The falling scrum has been an increasing worry to rugby's law-makers and others, spectators for example. For one thing every scrum that falls is dangerous.
SANZAR this year set out to reduce the resetting of scrums, partly because it is boring. In fact SANZAR wanted the ball in and out of scrums in one movement 70% of the time. It hoped to achieve this in two ways - getting the co-operation of players and coaches and getting their referees upskilled in dealing with scrums. The three national scrum coaches - Patricio Noriega in Australia, Mike Cronn in New Zealand and Balie Swart in South Africa - were charged with working with teams and referees to improve scrumming outcomes. Referees do work remarkably hard at scrumming - with coaches, with teams and with individual players.
In 2011 the percentage of scrum success was 45%.
Lets look at some stats for the first seven weeks of Super Rugby this year.
Free kicks: 46
Free kicks%: 6,9%
That means that on 59,5% of the time the ball was put into a scrum and was immediately play able. That is a long way up from 2011 but still short of the 70% target though 83,1% of scrums are not reset.
Mind you, the most annoying reset of a scrum is the one that happens before the scrum has even gone down - those stupid things like not having heads in the right places.
It's hard to apportion blame in the matter of malformed scrums because you do not scrum on your own, but penalties awarded to apportion blame.
The log for penalties at scrums looks like this, with the Bulls the worst offenders:
10 Reds, Highlanders
9 Cheetahs, Crusaders
7 Blues, Chiefs, Rebels, Sharks
4 Lions, Waratahs
Australian sides usually carry the burden of blame for poor scrumming but the penalty statistics give the lie to that this year. They average just under 6, New Zealand teams just over 8, the South African teams 8 exactly.
The Force have the best record as far as conceding penalties in concerned and yet it was one of their matches in which a team's scrumming was the worst. They played the Reds and of the 8 Force scrums, 3 were reset, 6 collapsed, 2 were freekicked and 2 were penalised.
In five of the matches there were uncontested scrums. That is a horrible blight on the game. There was a plague of uncontested scrums in France and they, as is allowed by the IRB, added an extra player to the bench with the proviso that he was a prop. This has eliminated uncontested scrums in France.
The matches with no resets were
Bulls vs Sharks
Lions vs Cheetahs
Chiefs vs Blues
Stormers vs Sharks
Sharks vs Lions
Hurricanes vs Cheetahs
Brumbies vs Sharks
The match with the best scrumming record by far was Sharks vs Lions. In this match there were no resets, no collapses, no penalties and no free kicks. It is the best possible scrum result.
Mark Lawrence refereed that match, which may well be because of his hard and skilful work. But in essence it is the players who have to comply. Bryce Lawrence refereed a match in which there were three resets in 14 scrums; later he had a match, Rebels vs Blues, in which there were 6 resets, 14 collapses in 18 scrums.
There are people who throw up their hands and suggest rugby league bits of scrummaging and even uncontested scrums. Heaven forbid. Imagine how much character would be plundered from the game if that were to happen.
Perhaps, to save the props, rugby needs to go back to the basics of scrummaging. There was the famous change to policing in New York that started with urinating in public and broken windows. Perhaps that is what needs to be done at the scrum.
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