Richard Cockerill and Premiership coaches are wrong: IRB’s scrum moves are vital for the future of the game. The International Rugby Board has acted to address disaffection amongst the majority of rugby people with the elite-level scrum, a blight which has started to affect other levels of rugby and which, if left unaddressed will poison the entire game.
We have met once at the Ex-players bar in Twickenham with our common good friend Jeff Probyn last November when Australia beat England (I’m not rubbing in anything, that was the fact). However you and I have played just about the same amount of International rugby so we both have contributed to up keeping the game into a good standard from our respective positions, so we have a lot more in common than two people that meet for first time in a bar as we did.A day before Easter 2013 the BBC Radio 5 Live put together a program about the scrum conducted by Eleanour Oldroyd, interviewing a large group of about 10 scrum experts. You were in studio with Phil Vickery. Also Phil Keith-Roach, John Jeffrey, Mike Cron, Nigel Owens, myself and others were interviewed too by phone about these changes that have now taken place. (this is the intro for the readers, nothing else). In the subtitle you mentioned:“DISSAFECTION AMONGST MAJORITY OF RUGBY PEOPLE WITH ELITE-LEVEL SCRUM”ETR – I think it could be useful to ask ourselves Why Is It So? (Prof. Julius Summer Millerin his Cadbury’s chocolate adds) can answer that question or provide a reason why?
a) It has taken an inordinate amount of time for the IRB to fix this problem which started around 2003-2004. You may remember Ben Darwin suffering a spinal accident in the semi-final against NZ where Kees Meuws increased his estimation 1000 fold within the rugby community because he stopped the pushing without hesitating and protecting Ben from further damage. I’m sure this incident has been in the back of the minmds of many IRB personnel and Countries’ delegates.
b) For the last 10 years approx. we have had 3 “trials with lots of errors”. The outcomes have not been positive. In fact these failed attempts have weakened the scrum structure because many people (coaches and players, a bit like your Aviva Premiership) tried to fix it “domestically” and without regard for the other competitors.
c) I support the intervention of the IRB, however I also encourage them to be more expeditive and precise, including consultation at ALL LEVELS, because in this particular case it has not been so. I’m well aware that an elite of a dozen coaches get to express their opinions and work at it.
d) You as a lawyer would appreciate that LAW MAKING is not a job for coaches, referees or insurance assesors.
What has the IRB done? It has altered the engagement sequence to effect a 25 per cent reduction in the force of impact on engagement. This minimises the dangers that were clearly identified during a comprehensive three-year study, but that is all that is new.
ETR – It is pertinent to mention here, THE HIT was a pernicious and dangerous practice that grew out of the players’ frustration with the appearance of the maligned sequence: C-T-P-E and the referees varying the timing between steps (something that should have never occurred).
More importantly, the IRB has instructed all referees to strictly apply the existing scrum laws, as clearly shown in its notes to elite referees.
ETR – I’m in full favour of applying the existing scrum laws: a) Scrum square; b) scrum Stationery; c) Ball put-in straight in the middle of the tunnel.
All players and coaches have to do is use the slightly amended sequence and comply with existing laws – ones that work.
ETR – In my opinion, “the slightly amended engagement sequence” doesn’t go far enough TO EXTIPATE THE CANCER. Two steps is the safest and most efficient option: CROUCH & PACK (less is MOORE) LOL
Last month I addressed the IRB and its top 21 world referees to reiterate the importance of the existing laws, which mandate a straight feed and no early shove.
ETR – I won’t suggest for a second that the above IRB meeting was a PR exercise, yet by the tone of your article it appears you have been converted Brian!
Though there seemed genuine intent to correct previous omissions there was also palpable angst about the flak this would attract. The referees must remember that the IRB makes laws and players and coaches comply, not the other way round.
ETR – And as I said above, neither players, nor coaches, nor referees should be nowhere near a Professional Law Making Session.
The scrum drawing in your article No 2 is incorrect, it must be reversed. The backs parallel to the ground (90 °) is a reflection of the previous engagement with both packs formed at arm’s length apart. Today, with the NEW sequence there is no launching (THE HIT) so the legs are extended and backs are upright position (135°). In my view this is a significant increase in RISK.
They have widespread support when they are firm and consistent and it will not be their fault if they have continually to penalise players who refuse to play within long-standing laws.
ETR – This is the function of the referee especially with particularly stubborn coaches and players.
The IRB and all true rugby fans have to back them and refute the gibberish already being spoken about this crucial issue. If they bottle it or gradually tolerate illegalities they will get – and deserve – no sympathy.
ETR – If the IRB gets their consultation processes right, including PR exercises and maintaining the rugby people informed, reducing “secrecy” they will have much better response from the rugby followers.
Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby, castigated the IRB for making changes without consulting Aviva Premiership coaches. He added, splenetically: “It seems that if you are a [radio or TV] commentator and you whinge long enough about it, the law makers will do something about it.”
I do not know who he is talking about, but I do know the coaches were asked to comment collectively, and indeed their own players commented through David Barnes of the Rugby Players Association.
Moreover, since when has he needed an invitation to comment on anything and why are their views special, particularly when only two played in the front row? Even assuming Richard could have managed a meeting with the IRB in between disciplinary hearings, his contribution would have mirrored his further words. “I am not bothered about crooked feeds,” he said. “You have a whole generation of hookers that have never hooked. It’s a pushing contest, not a hooking contest.”
ETR – Have read previous comments by Mr. Cockerill, it appears to me he needs to go to Scrum School to straighten up a few facts and myths.
It is understood that a Professional Law Maker would be equanimous, level tempered, objective and a professional devoted to detail. On the other hand those coaches you have mentioned have only regard for themselves, their salary, their team and their club in that order. A long explanation to say THEY LACK OBJECTIVITY!
It would have been like asking an MP 10 years ago whether there was anything wrong with their expenses system. Rob Baxter, the head coach of Exeter, wrote a blog on this which is little more than a collection of non-sequiturs. He fears the de-powering of the scrum, claiming props such as Jason Leonard and Gareth Chilcott will disappear under the new laws, without appreciating that they played under the very laws he now criticises. Astonishingly, he avers: “These new engagement laws could just be the thin end of the wedge as we head towards a game where the scrum is simply a method for restarting play,” before adding: “instead of depowering the scrum we should make it an even bigger contest.”
ETR – Well, well, well, now am very serious about the SCRUM SCHOOL, and I’d like to be in the examination panel to see a fee disjointed faces. Mr Baxter, what we should make bigger is the exit door! Let me just explain something very simple indeed, rugby 2013 is a combination of The Game, The Show and The Business, which you appear to have no idea of neither of the three.
The scrum is specifically defined as a means of restarting play, it is not meant to be the boring, dangerous penalty-fest it has become.
ETR – Brian, sorry Not so! The Law provides for what CAN BE DONE and what CANNOT BE DONE. Nevertheless, not HOW IS DONE (this is the tactical domain, decided by players and coaches). Not the Law, Not the referee, Not the IRB. (is this clear?). Those tactical mix are a team’s prerogative.
When a team knock on or pass forward the other side are supposed to have a good chance of getting the ball to play with, not face being penalised if they have a weaker scrum. Baxter, like Cockerill, accepts no responsibility for exploiting weak referees and coaching his players illegally to bind, shove, feed and not hook, when he writes: “For me this latest change to the engagement laws has almost been forced through by public demand, without commentators and supporters alike really appreciating the impact this could have on the game.” They are joined by my old school colleague Jim Mallinder, the Northampton coach, in alleging that some sort of agenda is being pursued. Change has been forced because of the level of discontent, which they purposely refuse to recognise.
ETR _We need a bit of objectivity in this debate, this group of Premiership Rugby coaches and the IRB have a big emotional issue in their hands. With objectivity we all need to look at the etiology of the problem. Another hint, many times conflicts and fights arise not so much because WHAT WAS SAID but because THE WAY AND MANNERS in which it was said. The IRB has in recent times a poor record on Law Making (already expressed).
Me personally I’m not against change and adaptation but we must remember that the unnecessary tinkering of the laws has LOST FAITH and disenfranchised a lot of rugby followers. They had several attempts at RE-SKILLING and we are still on trial an error? Brian recently you claimed in your column “THIS IS THE LAST CHANCE WE HAVE TO GET THE SCRUM RIGHT”. Well, I completely disagree because “technically” there are still a number of things that can be done to improve it. The fact that the IRB only listens to 12 or so coaches proves to me they have not exhausted the avenues.
The agenda is simply to get the IRB to enforce its own laws: the likely impact is that the scrum is re-skilled, not de-powered. Those resisting change are already cynically playing the safety card and take note how this fraudulent line is pedalled in coming months.
ETR – From now on I will start talking about “scrum stigma” because stigma is an euphemism for “Ignorance”. Hence the unfounded fears, scare mongering, etc. etc.
The Australian Rugby Club television show, Cockerill and Baxter allege that enforcing the laws is dangerous because the striking hooker has to take his weight on his non-striking foot and is vulnerable when eight opposition players push against his seven colleagues. Yes. It is called hooking; the clue is in the name.
ETR – The TV comment was made by Phil Kearns, also a hooker and I dare say you would have played against him afew times. It is quite funny to me that you mentioned the program and not the player. Conversely, in your case I’never seen a heading say:The BBC is in favour of……..
If the claim is correct it must be the case that the greater the disparity in weight and power between packs, the greater the danger. At senior level you rarely get a vast imbalance in size and strength.
ETR – Yes, I agree that the new laws favours bigger packs! Also you cannot swipe across the board with such a generalization and eliminate the considerations for the safety factor (see below “alleged safety debate). Brian you got me confused by switching allegiances quite rapidly from Prosecutor to Defense lawyer and Judge? Any exception to the rule could be catastrophic. Aren’t we all here because the safety aspect of the scrum? Well, I thought that is what I was sold, or attempted to.
At lower levels there is often great disparity but no big increase in injuries – the claim is nonsense. This is the crucial point in this alleged safety debate – the full weight of the opposition shove cannot legally come until the ball leaves the scrum-half’s hands and referees must make sure that it does not.
ETR – In full agreement with you here as per long standing law!
If this is enforced, a hooker’s strike takes literally one second and this hooking window allows weaker packs to get the ball away before being shoved off the ball. Now they say they know it is dangerous, are they still going to coach their players to shove early and illegally? Cockerill knows this is disingenuous because he had a long and illustrious career when the laws were applied.
ETR – Not so Brian, there is still a greater opportunity for an equal team that pushes with 16 legs instead of 15. This actually increases the danger for the 6 front rowers. I insist that’s the reason the referee is there, to penalize them off the park until they learn the correct way.
He managed to strike without difficulty, usually against much bigger and more powerful opponents.
Why, then, does he say this? It is because having to time a shove is much more difficult and not always successful as it may come too early and get penalised or too late, by which time the ball is out.
ETR – This is a team’s tactical prerogative and as such the referee should not interfere with it.
What he and coaches with powerful scrums want to maintain is their advantage, whereby dominant packs shove illegally on engagement and deny the opposition this crucial hooking window. The elite game could, if it wanted to, help us all by simply teaching players how to hook and scrummage within the laws.
ETR – They will be penalized accordingly, in the past were assisted by the Law and the Referee.
It would not take long: they all start from the same point and they have all day to practice.
That they are determined not to do it is evidenced by Cockerill’s uncorroborated claim that “the hooking thing and debate about the feed … are long gone.” Really? When did this take place? When did rugby decide that one level of the game did not have to obey its laws?
ETR – 100% agreement on thisone: That’s why we have the Laws to govern and uniform the whole world on one thing SCRUMS, and not just a small “Town Hall Edict”.
If they want this, they should have the courage to propose and persuade the IRB to pass different laws.
ETR – I believe there is an appropriate channel to put forward ideas about modifications and changes (I can tell you it hasn’t been the most accessible one). On the other hand the likes of Brian go through their posts in the media. Personally opted for writing a book that took me 17 years to complete.
They should not seek to force the rest of the game to accept what they want through selfish disobedience.
Make no mistake, this is the final battle for the union scrum; if the elite game deliberately sabotages this initiative, the scrum might as well be the same as in league.
ETR – Brian, I’m sorry, completely disagree, I’ve already given several pointers here that can and should be addressed. We have not mentioned the referees’ performances. They are like house: some are great, others average and other very poor.
I believe Referees should be given MORE DISCRETION to prioritise their rulings with OUTCOMES over PROCESS and MINUTIAE. Also to be ENABLER JUDGES of Supreme Court and not knit picking constables. The figure of the referee should be elevated and no conversation should take place while the game is ON (only on stoppages could address captains only).
Enrique TOPO Rodriguez