report on discussions at Lensbury recently, we reported on a change in the procedures for scrum engagement. (Click here).

From 1 January 2007 the referees will manage the scrum slightly differently. This will be regarded as an Experimental Law Variation.

The sequence of commands will be: Crouch Touch Pause Engage.

The change is the introduction of "Touch", which is part of the Under-19 laws. And the next change is the introduction of "Pause", which is not a part of the Under-19 laws.

In the beginning scrums just went down – first up, first down. Then they went down in their own time but overseen by the referee who would ensure that it was time to go down.

Then came Crouch Hold Engage.

At first there was a pause between each. But then New Zealand made Crouch-'n-hold one word followed by a pause before Engage.

Then came complaints about tactics front rows were employing to get the edge in the "hit". New Zealand and, to a lesser extent, England were accused of exploiting the laws by crouching higher and then coming in on the engage on the move while the other side was static.

The January change will mean that the front rows will crouch at the same height, touch to ensure that the distance between the front rows is exact, drop their hands on the pause and then engage.

Perhaps in anticipation of this there were changes this weekend.

Let's have a look at how the scrums were managed in each of the six matches mentioned above:

(i) Wales vs Canada: Crouch-'n-hold. Engage

(ii) England vs South Africa: Crouch and hold. Engage

(iii) Italy vs Argentina: Crouch-'n-hold. Engage

(iv) Scotland vs Pacific Islands: Crouch. Hold. Engage

(v) Ireland vs Australia: Crouch and hold. Engage

(vi) France vs New Zealand: Same height. Crouch and hold. Engage

In (vi) there was a considerable pause between Same height and Crouch. There was another pause, though not as long, between hold and Engage.This seemed to put a strain on the players' patience. Keven Mealamu spoke to the referee about it. The referee said: "Just stay with it. It'll work."

The statistics for that match suggest that it did not really work – 18 scrums, 19 resets and a free kick.

The first scrum was set once and then reset four times. From the time of the award of the scrum till the ball was back in play took 1 minute 59 seconds. And there was no other interference, such as injury. It was, to be fair, the worst scrum of the match. The first scrum of a match is often the worst.

Just recently we had the following letter from a reader:

Reader: I watched an Under-19 final between Western Province and the Blue Bulls in Bloemfontein. The scrums were a shambles. In the first half there were 13 scrums awarded. There were 16 resets and four penalties. That is hopeless for spectators. The match was ruined. But it was worse than that. A prop on each side was hurt

I have two comments:

(i) The crouch-touch-and-hold thing won't work if the referee is incompetent. If they are going to use this in senior rugby, it will not provide solutions and greater safety.

(ii) If an incompetent referee is appointed and a serious injury occurs, who carries the can?

It would seem that more than procedure will determine whether scrums will work or not. It would be such a pity if they were to be found to be unworkable and for that reason depowered or abandoned, thus depriving people shaped like props of an honourable place in the game. 

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