Issues in our Rucks & Scrums?

Our friend Liat in Israel forwarded me an interesting article from New Zealand to share with all of you … an opinion column by two rugby writers on what they think is wrong with the international game. What do you think?

What’s wrong with our game?
07/06/2007 Yahoo!Xtra

What’s the biggest blight on the game of rugby?

Graham Henry has had his say on the problems facing the international game and now it’s our turn.

The All Blacks coach has lamented the increasing amount of time-wasting that is afflicting test rugby and says it is deteriorating the game as a spectacle.

He lists scrums, faked injuries and the dilly-dallying of the TMOs as areas that are frustrating fans and players by turning up the snore factor.

But surely there is more to this as rugby’s rule-makers look at ways of improving their product. Yahoo!Xtra Rugby writers Duncan Johnstone and Marc Hinton present their views on what is ruining the game at the moment.

The breakdown area – DUNCAN JOHNSTONE

Good on Ted for getting those gripes off his chest earlier in the week and I’m in full agreement – the stop-start nature of the game means it is suffering severely as an entertainment package and some teams certainly appear to be happy to exploit those areas to enhance their chances.

But for my 10 cents’ worth, I believe the breakdowns are the root of all evil when it comes to rugby.

In fact you could say that many of Henry’s concerns about the scrums and questionable injuries arise from breakdowns.

They are a by-product of the undecided rucks and mauls. Throw in the numerous penalties that stem from this controversial area of the game and it’s clear that something drastic needs to be done to clean up the battle for second phase possession.

They are such murky areas that, to my mind, the rule-makers might be better off allowing the breakdowns to be a free-for-all. Turn it into a wrestling contest where it’s winner-takes-all.

At the moment their attempts to use a gate at the back of the rucks as the only route of entry is ridiculous.

And let’s face it, these are rucks in name only. Rucking went out years ago – the skillful use of the boot to clear out opposition players is long a thing of the past.

It used to be a trademark of New Zealand rugby and its removal was just another way for the men in charge of the game up north to depower the All Blacks as are the ridiculous scrum engagement rules that have been introduced this year.

All this has led to is cheating. Players are lying all over the ball and the tackled player in attempts to slow the game down.

There’s that word again – SLOW. Rugby needs to speed up and with so much of its attacking play coming from multi-phases, the breakdowns are the area that need a turbo boost.

At the moment one of the worst sights in rugby is the ball being held in the back of a ruck by the last forward while the halfback pedantically surveys his options and then usually takes the most predictable one – setting up another forward drive for another ruck!

Make the rucks a gladiatorial contest where the biggest and fittest win. This isn’t a campaign to “bring back the biff’, just a plea return a bit of mongrel to an area that has been sanitised to the detriment of the game.

Sort that out and plenty of flow will return to rugby. And there might even be a few less scrums which would please Henry and the rest of us as well.

The scrum – MARC HINTON

It worries me to say this, for they’re such an intrinsic part of the game of rugby, but I can’t go past the scrums as the biggest problem area in the game right now.

And when you get a guy like Anton Oliver, a bloke who’s carved a living as a world-class practitioner of the darks arts of scrummaging, complaining that even he finds the set piece confrontation boring, well, the alarm bells should be ringing.

Let’s face it, how much time is wasted setting, resetting and re-resetting scrums in a modern game of professional rugby? Too damn much, I reckon. Minutes tick by and play is stuck in a sort of nightmarish time warp where two packs keep hitting the deck, then slowly get back to their feet, dust off their sprigs and, wham, hit the deck again. It’s Groundhog Day in the worst possible way.

Rugby, when it flows, when the ball is moved at pace, when crisp possession is won and sent through sets of hands, is a wonderful, wonderful spectacle.

When it grinds through interminable periods of inaction, particularly at scrum time, it’s a flat-out bore.

And, for me, one of the most annoying aspects of modern rugby is some pint-sized ref who’s clearly never stuck his head in a scrum in his life, lecturing two grizzled front rows on the finer points of their trade. But that’s what it’s come down to, as the whistle-blower tries in vain to keep these monsters on their feet.

The problem is that players are so big and strong and powerful these days, and so practised in the arts of deception it must be added, that it’s inevitable that you’re going to get a sort of Mexican standoff.

Sometimes no one’s to blame, other times someone clearly is, but it’s hard to work out who. So what you tend to get is a succession of scrums being set and the game going nowhere fast.

I don’t know what the answer is, for scrums are a vital part of rugby. If you take them away, or depower them, that’s the end of the shorter, powerful guy. There simply won’t be a place for him in the game.

Just like you need lineouts for the rangier bloke to have a place in the game.

But something needs to be done to keep props on their feet at scrum time, and the person who comes up with the solution there will be worthy of a gold star.

There is no finer sight in the game than a scrum working at peak efficiency, much like the All Black set piece has done of late. It’s the combined, tight, coiled might of eight men working together in unison.

But there’s also nothing more yawn-inducing than watching this arm-wrestle descend into high farce, as it does too often in the modern game. People don’t pay big money to watch what is in essence nothing.

The fans want to see the ball in play more, not less. So they want scrums that produce the hit, then the ball, in that order.

Perhaps it’s time to allow the ball to be cleared regardless of what happens at the impact.

I know it’s time for refs to rule and not try to coach.

It’s certainly SOS time. Save Our Scrums.

So what do you think, are these guys right about rucks and scrums? What do you think about the new four-count in scrum engagement?

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Filed under articles, opinion, scrums

4 responses to “Issues in our Rucks & Scrums?

  1. Anonymous

    First off, I think it’s hard for us in the U.S. to think of rugby as “slow.” American football is SLOW. Rugby may not be the continuous action of soccer but I would never think of it as slow. Therefore, I can’t really comment on the ruck/scrum issue because I don’t share the mindset behind the articles except, I do think packs need to understand that proper scrumage is a saftey issue.
    As for the scrum cadence, I like it. It’s the cadence I learned as a college player. The “touch” call helps ensure proper binds and, as a front row, I enjoy that, especially when I’m up against newbies.


  2. KLK

    The new scrums are great at our level. I disagree with the whole idea of making scrums faster…I feel like even at the international level this would make it unsafe. Maybe the ref should limit the number of re-scrums to two and then just award the quick tap. As the author mentioned, scrummagers are getting bigger and more powerful, why would we want to have bigger people snapping each other’s necks willy nilly. At an amateur level I’d love to see the cant standardized with consistent timing. I think we’ll have to wait a while to really see an improvement in scrums from the changed count because people are still getting used to it and it’s kind of throwing off everyones engage. But yea this is rambling because I SHOULD be writing a paper

  3. Em

    I agree with J–most of the rest of the world doesn’t have the “pleasure” of watching the truly slow games of American football and baseball. I like both of these sports, mind, but I readily admit they move at the pace of molasses. A “fast” game of baseball takes twice as long as a rugby match!

    Re: scrummaging: the four-count cadence is the (do you allow swearing?) most bleeping bleep-awful idea ever conceived. If you have a pack that doesn’t know what they’re doing, that doesn’t have a good handle on body position or balance, the longer you make them wait before the engage is nothing more than extra time for them to tire, lean, wobble, or otherwise lose correct position and endanger or weaken the scrum upon the engage. And what happens when that occurs? The scrum is blown up and they have to do it all over again and hope they can stay perfectly still this time! This is not American football where the O-line must remain motionless!

    Plus, the more counts there are, the harder it is for both teams to time their hit together (for various reasons such as jumping the gun or the ref not calling a perfectly even cadence every single time), and mistimed hits also lead to collapsed scrums.

    My first year of college play, packs called themselves down, and the cadence was “touch-hit.” Every change to the engage since then has only made it harder for packs to flow together from packing to sinking to engaging. As a career front-rower, I have hated it. You work in practice to build your rhythm and then any number of things in the herky-jerky method of modern scrumming can throw it completely off.

    In the international game it may be different b/c the size and power of the players could cause serious injury on a hasty hit, and I would assume that international-level packs do not wobble if asked to hold the down position for an extra 10 seconds. But at the majority level in the US, it’s an enormously stupid idea.

  4. KLK

    I dunno, as a hooker it gives me more time to settle my pack (had an all rookie tight five this year(sans 1 lock) and I often had to remind them of stuff during the friggin cadence…which also gave me a better option to get the refs attention. In US rugby (DII collegiate and club) I feel like the refs should give the scrums an extra second or so to really settle, to often they’ll just start the cadence without locks in…which just makes the whole situation screwy. Meh.

    ps I thought the cadence sucked too before it saved my neck, plus it does reduce accidental bind issues with rookie props.

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