Kitshoff and Kebble spot on

Lots of moaning about “Scrumming in” by the Stormers loosehead props, but Tank Lanning, writing in his Sport24 column this week, believes both Steven Kitshoff and Ollie Kebble to have got it spot on in mangling the Bulls scrum.

Tank Lanning

Lots of moaning about “Scrumming in” given the Stormers’ man handling of the Bulls scrum at Newlands on Saturday, mostly by scribes and fans based up North it seems.

I disagree, believing both Stormers loosehead props Steven Kitshoff and Ollie Kebble to have had magnificent games, with their destruction of Bulls tighthead Marcel van der Merwe going a long way to securing the game for the home side. Sadly by means of one of the scourges of the modern game – the scrum penalty, often based on one poor chunky fellow having a bad day at the office. Penalising a prop for standing up in a scrum is a bit like penalising a flyhalf for missing a tackle.

That said, most tries these days come from another scourge of the game – the legalised obstruction that is the driving maul (now seemingly made even more in defendable given that refs are allowing players to join them ahead of the last players feet – go watch the David Pocock hat trick of tries if you are unsure of what I am talking about) so it makes sense for teams to make the most of the situation. Hence the Stormers aiming to milk the scrum penalty rather than use it to set a stable base from which the backs could work.

I digress, though. Back to Saturday and this “Scrumming in”. A loosehead’s job is in fact to scrum in on the tighthead’s ribs, or better get under him and work on his sternum, thus hoping to unsettle him and move him backwards. A tighthead’s job is to keep that loosehead’s head out thus hoping to create a gap between said loosehead and his hooker, with a view to scrumming forward through that gap.

Choose not to scrum in, and a loosehead is then opting out of the contest, sliding down the side of the tighthead, giving him an easy ride. That is truly dreadful technique. Something Dean Greyling is sometimes prone to doing.

So this penalising of scrumming in is in fact penalising a player for doing his job. If a tighthead is not strong (or good) enough to keep the loosehead out, then he should pay the price.

Let’s also remember that getting your angle right as a prop requires skill. Get it wrong and the power from behind tends to push your arse out. And while many analysts will then point to the “Dreadful” scrumming in, as a prop all you have done is create a weak link in the chain so instead of that power being channelled through your straight back, it is being used to force your arse out.

Is scrumming in such a sin? Have we not over complicated the scrum ridiculously?

Refs are guessing. Scrums are being reset endlessly. And game influencing penalties are being awarded to avoid these resets. I would simplify them by making the following changes to scrum laws:

  • Allow props to bind anywhere
  • Allow props to put knees and hands on the ground to stabilise the scrum
  • Allow scrumming in (but penalise popping)
  • Allow props under pressure to stand up (aiming to avoiding collapses)
  • Allow non-violent wheeling through 45 degrees (it’s a skill)

Apart from the Stormers management and players, no one likes to see a game won on scrum penalties. Scrum dominance getting you a right shoulder or pushover try, yes, but not penalties based on guesswork or a player having a bad scrum.

And while it might be good enough to top the SA conference, living off scrum penalties is not going to win you the tournament.