Stuart Barnes: will the new scrum laws reduce the impact of the scrum?
Stuart Barnes looks at why Richard Cockerill has been left fuming over the new scrum laws.
Last Updated: 02/09/13 3:36pm
Just in case you have forgotten 'crouch, touch, set' has been replaced by 'touch, bind, set'. Props should bind their outside arm after the referee has called 'bind' in sequence. That bind should be maintained by the front rows until the 'set' is called; thereafter the engagement; oh with a straight throw strictly policed.
The stated reason for the changes is to reduce the impact on the engagement, the Leicester Director of Rugby, amongst others including Dean Richards, wonders whether it is a dastardly plan to take the intensity out of the scrum.
I can see both sides of the Leicester boss's argument. The widest possible number of high level coaches should be consulted from all around the globe, true but on the flip side a coach's job is to coach not decide the game's laws.
In 2011, days before the start of the last World Cup, I was chatting to Paddy O' Brien, then in charge of all things linked with a whistle. I asked Paddy whether the straight throw into the scrum would be refereed or ignored as was then the trend.
Despite the law re straight feeds having never been removed from the law book, O' Brien told me that referees would allow crooked feeds as a meeting with the coaches confirmed their opinion that the key to the scrum was 'the hit' (a term that was wholly invented and now outlawed) was the decisive element of the scrum.
This meant coaches wanted hookers to push not hook and left the law book ignored on the sidelines. The crooked feed has become a central part of the frustrations surrounding the scrum and the World Cup coaches - with the referees - must take their share of responsibility. Consult them by all means but do not allow coaches to shape the laws of the game which will inevitably lead to many an unforeseen consequence.
The English concerns are understandable. Scrums are an important part of the English game and should not be weakened in the interests of weaker nations and political correctness. The criticism was an interesting one in the light of the manner in which New Zealand dismantled Australia's scrum in Wellington. Early evidence suggests that outstanding technique as displayed by the All Blacks will be rewarded.
Heyneke Meyer, the Springbok coach, looks as if he has always planned to rough the Wallabies up front. It seems as if the hard scrummaging of Bismarck du Plessis will start over the accuracy of Adriaan Strauss with South Africa wanting to scrum Australia into submission. This is a game that could yet allay the fears of Cockerill and company although, I will reiterate these are early days and the evidence will be insufficient to make a firm judgement.
Early days too in France where after three games not one team remains unbeaten with a series of shocks ranging throughout the country; all very entertaining but none too revealing. With six teams making the French play-offs the need to win each game is not quite as important as the Aviva and Rabo12 where only four can make the play offs.
In England expect Leicester, Northampton and Saracens to stroll into the top four with Harlequins the fourth member of the elite under pressure, primarily from the West Country where Gloucester, Bath and Exeter all have reasons to believe.
In the Rabo12 the biggest question surrounds the capacity of Leinster to retain their standards with Joe Schmidt gone to Ireland and Jonny Sexton to Paris. Winning becomes habit forming and for that reason it would be a shock were they not to make the play offs. But who will join them? Ulster will be the more fancied of the other Irish sides but Munster made major progress in Europe last season and can continue to flourish this term. They are my dark horses. The Blues should also fit that particular bill in Wales.
A synthetic pitch and a highly promising fly-half in Rhys Patchell, the return of Gethin Jenkins and the signing of Matthew Rees....it looks promising for a team who have failed to fire for some time. Jamie Roberts is a loss on paper but his contributions to the Blues, for a few reasons, have been limited in recent years.
The other Welsh side expected to go well are the Ospreys. The core of the Lions front five, with Dan Biggar to steer them; ok they have lost the exceptional Kahn Fotuali'i to the Saints but surely they will be bang in contention. The Dragons will not be but it is good to see them secure the services of Toby Faletau for two years. It could be the beginning of a revival for the Dragons with Lyn Jones and Gareth Davies two contrasting styled adversaries of mine (to put it mildly) teaming up as D.O.R and Chief Executive.
Can Glasgow keep it up, can Treviso can another step forward with Matt Berquist once of the Crusaders an interesting signing, can we get through a week without arguing about the scrum.....welcome back to the British, Irish and Italian rugby season!