Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: A strong chance of more power in scrums

The All Blacks front row packs down against France. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks front row packs down against France. Photo / Getty Images

Props normally despair when they hear of yet more administrative interference in the dark art of scrummaging. But impending changes to the set piece engagement process have sparked excitement within the oversized fraternity.

First and foremost, the new sequence should at least eliminate the shambolic pantomime that has been the basis of most scrummaging duels in the past decade. The days of some packs feigning interest in the set piece are over; even those expert in avoiding a genuine scrum battle by constant collapses, delays and manipulations will find it hard, nearly impossible probably, to duck and dive their way out of trouble.

It's possible, too, that the impending changes to the scrummaging command sequence, which will be on trial during the Rugby Championship and ITM Cup, may even rejuvenate the careers of some props. Those with a long spine - Jamie Mackintosh and Wyatt Crockett spring to mind - may become recognised as world class scrummaging loose-heads.

It's no wonder the old school are in a lather - the good kind - about the proposed changes that will see props complete a pre-bind of sorts before the full engagement. The very notion of a more controlled engagement will have alarm bells ringing - but this new sequence that is part of a global trial is not about further sanitisation of the game. Neither the intention, nor the outcome, will be to limit the value or competitiveness of scrummaging.

No doubt there will be suggestions the new calls of 'crouch', 'bind', 'set' will be the death knell of scrums - a means to de-power them, all in the interests of pacifying potential soccer mums. Absolutely not, say those whose employment and careers are tied up in ensuring scrums stay valid.

The new laws take the force out of the initial impact; the trials to date estimate that the force of the impact is reduced by about 25 per cent by having a pre-bind - the four respective props grabbing each other under the armpits.

By removing the explosiveness of the initial hit, the advantages are many. There is significant evidence that says it will greatly reduce the number of collapses. It should cut down on technical infringements that lead to free kicks and penalties - giving the game more flow.

Then there is the safety aspect; it seems more by good luck than by good management that there aren't more serious spinal injuries in the professional game. Those explosive collisions at the point of engagement often lead to an immediate collapse and can't be good for the players.

"It doesn't take away power - it takes away force," says All Black forwards coach and scrummaging guru Mike Cron who was part of the IRB steering committee that came up with the new procedure. "I would be loath to see the power being taken away but what this should do, if anything, is allow more power to be going through the scrums."

The extent of the experimentation leading to this trial was vast. Cron says endless formats were looked at and monitored - such as not having No 8s attached and using Golden Oldie rules to build an accurate data base of intelligence. He wouldn't have agreed to anything that left the scrum impotent, having worked since 2004 to strengthen the nation's scrummaging expertise both with the All Blacks and working extensively with Super Rugby sides.

He, like many other scrum coaches, is confident both packs will be able to lock into the engagement square. They will be steady and poised before the ball is fed in. The halfbacks will be asked, to feed the ball down the middle and the battle will be about the technical efficiency and power of the respective packs.

At the moment, much of the battle is decided at the initial collision; if one of the tightheads doesn't engage in a position of strength, the scrum is likely to collapse either naturally or deliberately. Under the new sequence, it will be eight versus eight - a straight contest to see which pack can drive the other backwards.

Cron believed not much will change in regard to how the All Blacks and other teams select props.

"No, I don't think so," he says. "It might be that some players really benefit from the change. I wouldn't say that will be generic though it is more likely to be case-specific."

- Herald on Sunday

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