A Front Rower’s Perspective

The Tight Head

The debate around scrum laws is a bit like that of cricket’s DRS or football’s goal-line technology; it’s highly controversial and likely to outlive us all.

The scrum debate has been rucked into the spotlight once again this week due to the new laws being tested in the Southern Hemisphere for the first time in Test matches. As a former hooker myself, whose enthusiasm for the game was matched only by a lack of any real talent, I’m feel that I am well positioned to give you a look-in into the heart of a scrum and, ultimately, whether I feel the new scrum laws are of any benefit to the game.

The mechanics of a scrum is something that rugby law makers are never going to be able to change. At the end of the day there will always be two sets of eight human wrecking-balls packing down against each other. Unless both packs are exactly equal in strength and scrumming ability during a particular scrum, that scrum will either go backward or forward (depending on what side of the scrum you’re on), upwards or downwards. With all forward packs getting bigger and stronger by the season the chances of scrums going backwards is lessened, resulting in more front rows either popping up or collapsing the scrum.

Scrumming often leaves refs looking like headless chickens
Scrumming often leaves refs looking like headless chickens

More importantly, there is a large amount of pride at stake, even in a losing scrum. As a prop, one would much rather collapse a scrum and blame the soggy pitch than have to explain to your locks why you let it go backwards.

Fair enough, the aforesaid may relate more to my rugby career (and that’s using the term “career” very loosely) than that of professionals. The fact remains: more and more weak scrums are either going down or up as opposed to backwards.

The notion of lessening the impact of the engage seems, on paper, to be a good idea. Props are now required to bind on their opponent before the hit, thus reducing the distance between the two packs to the length of props’ arms (which are often not very long) and ensuring that once the hit is formed there isn’t that frantic scramble for a bind before the squeeze comes in.

At the outset it’s important to note that our analysis at Test level is limited to two matches. We can all come to a host of different conclusions but the reality is that the success or failure of the new laws will only be properly seen once players and referees have become accustomed to the new system over a number of matches. It’s this backstop that has kept coaches and captains as diplomatic as possible given the relative lottery that the scrum was over this last weekend.

With that much force, the scrum has to go somewhere
With that much force, the scrum has to go somewhere

With that caveat firmly in place, the short answer as to whether the new laws have revolutionized the scrum area is no. There wasn’t a marked decrease in the amount of resets or scrum-time penalties. And there certainly wasn’t any less confusion on the faces of penalized front rowers – a hallmark of the old dispensation.

The one positive element that the new laws appear to have redeveloped is the competition for the ball at scrum time. As any front-rower will tell you, there is no greater success for a front row than a well-executed tight-head. In the modern game it is a remarkable achievement in itself. But now, with referees placing greater emphasis on a straight put-in by scrum-halves and a (slightly) more organised engage, hookers actually have to hook, thus allowing the opposition hooker a fairer scrap for the ball.

I for one think this development is a fantastic rediscovery of a forgotten part of the game. It also helps to liven up the spectators, as we all know “everyone drinks on a tight-head!

In the end, as I have said above, it really is too early to tell whether the change is a positive one. At the moment it’s a lively and interesting debate, but will probably end up being a much more meaningful debate in a few months’ time.

As a quick throw back to last week’s column, I was very pleased to see Fourie du Preez grab his opportunity and make the most of it. He looked very sharp. He’ll face sterner tests against the Aussies and the All Blacks, sure, but it was a damn fine return to limelight.

Until next time.

One thought on “A Front Rower’s Perspective

  1. Clint van Heerden says:

    Definitely agree with you on the scrums being fairer… that is, the opposing team actually a chance of winning the ball. I just don’t like the soft engage – scrums feel (paradoxically) uncontested now. I also don’t like the fact that the rules are changed so often – yes, we need the game to evolve but isn’t this the third season in a row to have new laws? Thanks for the article!

Leave a Reply

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *