Friday, 19 November 2010

Whatever happened to: the Scrummage?

scrums - remember these?
Another in an increasingly sporadic series of ramblings about elements of the game that have changed beyond recognition since I first played the game way back in the mists of time...

Whatever happened to the scrummage?

You remember the scrummage don't you? You know, that bit in the game when your eight forwards pack down against their eight forwards and compete for the ball fed in between them?

Perhaps it's just me, but I distinctly remember that used to happen - quite regularly in fact - and, if I'm honest, I acknowledge that in the grassroots game the lost art of scrummaging does break out from time to time.

At the elite level, however, it's a different story and at international level the genuine scrummage has become a seriously endangered species. Whilst in the professional game destructive scrummaging props, and tightheads in particular, still appear to be highly valued, their natural habitat - the scrummage - is fast disappearing.

How often, for instance, do you see two sets of forwards pack down, the ball fed into the middle, a clean strike by the hooker and the ball appearing as if by magic at the number 8's feet? Once in a blue moon, that's how often. It is far more likely that you'll see the scrum collapse, re-set, collapse, re-set and collapse again to the sound of the referee's whistle and the award of a free kick or penalty to one team or the other, seemingly at random. And it seems that many refs, understandably perhaps, now can't even be bothered to go through the charade and just award the free kick or penalty at first contact (whereupon particularly sadistic captains elect to subject the paying public to the farce of another scrum).

In last weekend's England v Australia match there were only 8 scrummages, 6 of which resulted in a free kick or penalty and only one of which ended up with the ball emerging at the back. That's ONE scrum in the whole match in which clean possession was secured.

I've no idea what the solution is - the IRB's Crouch, Touch, Pause & Engage directive doesn't appear to be doing the trick, despite their assertions to the contrary. I'm pretty sure that props wearing tight lycra shirts, as well as it not being particularly aesthetically pleasing, is hardly helpful to successful scrum binding so perhaps a few sensible regulations in that direction might help but, as always, I suspect that non-interference is probably the best policy.

Ditch the directions, make the referees take a back seat and let the players sort it out.


Scotty said...

Yeah as an All Blacks fan I have become frustrated by the scrummaging in our Autumn International matches. We were heavily penalised out of the match against England and I would rather they leave the scrums and let them sort themselves out old fashioned styles. We did still win, but the scrums were annoying.

It does seem the way the game is increasingly moving towards encouraging attack and ball in hand, we probably will see less scrums which won't help the Northern Hemisphere.

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Total Flanker said...


Nursedude said...

As a prop, I can say that the change with advent of the lycra jersey-not only unflattering for the prop-like physique , makes grabbing onto your opposing prop a real challenge-particularly if you are playing loose head, you have to concentrate on making your contact with your left arm really count so that you can get a decent grip and bind.

At the international level, I would agree that the change to Crouch, touch, PAUSE, engage has not helped with the amount of penalties and scrum restarts.

Windy Rucker said...

I watched some downloaded highlights of the '74 Lions tour (admittedly to see JPR sprint the length of the pitch to lamp an unsuspecting Saffer) but was really enthused by the scrums shown back then.
Basically, you had to do it all yourself. The ref didn't have to be there, hell, the ball didn't even have to be there! The openside could break away collect the ball, all the while the rest of the scrum carries on, for the 7 to rejoin where he left off.
Maybe the game should return to simpler times?

Luca Zudich said...

What do people think of the new scrum call? As an open side, I don't really care, but I would like to hear the opinions of the tight 5.

Michael Brigg said...

The anxiety in the upper reaches of the sport is to do with preventing broken necks in teenage players. This has been expanded to include any spinal injury, including "Back sprains."
I think the trouble started with stopping props from using defensive strategies such as "Hingeing." (preventing /managing the balance of the scrum by bending at the hip in order to absorb pressure.
The second problem is a hand grip. The 2nd row hand goes between the legs of the prop and gets a firm grip of the waist band which was, and probably still is fortified with a proper rope. The props would grab a handful of the opponents shirt (today's vests are specifically designed against this.)
Actually I think this thread should be re-named "What happened to Rugby Shirts?"
Thirdly there is the grip of the boot on the turf. I believe the studs are much as they ever were, with a variable length stud, round smooth aluminium, but what has changed at elite level is the sheer size and strength of the player. Added to this is the habit of cutting the grass shorter to allow a faster moving game. My memory of the game is with a variable grass density of thick to nothing at all, but usually between 2-3 inches in length.
Finally there is the problem with the binding. The rule was that a tight head had to bind with his Rt arm under the loose head. So, if the Tight prop tried to drop the height of the scrum to make the opposing hooker less able to get his foot to the ball he could only do this by pushing harder on the opponent's neck but could not grip around the shoulder to twist and bore in on the hooker . The loose head would try to lift the scrum by getting his hips lower than the tight prop and under combined pressure of push from the 2nd row and open flanker, the opposing tight head could be lifted off the ground and shunted back.
So all you had to do as a prop was get a really solid bind, and once the scrums were together you got your feet well back and your back straight and hips down low and let the 2nd row do their thing.
If you were stronger, the opposing prop would grunt a bit, occasionally dribble on your ear, and then "hinge" (or buckle) in the middle following which your tightly bound scrum would shunt them backward at a controlled pace.
The real danger of broken necks arises when one scrum is so dominant that they start cantering forward out of control, and this is where the rules really need to change. It happens when one scrum loses its grip and is made worse if the binding breaks down. In this scenario one of the scrums trips up, and the defeated scrum front row hits the ground with the full drive of the attacking scrum on to their extended neck. A gallows could hardly do a better job! This is more likely to happen at junior level, but happens at any level .
If one scrum is literally cantering forward, this is where the referee should be authorised to stop the game immediately and award the dominant scrum an indirect penalty or an uncontested scrum.
At elite level today what we are seeing is a lottery of which side has the best wheel grip, as most collapses seem to happen when the studs rip out of the turf.
The Scrum used to be an opportunity to set up an attacking platform which sucked in the defence and cleared the open spaces to let the backs do their thing. Modern rules on rucking and mauling have changed all of this so that there is an endless series of ball "recycling" so perhaps it would not be unreasonable to take out some of the tight scrum. I could foresee a 10 yard offside rule (like the line-out) as an interesting change. Since everyone is now expected to play like a loose forward, perhaps the wing-forwards should have to move out to create a 6 or 5 man scrum. Once the scrum has moved of its mark (like a line-out) the back-row can rejoin, or choose to stay out in the field.
This would depower the scrum to a manageable level, and open up some potential new tactics such as passing out to the wing.