NRL: Warriors ready for counter-push

By David Skipwith

Smiles from the Warriors after their scrum ploy resulted in a try against the Eels. Photo / Getty Images
Smiles from the Warriors after their scrum ploy resulted in a try against the Eels. Photo / Getty Images

The Warriors scrummaging ploy, changing two decades of teams using the set piece as an unofficial rest period, has sparked intense debate.

The Warriors initiated the return of the contested scrum this season as a method of applying pressure on opposition feeds, but Sam Tomkins' stunning try against the Parramatta Eels last week revealed its attacking potency and scoring potential.

Until teams decide to counter the tactic, or merely contest the feed by making an effort to push, the surprise element will always give teams a good chance of winning possession or creating a scoring opportunity.

This curious situation of teams ignoring the legitimate use of the scrum has developed over the past 20 years, largely in response to referees' allowing halfbacks to feed the ball into the second-row, or more blatantly, under the lock's feet, and guaranteeing possession for the attacking side.

Teams largely abided by the unspoken agreement that neither pack would push, and the hooker's job title was made somewhat redundant, as he no longer had to rake for the ball.

The emphasis shifted to keeping the ball in play rather than tying it up in a prolonged and messy 12-man wrestle and the scrum was soon viewed simply as a quick way to restart the game.

The tactic of launching attacking plays from the scrum was based on the theory that both backlines were set 20m apart, enabling ball-runners to take on their opposites one-on-one.

But that ploy was negated by fast-breaking forwards rushing to join the defensive line to shut down or restrict the attacking team's time and space.

The Warriors decision to revisit the contested scrum merely exploits this convoluted scenario, but has raised concerns about safety after the unsuspecting Eels pack was spectacularly dismantled and trampled upon.

"It can be a great play for rugby league in tying up the forwards into a small spot on the field and opening up the field for the backs, but at the moment teams break so quickly it's not really an advantage," explained Warriors coach and scrummaging champion Andrew McFadden.

"We got a result on the weekend from a scrum push which we only designed to put a bit of pressure on the opposition. I think oppositions will probably have to counter that. Other teams use tactics like holding the ball in the scrum and this is just a way of countering that."

McFadden is unconcerned about whether other sides will follow the Warriors lead and start contesting scrums, but he says the Warriors have prepared and are ready, should the opposition ever try their luck at contesting their own feed.

"If I was coaching against our team I would be practising a bit of scrummaging just in case it happens. I'm not sure what will happen from it but we're just going to worry about ourselves."

Warriors hooker Nathan Friend spotted the opportunity to catch the Eels napping and made the discreet call among the forwards to get the push going.

He also expects other teams to employ the tactic.

"It's like anything, if you see a play that works you're going to try it," he said. "We've just got to be on to it every scrum now and especially on our line when we have the ball and we think we've just got to feed the ball and away we go again. That's probably the opportune time."

The tactic depends on the opposition being caught unawares, and the Warriors must not give the opposition any hint of what they plan to unleash.

"It can't be telegraphed and there can't be any psyching up or anything that might give it away," said prop Jacob Lillyman.

"The big thing about it is the element of surprise and if you have a look at it on the weekend they were pretty surprised. They had blokes ending up on the ground getting stampeded.

"If you're in there having a rest and you're not prepared for a push, then certainly the shoe can end up on the other foot. We've got to be aware of that and make sure it's still in our back pocket for when we need it. There's a bit of publicity around it so we might have to save it for a rainy day."

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf04 at 19 Dec 2014 23:17:37 Processing Time: 544ms