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Dysfunctional scrums - the agony continues

Dunhookin

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Autumn internationals underway and yet again we're seeing yet more ridiculously bent scrum feeding. Clearly WR have instructed referees to do nothing when the ball is blatantly put in the second row - thereby fundamentally ignoring an established core law of our game. Completely unacceptable.

What makes it more galling is referees finding fault with anal minutia and then doing nothing about clear and obvious bent feeding. All the lame excuses offered by WR about it all being devilishly difficult is utter bunkum. To quote the words of respected pundit and former international Jonathan Davies, continual scrum dysfunction is 'killing the game'.

The number one cause of scrum dysfunction is...bent feeding. Evidence to prove the point is readily available. To see the massive difference between a proper functional scrum with straight feeding and a profoundly dysfunctional one, with chronic bent feeding, the footage of two games in RWC 2015 are very revealing.

First game is the unforgettable SA v Japan. Pick out any scrum you like where Japan have the put in. What happens next is what correct scrummaging and straight feeding can produce - and what 0.5 seconds looks like! That's the time it takes for the ball to leave the 9's hands, be heeled in channel 1 and out the back of the scrum - and watch what they do with the fast ball they've produced...

Then compare it with Italy v France - a dreadfully tedious match dominated by penalties. Not many scrums survive the referee's whistle, but when they do, the most excruciating bent feeding results in the momentumless ball hanging about just behind the front row's feet. The locks can't get their feet far enough forward to channel the ball back - and the scrum has no forward momentum. An interminable 26 seconds later the ball eventually emerges - by then 40% of the crowd have fallen asleep, started a crossword or taken up knitting! And what do they do with the ball...! Nothing - it's so slow it's impossible to use and not worth having.

Referees have no coherent reason to ignore the law that requires the ball to go in straight. Yet they do - it's clearly something that WR have instructed. People within WR with significant influence in the application of the game's laws clearly hold the myopic view that the abhorrent mess we have to endure with scrums is acceptable. How can this mind numbing aboration be acceptable to anyone?

It's time that we - true rugby enthusiasts called these faceless people to account for making such an outrageous pig's ear of one of the key core aspects of our game.
 

The_Blindside

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Dunhookin - did you previously post on the telegraph news articles? i recognise the username. Anyway agree on the scrums and it's been discussed a few times on this forum, but i suspect peeps weariness has now set in until WR really do sort it out once and for all - not holding my breath though.
 

Dunhookin

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Hi Blindside,

Yes I did indeed used to contribute to the Telegraph forum back along - sharp memory you have! Your point about resignation and apathy in the face of WR's sloth in sorting out the set piece is valid.

What's required is a wave of momentum generated by regular rugby enthusiasts like you and I to put pressure on WR. Clearly there is a person or persons within WR who regard the current unedifying mess our scrums have degenerated into as acceptable. I want to expose these faceless, nameless individuals and require them to publicly explain and justify why blatant bent feeding is ignored.

I will be chasing, chivvying and generally harassing WR about this - continually. Our scrum is a hideous, embarrassing mess - and something must be done.
 

Old Hooker

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Good post Dunhookin. Bit of a reunion as I also used to post on the Telegraph.

Why this simple rule isn't enforced is utterly beyond me, although I have noticed a few more hookers striking recently, at club level at least. The other blight is collapsed scrums, which I think could largely be eliminated by reclassifying deliberate collapsing as serious foul play requiring an automatic yellow. Could be a bit of a lottery, but given the points swing during sin bins, coaches would soon put a stop to it.
 

The_Blindside

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Yep used to read the comments a lot on telegraph website until they took the facility away. In fact they've just put it back on, but now a few articles are behind their "Premium" pay wall, which now can't be gotten round just by clearing cookies. But I haven't seen many, if any posters returning.

Anyway back to the scrum, I just don't know where it's going anymore. Back in 2013 (post Lions) the new scrum engagement sequence promised more stable scrums and refs were going to enforce the straight feed. I thought "hallelujah." WTF has happened since? Collapsed scrum and bent feeds are now common place again. It's such a shame, as the scrum really is the unique selling point of the Union game. So, yes sign me up for any petition to WR to get its act together and sort it out yet again.
 

jonny24

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The especially infuriating thing for me as a player is that a LOT of the problems that occur at the pro/international level don't really occur nearly as much at lower amateur levels in my experience. So we're forced to learn new rules every couple years to solve problems we weren't having.
 

Dunhookin

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Agree 100% Blindside - there was a small improvement - and like you, thought we might be getting somewhere. Proved to be a false dawn and we're almost back to square one. Time to get the spotlight back on this chronic problem and get those responsible for it called to account.

I did agree with Jenny's point - which I'm sure for the most part is entirely valid. Last weekend I watched my daughter's boyfriend playing in a local level 10 game - and the bent scrum feeding was nigh on as blatant as we're seeing at elite level. And as at elite level, the referee did precisely nothing!

Why it's beyond the wit of WR to realise that bent feeding denies teams the opportunity to contest possession of the ball - so instead they contest for penalties which greatly increases the number of collapses. It's painfully obvious - so why isn't something done? The stupidity and incompetence of WR on this key issue is bewildering and hugely frustrating - the sooner those responsible for the debacle are exposed the better
 

smartcooky

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The number one cause of scrum dysfunction is...bent feeding.

Nope, the number one cause of scrum dysfunction is front row players cheating and using illegal, and sometimes dangerous scrummaging techniques to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents. The proof of that is that a large percentage (perhaps even half) of the trouble starts before the ball is even fed, so the feed cannot have anything to do with that.

There are several key illegal techniques that front rowers use to cause problems at the scrum. In no particular order, they are

Collapse at the engagement
Coming from too high and angling at the ground
Shoulders below hips before engage call

Collapse after the engagement
Incorrect binding
Tighthead working the Loosehead down
Dropping the bind after the scrum is set
The team throwing in deliberately dropping the scrum prior to feed to get reset due to an early wheel
The team throwing in dropping the scrum to buy a penalty

Popping the scrum after the engagement
Loosehead prop working under the Tighthead prop and driving up
Hooker standing up due to Tighthead prop boring in
Hooker or Tighthead standing up to try and milk the penalty

Generally, if a scrum collapses illegally, it is far more like to be the tighthead causing the problem. If it pops illegally, its more likely to be the loosehead at fault

I am firmly of the opinion that one of the root causes of all the scrum trouble does not reside in the scrum itself, but in certain teams' attitudes to scrummaging at the top level, where they use a dominant scrum as a scoring machine, to buy a penalty, instead of using the scrum for what the Laws say it is supposed to be for... "The purpose of the scrum is to restart play quickly, safely and fairly, after a minor infringement or a stoppage" (Law 20 Definition of a scrum).

It is high time that referees at the top level started to referee scrum the same way its done in the weeds. There are hardly any troubles with scrums at the lower levels because the referees at those level ensure.....

1. The scrum is square and stable before the throw in
2. The packs push each other straight and level
3. Dropping of the bind is immediately penalised
4. "Pinching", "twisting", pulling down and driving up is immediately penalised

However, the problem with the attitude to scrummaging at the upper levels of the game are more difficult to address and will require some "outside the box" thinking. I have a solution to this part of the problem. If teams wont change their attitude, then WR need to consider taking away the incentive - make all scrum penalties an Indirect Penalty, which I envisage as being something between a Penalty Kick and a Free Kick;

► Like a Penalty Kick, you can kick directly into touch with a gain in ground and you get the throw in to the line-out
► Like a Free Kick, you cannot kick for goal or use it to kick a dropped goal under the same Law 21 restrictions.
 
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ragerancher

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I agree with cookie with regards to a change in the penalty given, points should not come directly from scrums imo (unless of course the ball comes out). In addition to what cookie said I think there should be a specialist TMO just for scrums, possibly an ex forward with extra camera angles to inform the ref. There should also be a time limit on setting up a scrum with a team penalised if they are pratting about. Scrums can be set up in seconds and it's only the players trying to slow things down that prevents it. Likewise there should be a 2 or 3 scrum reset max with the indirect penalty being awarded if a scrum fails to complete beyond that.

Also I propose a more radical thing if scrums still fail, forced changing of front row players. The ref can demand that players he deem not to be scrummaging correctly be replaced. It won't be a yellow as the team isn't down a player but the infringing player is essentially out for the rest of the game. This can only be done after they are deemed at fault for scrum collapses multiple times. Green card perhaps? As rugby is now a 23 man game, this is sort of a halfways between a penalty and a yellow. The team doesn't play with a player down but if they get a green card early on, they are 1 sub down and it can hurt later. If however there is no replacement available then a yellow card should be used instead.
 

smartcooky

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I agree with cookie with regards to a change in the penalty given, points should not come directly from scrums imo (unless of course the ball comes out). In addition to what cookie said I think there should be a specialist TMO just for scrums, possibly an ex forward with extra camera angles to inform the ref. There should also be a time limit on setting up a scrum with a team penalised if they are pratting about. Scrums can be set up in seconds and it's only the players trying to slow things down that prevents it. Likewise there should be a 2 or 3 scrum reset max with the indirect penalty being awarded if a scrum fails to complete beyond that.

I would also like to see the AR on the blind side allowed to come in closer to the scrum (effectively like a second referee) while the scrum is being set and before the feed. His job would be to make sure there is no malarkey on the other side of the scrum from the referee, to make sure we have a square and stable scrum at the feed. He scarpers as soon as the ball is fed.

Also I propose a more radical thing if scrums still fail, forced changing of front row players. The ref can demand that players he deem not to be scrummaging correctly be replaced. It won't be a yellow as the team isn't down a player but the infringing player is essentially out for the rest of the game. This can only be done after they are deemed at fault for scrum collapses multiple times. Green card perhaps? As rugby is now a 23 man game, this is sort of a halfways between a penalty and a yellow. The team doesn't play with a player down but if they get a green card early on, they are 1 sub down and it can hurt later. If however there is no replacement available then a yellow card should be used instead.


I like this idea. It could well come under "duty of care" for the replaced players because multiple collapses increase the danger to the players. Anyone familiar with either of the the Tort Negligence cases Vowles v Evans or Smolden v Whitworth/Nolan will understand what I mean.

Actually, something like this almost happened once in a test match. It was Australia v New Zealand, in Sydney IIRC. Wallaby tight-head Al Baxter was up to his usual tricks, folding on the engagement to get a reset to take the sting out of the hit. Craig Joubert wasn't having any of it, and had penalised him a few times. Finally, at around the 30 minute mark, CJ had had enough and, probably in frustration, said to him "If you aren't going to scrum properly, then we'll get someone on who will" - a clear warning that he was going to be yellow carded if he kept up his messing around. Robbie Deans heard this, and immediately used his shepherd's crook.

That was Baxter's last test for Australia
 
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Brigantine

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It seems like a big change and unnecessary complication to introduce a new type of penalty/card.

I like the idea of having more eyes on cheating in the scrum though.

What would be the harm of going the whole way and having a yellow card for a cynical foul, or taking the normal scrum penalty all the way down to a free kick or advance 10m? I.e. what would it actually save to invent something in the middle and add complexity?
 

RedruthRFC

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I would also like to see the AR on the blind side allowed to come in closer to the scrum (effectively like a second referee) while the scrum is being set and before the feed. His job would be to make sure there is no malarkey on the other side of the scrum from the referee, to make sure we have a square and stable scrum at the feed. He scarpers as soon as the ball is fed.

If scrums were refereed as per the laws, the game would be so much better. As has been said or intimated towards - push straight, bind legally and don't feed and scrums work. If referees have no remit or willingness to police this, the above is a pipe dream. I think it's the general ignorance of the laws that needs to be addressed, I've seen ARs stood 10 yards away (level 4 in England) with either no care or no realisation that one prop is binding on another's arm. I applaud the suggestion though.
 

The_Blindside

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Sometimes I just wish more refs would say to both front rows, after the umpteenth collapse: "Look, you are wasting my time, your own time and most importantly those paying to watch this match. If you don't want to scrum properly I will get on your replacements who will". I think Alain Rolland pretty much did this in one of his last matches he reffed over in Paris and he was applauded for it.
 

living sacrifice

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If scrums were refereed as per the laws, the game would be so much better. As has been said or intimated towards - push straight, bind legally and don't feed and scrums work. If referees have no remit or willingness to police this, the above is a pipe dream. I think it's the general ignorance of the laws that needs to be addressed, I've seen ARs stood 10 yards away (level 4 in England) with either no care or no realisation that one prop is binding on another's arm. I applaud the suggestion though.

Most matches I watch I see binding on the arm not called. In fact sometimes that pulls the other prop down but they get penalised for collapsing.

The main fault with the scrums in the inability of the refs to review it properly and penalise correctly.
 

ncurd

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I've long been with Cooky on this one the problem with scrums is the penalty kick. Schenanigns happen due to the advantage it gives over recycling the ball out of the scrum. Both side are taught to scrummage to 'buy' the penalty, no amount of correct officiating will fix that because of the advantage gained if they win. You have to understand why they are scrummaging illegally before you can get them to stop. Only thing I disagree with is I'd just make it a free kick (that can't be taken as a scrum) but with yellow cards on offer for dangerous play.
 

TheOvalBall

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One area of the scrum debacle i'd like to see fixed, is the time wasting with scrums.

Referee must call time off when it's scrum time, and call time on once the ball is at the feet of the eightman.
 

Old Hooker

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Refs are quite rightly taking a pasting but coaches are just as culpable. Does anyone doubt, at the top level anyway, that players are told to collapse if they're not set right? More often than not that leads to reset not sanction.

A requirement for there to be a positive hook would help, as would a time limit - 5 seconds? - from feed to use or start driving forward.
 

Every Time Ref

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Refs are quite rightly taking a pasting but coaches are just as culpable. Does anyone doubt, at the top level anyway, that players are told to collapse if they're not set right? More often than not that leads to reset not sanction.

A requirement for there to be a positive hook would help, as would a time limit - 5 seconds? - from feed to use or start driving forward.

Agree on that, but that's just something you have to accept. The IRB can't issue a directive saying "Coaches have to stop teaching players to be naughty" and expect it to make a scrap of difference!

This is an old discussion, but whenever I've been involved in it what strikes me is that I generally agree with almost every suggestion anyone has to improve scrums! It just goes to show a) how many problems there are and b) how desperate we are for a solution.

The most frustrating thing is how nothing lasts. A coupel of years ago we were back to straight feeds ... gone, can't even remember that quarter of a season period anymore. Early this year we were told there was to be a time limit from whistle to the scrum being set, and a time limit on keeping the ball at the 8's feet. Both feel like distant memories less than half a season later.
 

Old Hooker

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Agree on that, but that's just something you have to accept. The IRB can't issue a directive saying "Coaches have to stop teaching players to be naughty" and expect it to make a scrap of difference!

No they can't, but the point is that the coaches dictate how the players behave. If, for instance, an automatic yellow was introduced for deliberate collapsing as I suggested before, it wouldn't take long for coaches to stamp it out as they know the implications of being a man down.
 

living sacrifice

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No they can't, but the point is that the coaches dictate how the players behave. If, for instance, an automatic yellow was introduced for deliberate collapsing as I suggested before, it wouldn't take long for coaches to stamp it out as they know the implications of being a man down.

Only if the refs knew who had collapsed it in the first place or we'd see random yellows all the time.
 
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