“Yes 9” makes scrum unfair

Telling the scrumhalf when to feed the scrum is a bit like telling the hooker where and when to throw the ball into the lineout says Grunt editor and self-proclaimed scrum guru Tank Lanning in his Sport24 column.

The new scrum call has not completely eradicated resets, but there certainly seem to be far fewer. We still see some properly strange/inept penalties based on binds and collapsing, but I think that will always be the case given the subjective interpretation of the laws by different referees. The straight feed from the scrumhalf makes it a fairer contest and keeps packs higher as hookers now have to actually hook, which allows the opposition the chance to do the same – hence the previously seldom seen tighthead making a reappearance. It is without doubt a safer place for front rows given the reduced hit and pre bind (my neck injury came from the packs not engaging at the same time and my head smashing into the opposition thigh), so all in all, I like the look of the new scrum.

My biggest concern is this “Yes 9” call from the ref that signals to the scrumhalf that the ball must be put in. Apart from robbing the attacking side of the element of surprise, are we not meant to be absolving the referee of some of the responsibilities around the scrum?

The new engagement process and straight feed sees a return to the good old days when scrumming was about power, strength and technique, but also timing. Hence the hooker tapping the loosehead’s back when he was ready for the ball to come in. Part of the technique, and something we practiced for hours using various calls, was to get the little shove from all but the hooker, who’s job is obviously to hook the ball back, timed to happen just as the ball was fed into the scrum.

Now it is the ref who is calling the scrum feed with this “Yes 9” call, and that is why we see the scrumhalf tapping the hooker’s arm just before the scrum feed, so at least he knows when the ball is coming in, and can strike for it.

But in making it the ref’s call as to when the scrum is fed, there are two important ramifications. One – the attacking side loses the element of surprise as they no longer decide the timing of the feed, and two – it gives the opposition an unfair advantage as they know exactly when the ball is going to be fed into the scrum, and with 8 men who can shove, as opposed to the other side’s 7, they will have more power.

It is a bit like telling the hooker where and when to throw the ball into the lineout.

Teams earn the right to feed the scrum and lineout, and while you want the opposition to be able to contest the ball, there has to be some advantage in earning that right.

Yes the referee probably has to make a call as to whether the scrum is stable enough, but let’s move away from the referee deciding exactly when the ball should go in …

One man who will not have to worry about the scrum feed at Newlands on Saturday is professional Bok bag carrier, Lourens Adriaanse, who again misses out on even a spot on the bench. Tighthead props are scarce, and life after Jannie du Plessis looks uncertain at best. Yes Adriaanse is gaining valuable experience by spending time with the Boks, but against a weak Australian scrum, in South Africa, would it not have been a perfect opportunity to have a look at him in a Test environment? Instead French based Gurthro Steenkamp gets yet another trot off the wood, despite us having loosehead props growing on trees here in SA.

Bold call to put Bismarck du Plessis on the bench. He is probably the best player in the world right now. Rotation works for some teams and players, but not others. Heyneke Meyer has got a lot right recently … Let’s hope this is another good call from the coach. Crouch, bind, engage …


  1. The scrums still seem to take a lot of time out of the game with the resets etc.
    Is the scrummie hearing the ”yes” call an advantage. Both hookers can hear the call ??

    Sad that Bissie is on the bench but then we know that HM has a great ”love” for Strauss who (in my mind)does not appear to be as dominant as he was last year.

  2. Hi Tank, spoken like a true member of the Front Row (the only row as I have said before) !!!
    I agree with you 100%. I don’t want to get to: “but when we were playing…” but I have to admit scrums were much better in those days.

    This nonsense of “Yes 9” is extremely unfair to the side feeding the scrum. You have stated the obvious reasons. When you are struggling to hold your own in the scrums and you still have to wait for the ref’s call, you’ll always be on the back foot.
    Back in the day the 9s and 2s had a close “working relationship” as far as scrums were concerned. Now it has been ruined !!

    On a lighter note: way back we were playing at Newlands in a club game against Police. Freddie (Bun) Ferreira was the 9, Balie Swart at 1 and I was at Hooker. Bun had the habit of sometimes ignoring the hooker’s tap and to simply feed the scrum. Balie (or any loosehead) could feel the tap on his back. It happened more than once during that specific game that he simply fed the scrum when he felt it was time to do so. After one such incident Balie told Bun; “Bun jy maak nou Charlie se naam gat” He knew I didn’t tap and Bun basically fed the ball to the opposition hooker. Fortunately it stopped after that !

    I have read on another rugby blog that mr Joel Jutge, the new boss of referees, is the person who added this “Yes 9” bs. Apparently that was never part of the original decision.
    Somebody suggested that the ref can perhaps nod to the 9 when he can feed the scrum. This brings a problem or 2 though: mostly the ref is standing at the side where the 9 is feeding the scrum from and therefore the 9 will not be able to see the nod. Perhaps a tap on the 9’s shoulder ? The bottom line is that the “Yes 9” should be scrapped ASAP.

    I’m totally with you about Lourens. IMO Steenkamp should have been dropped with Coenie providing cover at 1 and Lourens at 3. We need to give him the exposure at test rugby and unfortunately I don’t think Heyneke will use Lourens against the All Blacks unless he is forced through injury to make that decision.

  3. As long as the “yes 9” is just a signal to the scrumhalf that he may feed the ball, and he is given some time to do so when he feels fit, I don’t see it as a problem other than will the packs hold up that long…? Haven’t seen many penalties for not feeding in time… If anything I would like to see a bit more attention paid to the straight feed, it seems to have gotten a bit slack since the open Rugby Championship weekend when Genia and Smith were left scratching their heads… I liked that…!

Comments are closed.