Tank Lanning

Bring back the strike

2015-02-19 13:17
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)

Not an ideal title for an article appearing on Fin24, but this is no rant from some socialist freak demanding higher wages in a shrinking economy. It is more of a plea from a flat-eared ex-prop on behalf of those that would like to see the scrum return as a fair contest.

One of my favourite moments of the first weekend of Super Rugby was watching an early scrum in the Blues v Chiefs game. It was perfectly set, the ball had for once been put in straight, and it was all very even. In fact, it was a pretty sublime moment as the ball simply lay there like a piece of tempting, yet forbidden, fruit.

Until Chiefs hooker Hika Elliot, no doubt feeling the pressure to win the ball on their own feed, made the call to strike! Suddenly it was 8 men vs 7 given that Elliot no longer had both feet back, and the Chiefs scrum crumbled, with the Blues getting the golden tighthead.

Fair contest? 100%. How often does it happen? Once in a 7-game weekend!

Not only are the days of the hooker striking on opposition ball gone, but the days of striking on your own ball are now also seemingly numbered. With scrums being set so low, and with so much power being generated, packs can no longer afford to have the hooker strike. The result being that a skew feed is almost a necessity in order to win your own scrum ball.

Scrum coaches around the world, these days robbed of the big initial hit used to gain early scrum ascendancy, bemoaned the strict policing of the straight scrum feed that we saw at the beginning of last year, saying that it negated the advantage that should be afforded to the side feeding the scrum.

Given the safety requirements, and under pressure to rid the game of multiple scrum resets, the game’s governing body have given in. Hence referees not policing the scrum feed like they were implored to do last year, and hence the plethora of pesky skew scrum feeds these days.

As a scrum coach myself, I am well aware of the need to win one’s own ball, and can understand where these guys are coming from. But as an observer of the game, I think we have perhaps caved in a little early on this, and thus robbed the game of a fair contest.

Yes, the side awarded the scrum feed, much like the team awarded the lineout feed, deserve some sort of advantage. But you also want the side competing for the ball in these two primary phases of the game, to have a chance of stealing it. Especially in a game dominated by such structured and organised defences. Turnover ball gives sides a shot a less organised defence.

So bring back the straight feed I say. The side feeding the scrum can then either set a little higher so as to allow their hooker to strike, but then be susceptible to a big 8-man shove from the opposition. Or remain low and not go for the strike (something the Lions and 'Tahs do so well), but then be susceptible to the opposition hooker striking for the ball if they can hold the pressure.

The key to this working though, is for referees to allow the scrumhalf feeding the scrum to do so on their own time. Keep the “Yes 9” safety signal, but then do not put pressure on the scrummie to feed the ball immediately. Scrumming is about power and technique, but primarily it is about timing. Allowing the side with the put in to control the timing of the feed gives them a significant (and fair) advantage in that they get to time their shove with the feed of the ball using the hooker’s tap and an internal call.

Yet the straight feed keeps it a fair contest. Hell it would be nice to see a defending pack go for the strike rather than the 8-man shove that we see from every scrum these days!

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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