New scrum call, less guessing

Policing the scrum has become subjective, with referee decisions being far too influential … Tank Lanning, in his column, believes the new scrum calls should go some way to changing that.

SANZAR will adopt the new ‘crouch, bind, set’ scrum engagement process for this year’s Rugby Championship, and it could not come soon enough!

The IRB are talking up the value of the new engage process given that “Player welfare is of utmost importance”, and while player safety is an obvious and admirable goal, I want to see them in action for completely different reasons.

The scrum, in its current guise, is a complete dog show that goes up or down more than it goes straight, requiring referees to guess as to the reason, who then award full arm penalties, or worse, yellow cards, which change the course of a game.

Seriously not cool …

In the build up to Saturday’s Test between Australian and the Lions, the Guardian ran with a main story titled: “Romain Poite will be the most important man on the pitch”, and how right they were!

And that is deeply disturbing on so many levels!

In a game contested between 30 of the finest athletes on earth (yes, including the props!), how can the skinny guy in the middle with the whistle be the most important? And perhaps more worrying, why are the media and coaches having to spend so much time analysing the way a certain referee is going to blow a game?

Because the current set of laws are open to subjective interpretation … with rugby is fast becoming like synchronised swimming where a set of judges decides the winner!

The Lions were the better team on the day in Sydney, had the edge in the scrums, and deserved to win the game, and series. But how Poite refereed the scrums was nothing short of diabolical.

Said by certain sectors of the Kiwi media to be influenced by assistant referee on the day, Craig Joubert, who they suggest was told by the IRB in his post-match assessment that he let the Aussies get away with illegal scrumming in the second Test between the two teams, Poite simply blew the Aussies out of the scrum contest, and the game.

How does one explain Wallaby loosehead prop Benn Robinson being penalised for scrumming in toward the hooker in one scrum and a simple reset when Lions looshead Alex Corbisiero did exactly the same thing in a later scrum? In both instances, the scrum wheeled away from them and crabbed to the right, meaning that they had no option but to scrum inwards.

And the yellow carding of Wallaby tighthead prop Ben Alexander for collapsing the scrum was just ridiculous. Especially when you consider that, in general, it is the loosehead prop’s job to keep the scrum up, that the Aussies seemed to have a pretty stable platform in that scrum, and that Lions tighthead Adam Jones was not even penalised when exactly the same thing happened in a later scrum.

They were massive calls by Poite, and all had a huge influence the game.

The new scrum engage process might not solve all our problems immediately, but apart from taking away the “Hit”, such a big factor in scrum resets given the sheer physics of the two large forces colliding, it also comes with one other vital initiative … Referees have now also been instructed by the IRB to police a straight feed into the scrum from the scrumhalf.

Which will see the return of the actual hook, both from the defending and attacking teams. And that will see the scrum rise up a little as you simply cannot strike with your nose in the grass, something we regularly see these days.

So what we have is a return to a scrum that will be a fair contest not dominated by the pack who gets the best hit, but one that combines strength with technique, and perhaps most importantly, timing.

And hopefully less subjective guesswork from referees!


  1. I also think that the scrum without the hit will cause less problems in the scrums. The hit originated to gain an advantage before the actual scrumming really started. Before that the scrums worked more or less like it will now, with the bind rule implemented.
    It will also cause less injuries, since the hit is where many injuries happen. I myself picked up a neck injury from the hit in my playing days.

  2. I have a mate in Queensland who coached boys from ages 13 to 16. I consider him to be fairly knowledgeable about things rugby/coaching. He is completely mistified as to how many refs blow the scrum, I cannot repeat his comments after the Sydney test. Shocking to say the least.

    1. Hi Hammy. Many refs have said to me off the record that they guess. It is just too damn difficult to police. Yet the IRB are happy to see full penalties awarded!

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