Johannesburg - South African rugby needs to urgently move toward a national scrum strategy if it wants to remain a force in the setpieces, scrumming guru Balie Swart believes.
Swart, who was appointed late last year as the liaison between coaches and referees to try and sort out the scrum shambles that the Springboks went through last year, as well as the varying interpretations that we saw throughout the Currie Cup, believes it is time that a national strategy is adopted.
Swart points to the same structure in New Zealand, where scrum coach Mike Cron was appointed by the New Zealand Rugby Union, and meets regularly with coaches of the five Super 14 franchises to ensure that players are all scrumming correctly. Individual coaching is also provided to ensure that the setpiece is always a strength and not a problem.
The Springbok scrum came in for criticism last year in the Tri Nations, while the midweek team on the end of year tour failed to live up to the expectations in the setpiece.
Swart says he will be sitting on the Super 14 panel and meeting regularly with both the referees and coaches to ensure that no player is bending the laws, and teams adopt scrum strategies which are in line with the rules of the game.
“The role is something that was initiated by Andre Watson two years ago and it has been coming for a long time,” Swart told Supersport.com, “The problem is that we as players never shared any information with the referees. Now, at the top level, players and coaches cannot afford to give away simple penalties. It’s a professional game, there is a lot of money involved and you have to be very aware whether you are doing something right or wrong.
“The law requires something and we have always been told as coaches and players to try and bend the law. We’ve got to a point now where the referees have been told to ref the law, and not what someone thinks is right or wrong.
“The problem is that we played like that in the old days and if you played then and are coaching now, you have to coach according to the law, and not the way you learnt to bend the law.
“At the moment every coach is trying to bend the law his way and every player is doing the same. Then you have all the talk shows and television shows and people are climbing in and criticizing the referees and making a mockery of the system.I’ve been working with the top four teams in the country in order to try and get the system as accurate as possible.”
Swart says he can understand the frustration in the stands, especially with there being no standard that is followed across the country and interpretations which differ from game to game.
But with the new system, Swart is hoping to be hands on a lot more, and ensure that the amount of scrum penalties diminishes over the length of the competition, ultimately benefitting the national team.
“It’s a unique system. The law requires certain things – a stable scrum, the ball to be fed in correctly, no hands on the floor and no pushing before the ball is in. Certain referees allow the game to flow more, and by allowing it to flow, everyone has a mini game within a game,” Swart adds.
“What we want is for the contest to be fair and square, and for the two teams to try and scrum the hell out of each other, but within the law. I’ll sit on the panel and chat to the coaches and referees and if a player is repeatedly infringing, then I can tell the coach that he will be blown and he needs to fix it.
“If he then needs help, then I’m there to get involved, but ultimately it is the decision of the coach.”
“We don’t want the referees to guess, we want them to get it right. I’m aware of both the refereeing inaccuracies and the coaching inaccuracies. I’m not saying we’re going to get rid of it overnight, but we need to get structures in place to start rectifying the problem.
"At the end of the day we need to work to a single point, and that pinnacle needs to be SA Rugby. In the rest of the world there are national scrumming strategies.”