You can tell a lot by a country’s approach to the scrum. In New Zealand it is seen as a method for restarting the game. The ball is put in, the hooker hooks it and the scrum half passes it to the backs. In the northern hemisphere, it is seen as a way of winning penalties.
Richard Cockerill, the Leicester Tigers head coach, announced that it was impossible to hook the ball in the modern era. All the Super rugby sides in New Zealand manage to and, interestingly, England are trying to now Eddie Jones has told them that they have to.
The scrum is supposed to be a method for restarting play. The advantage to the dominant side comes from having clean ball and space to play into. The disadvantage to the weaker teams is that a retreating scrum cuts off attacking opportunities and makes it difficult to gain good field position.
In their recent second Test against Wales, New Zealand scored a try from a simple eight, nine, eleven play from a five-metre scrum. This is an unheard of tactic in the Aviva Premiership despite being the go-to play for any school or club team with a large blind side to attack. It wasn’t even executed particularly well, but the Welsh winger Liam Williams was so shocked that he stepped in and allowed Waisake Naholo to stroll over for an easy try.
New Zealand scored three other tries from similar situations in the series, none of them particularly sophisticated. One consisted of nothing more complicated than Aaron Smith passing to Beauden Barrett, who crashed through Dan Biggar’s lamentable tackle. This generation of northern hemisphere players are so used to constant resets and penalties that they don’t expect to defend.
Four tries is a potential 28 points. You need to kick nine penalty goals to better that, but teams from the north are happy with what they see as the low risk option. Referees also play their part in the fiasco. The majority of scrums go down by accident and they tend to guess at who is responsible.
Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t. The other thing they like to do is give penalties for things that are not in the law book. ‘Hinging’, or ‘going round the side’, are non-existent offences. This also happens at the maul. ‘Swimming through’, or ‘changing your bind’, are not mentioned anywhere, so it seems strange when players are penalised for it.
Speeding up the scrummage by putting a limit on binding up time, or by taking New Zealand’s radical approach of putting it in, getting it out and playing with it, would actually change the nature of the sport.
22 stone props can survive in a game with long rest periods. They will struggle if these breaks are taken away. It will be interesting to see if there is any change in the northern hemisphere’s approach to this integral part of the game in the season ahead.
Andrew Fields, Pundit Arena