The hit is a miss

January 7, 2013
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This time of year rugby lovers (in the Southern Hemisphere) are forced to sit through the best Europe has to offer if they want their weekly rugby union fix and it has been interesting in some aspects to see what is happening up North.

One of the observation I made personally was the difference in how the ruck is policed by the Northern Hemisphere ref’s compared to the boys with the whistle down South.  Now this is not an observation of who is right or who is wrong (I think both spheres get it wrong) but it does concern me that international referees who are appointed to officiate in tests have such a different approach to this area of the game.

Everyone would have heard commentators and players mention that the major difference between the game up North and how it’s played in the South is the pace at which it is played and how there is more of a focus on forward play by the mud-men.  For me the difference between the two Hemispheres is down to one thing, the ruck.

If you have watched any of the games from Europe in recent weeks you might have picked up like I did how players are allowed to slow down the ball at the tackled area usually by the assisting tackler.  There does not seem to be much focus on the actual turning over of the ball but rather just to slow down or prevent the tackled player from placing the ball immediately (the daylight rule as we know it).  The result of this is a slow, predictable game played for 80% of the time between the big fellas in the first two channels (and of course loads of kicking).

The second thing I observed was the complete mess at scrum time.  This however is not down to what is happening in Northern Hemisphere rugby alone but has been a major area of concern all over the world for the last couple of years.

I found it quite ironic when Leicester coach, Richard Cockerill slammed a referee recently for having no clue on how the scrum works only for his team to be awarded a contentious penalty try from a scrum in the 80th minute of their game over the weekend to gift them a win and of course, complete silence from the coach.

Last week I posted a column quoting Rugby 365’s Paul Dobson on things referees seemingly get wrong at scrum time which resulted in some interesting comments from our readers.  Far be it from me to claim that I am an expert of front-row play but given the high standard of coverage we have these days on television and the different angles on replays there is one simple thing in my opinion that will eliminate 90% of the problems at the scrum – and that is the hit.

Commentators over the weekend made an interesting comment during one of the French Top 14 games where they mentioned that as much as referees need to get it right at scrums, a lot of responsibility must also shift towards the players.  When front rows speak of scrumming you will often hear them refer to it as the ‘dark art’ suggesting that employing illegal tactics to deliberately manipulate referees in penalising opposition players is par for course.  Some front row experts or players can also confirm this for me (or tell me I am speaking rubbish) but I would go as far as to say that 90% of these ‘tactics’ are used on the actual hit where the scrum according to most, is won or lost.

I have some sympathy for referees at scrum time.  How is it possible to get decisions right for most of the time when you have around 350kg’s of prime beef from each side crash into each other from various angles sometimes using illegal tactics?  In fact, why even have a phase of play (the hit) dictate the course of play through penalties or re-sets when the ball is not actually in play or being contested for?

The scrum in union is essentially a phase of the game where play is restarted but most importantly where teams can legally contest for possession using power and skill.

The laws of the game allow teams to ‘come together’ at scrum time and I cannot find one reason why this should not be the case instead of hit nonsense.

In fact, if we can have a stable, steady scrum before the ball is fed referees might be able to better judge angles of scrumming or any other illegal tactic used by the front row – not to mention feeding the bloody ball in straight to start with.

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29 Comments

  1. avatar Morné says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I promise I did not read this article as a base for mine, just picked it up, also dealing with scrum issues.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/9783925/Referees-must-police-elite-scrums-for-rugbys-sake.html

  2. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Time for the hit to go…

  3. avatar The Year of the Cheetah says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 11:05 am:

    The hit must go? What will happen to the game if we nop longer have to see fatarses collapse 4 times before a penalty is blown? Its already so much fun seeing the same fatarses maul every line-out illegally and then stand with their fatarses in the backline to kill every backline ball.

    I say keep the hit until we all die from boredom

  4. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Reply to The Year of the Cheetah @ 11:28 am:

    Yes indeed (not the shove)… read the article for the reasons why… many games are seeing up to 10 mins in resets thanks to the current system and the inability to correctly police it…

    Besides I thought 7′s was more you style anyways?

  5. avatar The Year of the Cheetah says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Reply to bryce_in_oz @ 11:55 am:

    glad you and the world now realise this. I have been bitching like a girlsblouse for 4 years over the resets.

    I am not a big fan of sevens.

    If cheetahs can learn to make man on man tackles they will play the perfect game in my opinion. 15 man game with ball doing the work.

  6. avatar Timeo says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    For a start they should change the referee’s role from directing the scrum to policing the scrum. Just like for line-outs and penalties, the timing of the scrum should be determined by the team in possession and not by the referee.

    Next there are a number of options to de-power the hit and shift the power contest to after the ball is in play.

    And lastly a scrum penalty should never result in another scrum for the same team in the same spot. That is completely pointless.

  7. avatar Morné says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Reply to Timeo @ 4:46 pm:

    The timing of the actual scrum (should be determined by the team in possession) sure, not the ‘hit’ rubbish.

    And as far as your second sentence goes I am confused – because the ball is only in play after the hit currently.

  8. avatar Timeo says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Reply to Morné @ 6:23 pm:

    I think the referee should referee and not choreograph the game like they do at the scrum. Rugby must be the only sport where this is the case.
    If they must have a hit, they should find a way for the attacking team to determine the timing. Eg. The referee says “go” when he determines both teams are ready and after that the attacking team’s hooker or prop has a few seconds to lead the hit. The contest start when he moves. The put-in may happen at the same moment or be delayed. Any player on either team that moves before this player is penalized. This will allow them to police the put-in strictly (like they do at the line-out) whilst still giving the attacking team an advantage.

    The second part has to do with the fact that currently the laws say that the contest may only start when the ball is put in, but the reality is that it starts at the hit. If they really want the contest to start with the put-in, they need to remove or de-power the hit in some way. Perhaps if they require the props to bind and hold their opponent’s jersey in the upright position, before the engage, the power hit will be impossible.

  9. avatar Timeo says:
    January 7th, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    I also think that the scrum presents rugby with an intractable problem. A real contested scrum has safety hazards that our modern sensibilities cannot accept, so they face the stark choice of continuing with the current farce or admitting that league was correct and scrapping the scrum completely.

  10. avatar Morné says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Reply to Timeo @ 10:48 pm:

    I cannot see that work, it complicates the hit more than anything else and the problem with this is added danger and more risk to injury.

    This hit is the only instance from what I can think of where there is a contest between teams without the ball being in play. It is silly and makes zero sense.

    Reply to Timeo @ 11:13 pm:

    Rugby in itself is a safety hazard. For me the most dangerous area of the scrum is the hit – get rid of it. It will allow refs to police like you say and not instruct.

  11. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

    Reply to Morné @ 7:45 am:

    Stoepid vraag:
    Ek dink op laerskool sak die drie rye vir die skrum
    afsonderlik.
    Wat sal gebeur as die senior voorrye eerste sak, stewig staan, gevolg deur die slotte en losvoorspelers?
    Kan dit werk as die bal reguit ingegooi word?

  12. avatar Morné says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Reply to Boertjie @ 1:23 pm:

    Jy is reg, ek is nie seker of dit nog so werk nie maar op skool sak die voorry eerste, dan slotte, dan loosies. Ek kan nie sien hoekom dit nie kan werk op senior vlak nie.

    Dit is juis wat Brian Moore in sy artikel noem as jy kyk na my eerste comment. Hy vra die vraag of skrums op junior vlak ‘n probleem is (dit is nie) en trek dan die gevolgtrekking dat dit is omdat die reels daar toegepas word en daar ook nie ‘n ‘hit’ is nie.

  13. avatar Methos The French Stormer says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Hier by ons in Frankryk word daar net in die top 3 ligas geskrum. Na dit word daar geset, gebind, en die bal word ingegooi – reguit… En jy mag net 1.5m stoot. Dan moet jy stop. Van volgende seisoen af mag ons weer 5m stoot. Die skrum hier is om die game weer aan die gang te kry na klein fout – en ook hoe om die fight te begin.

    Almal sak – en dan word die haker geslaan en dan skop die fight af. Sal eendag bietjie ‘n video van een van ons games post – Malligheid

    Cheers

  14. avatar DavidS says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    I’m thinking that the old 1970s style of getting the guys to bind without a bind and then the ball straight put in was the right way as the scrum is supposed to be an equal contest for the ball.

  15. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Daar is in die ou dae baie vaskoppe gehaak,
    veral in die Bokke se weekwedstryde.
    Toe spanne nog gestraf is vir skeef ingooi.

  16. avatar Timeo says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    The problem is, how do you get the scrum to be really low without a hit? I don’t think it is possible.
    An upright prop is more likely to be injured and the forces on the prop’s back in the pros are much higher than at junior level.

  17. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 8th, 2013 at 10:55 pm

    As die voorrye ver genoeg van mekaar
    staan, kan hulle tog seker nie te regop
    sak nie?

  18. avatar Timeo says:
    January 9th, 2013 at 2:11 am

    Reply to Boertjie @ 10:55 pm:

    Hoe bind jy sonder ‘n “hit” as jy ver van mekaar staan? Die “hit” is tog ‘n vorentoe val wat deur die opponent gestop word.

    Eers gaan die hand op die grond moet wees en daarna moet die twee stutte in balans teen mekaar druk om stabiel te bly. Wat is die kans dat stutte ‘n mooi reverdige belans behou terwyl die res van die skrum gevorm word?
    Nul!
    Daar gaan ‘n stoei geveg wees lank voor die bal in die skrum is en ‘n groter gemors as die huidige.

  19. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    January 9th, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Watch footage of the 60′s and 70′s and the “HIT” is not as prominent because the ref controlled when the push came. The scrum is bound and stable and no pushing until the ball is put in. Worked then and it could work now without much change – just drop the importance of the hit by after binding give the scrum time to settle before feeding the ball.

    See this game as example:

  20. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 9th, 2013 at 5:41 pm

    So why and when did the scrums – which worked
    perfectly in the old days – change to the
    current shit we have?
    Only problem with scrums I recall is Wilson
    Whineray continuously popping out of the
    scrums in the 1960 series vs the Boks.

  21. avatar Timeo says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 4:52 am

    The hit was not designed or legislated by the IRB. It “evolved by natural selection”. It created an advantage and thus everyone had to adapt or be pushed around. To think that we could go back to a pre-hit situation without a comprehensive re-design of scrum laws is like thinking humans would go back to living in the trees again.

    Not a chance.

    The referee will have to police the props binding, making sure no team is sneaking in a hit and then also ensure they do not start to push while he ensures that the two sets of locks bind without a hit and a push, and then the same for two sets of loosies, all the while keeping an eye on the props making sure they lean nicely against each other without wrestling and collapsing until the put-in.

    Think we have a mess now? Think again.

  22. avatar Timeo says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 5:14 am

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 2:38 pm:

    I see NZ was still using their wing for the line-out throw-in, while the Barbarians were using their hooker.

  23. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 10:55 am

    Reply to Timeo @ 4:52 am:

    disagree – the ref has the scrum set and gets them to be stable before he lets the 9 anywhere close to feeding. This will take the advantage away from the hit.
    Anything is better than the current mess – take out the hit and the collapsing will be reduced dramatically.

    Reply to Timeo @ 5:14 am:

    I use my 9 at times to throw in at the LO becasue he is the most accurate/experienced (able to read the situation) when my 1st choice hooker is not playing.

  24. avatar JT_BOKBEFOK! says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 11:05 am

    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 10:55 am:

    Another option on reducing the hit is having the opposing front-rows bind before the rest of the scrum.
    At the moment you have the 8 players on each side pack up and then “engage” with the hit.
    In the old days the scrum bound in all sorts of ways – see video in a previous post. So another suggestion is the have the front-row set and engage and then the 2nd rowers and flankers can join. This will reduce the power of that hit, the importance of the hit and also will save a lot of medical bills…

  25. avatar Methos The French Stormer says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    JT

    Only on the side where the camera was. On the far side it was the hooker that threw in.

    The 14 chucked in the ball like he was lobbing a grenade. And the one barbarian that threw in held the ball between his legs and then launched it.

    Cheers

  26. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Reply to Methos The French Stormer @ 2:43 pm:

    I thought in France it was squeeze, dip… all in brawl?

  27. avatar Methos The French Stormer says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 2:23 pm

    Bryce – That is what I said didn’t I? When my bloody PC works I’ll post a video off our game last year – 37 seconds into the match and all out brawl in first scrum. 2 reds for them and 1 for us.

    Cheers

  28. avatar bryce_in_oz says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Reply to Methos The French Stormer @ 2:23 pm:

    Haha exactly… I’ve been loving watching the ESPN footage whilst there is no other rugby on tele…

  29. avatar Boertjie says:
    January 10th, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Reply to Timeo @ 4:52 am:

    As ek reg onthou kon die skrums nie begin
    stoot voordat die bal in was nie.
    Dit was op ‘n baie lae vlak, maar ek was
    nooit in ‘n skrum wat geval of oorgeskrum
    moes word nie.
    Kan ook nie onthou dat dit in toetse gebeur
    het nie.

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