Scrumming down with Plum

If you love a technical debate, check out Ireland assistant coach and former Sharks head coach John Plumtree’s column on the new scrum laws.

Plumtree, in his debut column on SARugbymag.co.za, delivers greqt insight into the dark room of rugby.

Former All Blacks, Western Force and Lions coach John Mitchell also makes his SA Rugby Magazine debut column this week. Mitchell focuses on the breakdown and asks if the All Blacks cheat at the breakdown. It’s a great read.

Here’s Plumtree’s offering on the scrum

I have read several articles by the experts on the new scrum laws and the sequence of ‘crouch, bind, set’.

The main talking point has been that a scrum now lasts another three seconds, so it’s all now about ‘scrum endurance’ for the eight most important guys on the field as they are in a scrummaging position for a longer period of time.

Most of you readers would never have been in a scrummaging position before, and I can tell you it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. The legs start burning as lactic acid builds up in the muscles and by the 80th minute, if there have been 35 scrums, the prop who has gone the distance will be feeling pretty stuffed (thankfully, teams have a whole front row on the bench now).

An international team apparently generates 16,500 newtons on the hit, which equates to 1,650kg in terms of weight. Scary, hey? It has been said that this is too much power and that other variables – like ground conditions, poor props with inferior techniques that caused too many scrum collapses, and a higher rate of injury – meant that something had to change at the set piece.

That change was a new scrum sequence that starts with ‘crouch’. When everyone is in their scrum position the referee calls ‘bind’ and the props bind on each other to limit the space on the engagement. Next is ‘set’ when the packs meet each other and the ref, from what I have seen, sometimes indicates to the scrumhalf to put the ball in straight.

It’s still too soon to judge the success of the new sequence as it will take time for the refs and players to sort it all out. But what I can say, from watching Currie Cup and Rugby Championship matches, is that we have a better scrum product under the new laws.

There were still a fair number of resets and free kicks at scrum time during the first two Rugby Championship games, but the main free-kick infringement came from scrumhalves not putting the ball in straight (finally this has become a ‘no-no’ for referees).

I have heard a lot of people say that we don’t need big props anymore and a loose forward can do the job, but what they forget is that front rowers are very clever. Good props love the dark places on the field and there is no darker place than the front-row battle. Having technically good props and a scrummaging hooker is still going to be crucial under the new laws.

Because the hit has been de-powered, the back five now also have to generate power by – shock, horror – having to push in the scrums. This is great news for the backs, who now get a little more time with the ball before having someone like George Smith breathing down their necks.

Coaches and a pack of forwards will always be looking for a scrum advantage so it’s crucial that refs know their stuff in this area of the game. The lawmakers have probably made the scrum a little easier to ref, so hopefully refs will become more accurate in their decision-making at scrum time.

I’m sure you will agree there is nothing more frustrating than watching reset after reset. For a coach, you can imagine what it’s like when your team is down by a point or two with two minutes to go and that time gets eaten up by resets. It’s bloody annoying!

Hopefully those days are now behind us.