Rowntree Embarrassed By Collapsed Scrums

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.

7 thoughts on “Rowntree Embarrassed By Collapsed Scrums

  1. Graham is saying what fans are expecting him to say. So where does the collapsed scrum idea come from? Surely players and coaches. In the Professional era, when penalties were given cheaply that is when scrum collapses came more prominent. To gain that points advantage. You still see experienced players not taking the engagement with straight backs and heads below the shoulders. Cant be right.

    It is time for younger players to be taught that collapsing a scrum is dangerous to themselves and other front row players. Go back to times when the scrum half had to organise a scrum to be straight, “right shoulder” or “left shoulder”. Collapsed scrums were not as common then.

  2. I think we’d be waiting a bloody long time for the forwards to listen to a scrum half’s calls in the modern game – the ref has to be there to take charge and see that the contact is made safely.

    I tend to agree with Vicks though. Cant see that that lengthening the pause has done much for the safety of the scrum. It turns it into anticipation for the hit which I’d say could be doing more harm than good.

  3. It surprises me that some of the players complain about the new engagement laws. When Vickery and Payne are some of the main culprits. Players of there experience should be setting an example for others to follow. Then we will have this situation rectified.

  4. Players aren’t going to “set an example” if it means they’re getting murdered in the scrum and going backwards. If they feel the engagement hasn’t been on their terms or start to be manipulated into a poor body position they’ll collapse it and see if they can get away with it being reset – or even better for them is if they can collapse it whilst making it look like the other bloke has gone down first and they get the penalty.

    *disclaimer: this is the opinion of a back. i have no idea what really happens.

  5. I’ve come up with what I think may be a solution for this problem. I play Prop to a modest standard but also work in an Engineering field so hope that it sound sensible.

    The main problem with the scrum is the ‘hit’. This point of the scrum is now so dynamic that stability is hard to achieve and also puts players at risk with the enormous impact. Removing this whilst maintaining a competitive scrum is difficult but I think can be achieved in the following fashion.

    Both scrums form up but do so on their knees. Using both the Referee and the opposite side’s linesman (coming into the field of play if necessary) binding between the Props is checked. On the command of ‘Up’ (or something similar) both packs get to their feet already engaged. With binding still legitmate, the ref can then hopefully concentrate on a straight put-in with a stable scrum after which the full majesty of the scrum would continue as before.

    I’ve been kicking this one round for a while now but thought I’d see if any rugby blog readers had any thoughts on it. Would the hit be missed? Would the scrum become too passive? Any feedback would be gratefully receive.

  6. Well one benefit of that I can see Kemlo is that both packs would be obliged to adopt a low position, hitting upwards. A lot of the scrums collapse immediately from one or two from the front rows unable to remain upright with the force of the hit, often due to bad body position.

    It’s an interesting point. I can see where you’re coming from and you obviously have more experience than me on the dark arts! The questions would be, is there a resultant loss of power and therefore confrontation? Does it devalue the scrum in terms of the stronger scrummaging side enjoying less opportunity to dominate and drive home the advantage? Would the setting and checking of the scrum / binding take too long and cause delays?

    I see it being a difficult concept to adopt in reality, simply because a lot of people would have the attitude ‘it is how it is’ and would oppose such a large change to the way the scrums form. There are some very valid reasons to argue for this or something similar though that prevents the endless resetting of scrums that we often see.

  7. Until about 10 years ago the scrum just came together organically and the scrum was a proper contest. The problems now to my mind stem from:

    1) The lengthy pause. All it has done is make the teams really explode into each other. The human body is not designed for that and it does not just lead to collapsed scrums but shorter careers. If it was quicker the players would not have the time to load up all the power in their leg muscles.

    2) Squint feeds. Because hookers have got no chance of getting their foot anywhere near the opposition ball, the only thing a pack is trying to do is smash the other team off the ball. Their best way of doing this is to hit them as hard as possible on the engage and gain an advantageous scrummaging position.

    I agree with Kemlo’s idea in principle although don’t think it would be on the knees. It used to be the front row binds up, the 2nds rows do so behind them on their knees, they get a decent bind on each other’s backs and then engage. Don’t know what was wrong with it to be honest.

    The other thing that irritates me while I’m on a roll is Rowntree trotting out the stat that there have been fewer collapsed scrums this season. Seems to me that that is because refs are so quick to give penalties and free kicks at the scrum – it’s as if they can’t be bothered to police it. Eng v Aus had no completed scrums at all, they all resulted in free kicks or penalties. Given that most refs seem to know bugger all about the scrum they are essentially deciding some matches through guess work. That is not good eough in a modern professional sport.

    For me the scrum is the single biggest issue in the game at the moment. It’s ruining it for everyone.

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