And still the scrums make the headlines. Richard Cockerill is not an easy man to quieten. Last week he emerged from the English pre-season to attack the IRB for their failure to consult with the Premiership Directors of Rugby before unveiling the new scrum laws and protocol.
Just in case you have forgotten 'crouch, touch, set' has been replaced by 'touch, bind, set'. Props should bind their outside arm after the referee has called 'bind' in sequence. That bind should be maintained by the front rows until the 'set' is called; thereafter the engagement; oh with a straight throw strictly policed.
The stated reason for the changes is to reduce the impact on the engagement, the Leicester Director of Rugby, amongst others including Dean Richards, wonders whether it is a dastardly plan to take the intensity out of the scrum.
I can see both sides of the Leicester boss's argument. The widest possible number of high level coaches should be consulted from all around the globe, true but on the flip side a coach's job is to coach not decide the game's laws.
In 2011, days before the start of the last World Cup, I was chatting to Paddy O' Brien, then in charge of all things linked with a whistle. I asked Paddy whether the straight throw into the scrum would be refereed or ignored as was then the trend.
Despite the law re straight feeds having never been removed from the law book, O' Brien told me that referees would allow crooked feeds as a meeting with the coaches confirmed their opinion that the key to the scrum was 'the hit' (a term that was wholly invented and now outlawed) was the decisive element of the scrum.
This meant coaches wanted hookers to push not hook and left the law book ignored on the sidelines. The crooked feed has become a central part of the frustrations surrounding the scrum and the World Cup coaches - with the referees - must take their share of responsibility. Consult them by all means but do not allow coaches to shape the laws of the game which will inevitably lead to many an unforeseen consequence.
The English concerns are understandable. Scrums are an important part of the English game and should not be weakened in the interests of weaker nations and political correctness. The criticism was an interesting one in the light of the manner in which New Zealand dismantled Australia's scrum in Wellington. Early evidence suggests that outstanding technique as displayed by the All Blacks will be rewarded.
Heyneke Meyer, the Springbok coach, looks as if he has always planned to rough the Wallabies up front. It seems as if the hard scrummaging of Bismarck du Plessis will start over the accuracy of Adriaan Strauss with South Africa wanting to scrum Australia into submission. This is a game that could yet allay the fears of Cockerill and company although, I will reiterate these are early days and the evidence will be insufficient to make a firm judgement.
Early days too in France where after three games not one team remains unbeaten with a series of shocks ranging throughout the country; all very entertaining but none too revealing. With six teams making the French play-offs the need to win each game is not quite as important as the Aviva and Rabo12 where only four can make the play offs.
In England expect Leicester, Northampton and Saracens to stroll into the top four with Harlequins the fourth member of the elite under pressure, primarily from the West Country where Gloucester, Bath and Exeter all have reasons to believe.
In the Rabo12 the biggest question surrounds the capacity of Leinster to retain their standards with Joe Schmidt gone to Ireland and Jonny Sexton to Paris. Winning becomes habit forming and for that reason it would be a shock were they not to make the play offs. But who will join them? Ulster will be the more fancied of the other Irish sides but Munster made major progress in Europe last season and can continue to flourish this term. They are my dark horses. The Blues should also fit that particular bill in Wales.
A synthetic pitch and a highly promising fly-half in Rhys Patchell, the return of Gethin Jenkins and the signing of Matthew Rees....it looks promising for a team who have failed to fire for some time. Jamie Roberts is a loss on paper but his contributions to the Blues, for a few reasons, have been limited in recent years.
The other Welsh side expected to go well are the Ospreys. The core of the Lions front five, with Dan Biggar to steer them; ok they have lost the exceptional Kahn Fotuali'i to the Saints but surely they will be bang in contention. The Dragons will not be but it is good to see them secure the services of Toby Faletau for two years. It could be the beginning of a revival for the Dragons with Lyn Jones and Gareth Davies two contrasting styled adversaries of mine (to put it mildly) teaming up as D.O.R and Chief Executive.
Can Glasgow keep it up, can Treviso can another step forward with Matt Berquist once of the Crusaders an interesting signing, can we get through a week without arguing about the scrum.....welcome back to the British, Irish and Italian rugby season!
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Abigail Barletta says...
Hi Stuart, This may seem like a petty matter to ask about to an expert but I've been thinking about teams winning penalties at the scrum. I am a Quins supporter and will admit we got outmuscled by Sarries at the weekend. They are a big outfit and congrats to any team that can beat them. Hopefully us away soon. I was thinking when the ball is won in the scrum and is at the number eight's feet the team should be made to play it and make the game more fluid and exciting instead of driving for penalities. In my opinion it is killing the game and I would like teams that perhaps don't have the strength in their scrum like Tigers or Sarries to have a chance to show off their other facets in the game instead of today's game being souly focused on the scrum. Let me know what you think of this. The rules could change for the better of the game.
Posted 12:20 30th September 2013
Thomas Fothringham says...
Cockerill's attitude amounts to saying: "The IRB changed the laws without consulting English Premiership clubs - how dare they!" Unfortunately this is horribly reminiscent of Premier Rugby threatening to screw up the Heineken for everyone unless they get their way.
Posted 13:18 10th September 2013
Gwyn Price says...
The new rules will show which front rows have the scrum skills and not just the big Impact which in the past has resulted in reset after reset.This is killing the game as a spectacle the game needs to expand and pull in new fans.The games I have seen so far the best scrum will still come out on top. The one rule I think is a mistake is the ref telling the scrumhalf to put the ball in this takes the advantage of the put in away.
Posted 20:49 7th September 2013
John Smith says...
Sorry Adrian (Christie, in previous post). The instruction to the 9 from the referee that he is OK to put the ball in, is NOT a signal for the opposing team to start pushing. That is not allowed until the 9 puts the ball in. If the opposition pushes on the referee's instruction, that would be a penalty to the 9 holding the ball.
Posted 12:33 6th September 2013
Mick Collyer says...
Although Cockerill complains about everything that is not biaised in the Tigers favour I am not suprised he is complaining about this as the very few times that Ben Youngs has put the ball in straight his brother Tom clearly had no idea what to do but push. England lost a number of scrums in the autumn internationakls because of this
Posted 13:54 4th September 2013
Matt P says...
The interesting thing about the scrum changes are it will see the return of the smaller prop. The advantage in the scrum is now the height to which you set up - the lower you can go the better and more effective your scrum will be. The likes of your Andrew Sheriden's smashing into the opposition now can't happen. If you've got a prop of under 6ft against one over 6ft they'll just get under you and will be in control. Also it is a lot clearer to the ref who is actually cheating, if somebody drops their bind or turning in etc. Which will hopefully secure some consistency. I do agree with Adrien however. Oppositions can now just focus on an eight man push when the other team is putting the ball in, which can be an interesting development. Hopefully this change will sort the mess of the scrums out as it was a blight on our beautiful game. Ow and Cockerill is a fool. What right does he have to dictate the rules of world rugby. Arrogance personified.
Posted 13:29 4th September 2013
William Sheldrake says...
As a former player from the days when "Stack" Stevens ruled his side of the front row I am delighted with the revised Law. As you say, Stuart, it's early days, but it's a relief to see hookers having to hook and scrum-halves generally putting the ball in straight (and by "straight" I mean down the centre of the tunnel, and right-angles to the two front rows). It will be interesting to see how the season develops, and I agree entirely with Ian Cook about whether or not the IRB should have consulted Premiership coaches.
Posted 13:53 3rd September 2013
Stephen Lynch says...
Way back in my playing days (position hooker) these 'new' rules were in force. A hooker then did what the position was named after. The scrum bound, ball came in, hookers hooked. Over recent years this was no longer a part of the game. The name 'hooker' can safely remain. Lets hope that refs are strict on a straight put-in.
Posted 11:42 3rd September 2013
Paul Warren says...
the skills of the hooker has been shocking over the past years, they cant throw in they dont hook, which results in a ball with no momentum getting to the nunber 8s feet.this should make scrum-time very interesting.
Posted 09:22 3rd September 2013
Ian Cook says...
Stuart. Its not the iRB's job to consult with Aviva Premiership coaches or any other English domestic competition officials. That falls within the purview of the RFU, and if Cockerill has any issues, that is who he ought to be addressing them to. I really struggle to believe that the RFU have had ZERO communication over this matter with any of the Clubs or Premier Rugby Ltd, but If this really is the case, that the RFU have consulted none of them, then its a poor show and a massive oversight on their part. On the issue of the new scrum sequence, well this is not something that has been dreamed up overnight. It has been signalled well in advance with a lot of scientific biometric testing using both scrum machines and live scrummaging. Testing has shown a reduction of 25% in the compression forces present in the scrum using the new sequences. This "crouch-bind-set" sequence was trialled in this year's Pacific Rugby Cup which includes teams from the wider training squads of NZ and Australian Super Rugby franchises, as well as Pacific Islands national "B teams. There were no safety issues as far as I know. (NOTE: I sent this about 24hrs ago, but I must have done something wrong as it did not appear)
Posted 08:02 3rd September 2013
Adrian Christie says...
The main issue with scrum is it is now a disadvantage to have the put in! The ref's verbal signal to the scrum half to put the ball in, is also a signal to the defending team to push with eight men. This gives advantage to defending team as they can time their scrum to make it extremely difficult to hook the ball safely. The poor attacking hooker is attempting to strike the ball, under pressure from an opposition scrum that has the advantage of numbers for pushing and timing. Surely the ref needs to give a non verbal gesture to the scrum half to say get the ball in. That way the scrum should be more even and the hooker would be able to hook the ball safely. It would be more of an even competition and help remove the inevitable slide towards the crooked feed again.
Posted 04:37 3rd September 2013
Dave Milford says...
I for one am pleased to see a return to proper srummaging and a contest between hookers to actually hook the ball. It will be interesting to see if any of the current crop posesses the required skills, we could see a number of srum won against the head this season.
Posted 21:12 2nd September 2013
Mikey Doherty says...
After playing with the new rules of engagement, it certainly reduces the impact and encourages better techinique. It's a lot safer as well.
Posted 12:20 2nd September 2013
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