As if timed to coincide with the annual media obsession over the set piece, England forwards coach and ex-Leicester prop Graham Rowntree helped launch a new RFU initiative on Monday called the Scrum Factory.
Designed to encourage more school age players to either take up or continue playing in the front row, Rowntree was happy to emphasize why he is involved. “It disturbed me to find out how many school games or indeed training sessions at that end of the game were being cancelled because of the lack of front row cover. So for us to be able to educate more players to be able to play front row, more importantly educate more coaches to be able to coach front row, the better.”
As a true focal point of the power in rugby union, the scrum tends to be scrutinized with relative regularity – although not regularly enough for some ex-players if you read Brian Moore’s column in The Telegraph on Monday. The evolution of the professional game has meant that ever bulkier players are involved in a physical contest where two packs weighing somewhere around 270 stone each get down on their haunches and drive themselves at each other. The front row players are the pressure points where these forces meet. If one side dominates another then there are three options for the weaker side: get driven back, collapse down or drive up.
To maintain a psychological edge, teams must avoid being driven backwards in the modern scrum. This leads to more break-ups and collapses. Last week on BBC Fivelive, Phil Vickery commented that he is not a supporter of the most recent IRB directive to slow down the ‘Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage’ process. He claims that it causes the packs to come together and potentially collapse so quickly that the risk of a sudden injury is greater than when the coming together of the packs was smoother and more organic, allowing a shift of body position to protect the neck if you felt the structure slowly collapse.
Austin Healey has suggested stopping the clock for a scrum until the ball is picked up by the number 8 or scrum-half but few have agreed that this is a realistic solution as this takes away a side’s ability to use their dominant forward pack to secure ball and enjoy posession within game time – which although it might not be providing some fans with champagne rugby, is still an area that most true followers of the game want to keep. But what is the problem?
This season has seen far less collapsed scrums than previous premiership campaigns. It does still occur of course but where you might assume that coaches are trying to help their teams find a way of hiding giving the penalties way, or not if you saw England v South Africa in November, Graham Rowntree is keen to point out how failed scrums make him feel.
He said, “It embarrasses me when I see a load of reset scrums or collapsed scrums. I wanna see a scrum contest. I wanna see two packs pushing each other, really going at each other. My job is to try and encourage or coach our guys to keep that scrum up, to do everything they can in their power as a unit and as a single person in that scrum so in that scrum engagement they can keep it up, keep pushing.”
Click to listen: [podcast]/Podcasts/RowntreeTRBedit.mp3[/podcast]
Rowntree made mention of the Leicester Tigers v Northampton Saints match as a fine example of consistently good, competitive scrums. Seeing as he had brought it up, it seemed remiss not to highlight the poor contribution made in that game by Saints and England hooker Dylan Hartley who missed his lineout more often than he hit it, a problem that also occurred for the national side in November when Steve Thompson was called upon. Rowntree was in defensive mood, “He lost his principle line-out jumper (Lawes) and he was up against one of the best defensive line-outs. It was never going to be perfect for Dylan.”
Do you think the scrum is a problematic issue in the game? Who do you rate as the best front row players in world rugby?
By Nick Heath (@rugbymedia)
You can hear more from Graham Rowntree in tomorrow’s Rugby Blog Podcast, available here or by subscribing via iTunes for free.