Fears that the new scrum engagement sequence could decide the outcome of matches are dominating the build-up to the opening round of the Rugby Championship.
Australia host New Zealand in the tournament opener in Sydney on Saturday, hours before South Africa and Argentina go head-to-head in Soweto – in Round One matches in this Southern Hemisphere showpiece.
However, it is in the build-up to the Sydney Test where fears have been expressed that the new scrum sequence could have a telling effect
IRB and SANZAR have dictated that players must use the new rules this weekend, instead of coming to grips with them in Super Rugby, and while the All Blacks got a taste of them in last Friday’s training games, scrum guru Mike Cron admits the changes are taking some getting used to.
Props will now be required to lock arms and bind properly, rather than just touch and then smash into each other with brutal force, in a move that administrators hope will reduce the amount of reset scrums.
Test matches are so often won and lost in the front row, and the All Blacks are eager to prevent Saturday’s Rugby Championship and Bledisloe opener becoming a penalty fest.
“Hopefully the referees allow a wee bit of time for learning and so long as it’s positive learning and not skullduggery, I think they’ll allow us to find our way,” Cron said.
“There could be some teething problems early on while players are adapting, but I think they’ll adapt and adjust pretty quickly.”
Wallaby hooker Stephen Moore expressed similar sentiments, saying it will take time for the new scrum calls to make their mark, while his team look to restore their own scrum’s reputation against New Zealand this Saturday.
“Everyday we’re learning, and me included, because it’s all new to me,” Cron told ONE Sport.
“They [players] are getting there and the general feeling from them is they like it. They think once they get a bit more practice at it [that] it will be good. They are positive about it.”
The All Blacks’ practice runs against Canterbury and Wellington last Friday saw several collapsed scrums, but Cron believed much of the issues there could be attributed to the difference in class between the front rows.
“That was messy at times,” Cron acknowledged. “We’ve got to be careful because we had international props and some of the opposition at times had like club props, so that can be different.
“We’ll know a heck of a lot more after our Test match on Saturday against Australia – and so will they.”
The changes come as the IRB look to increase player safety and improve the game as a spectacle by reducing the number of reset scrums and penalties, Cron said.
“The purpose is, first thing was player safety, and the second thing was to, particularly at the top level, try to reduce resets, penalties, and free kicks,” he said.
“In 12 months’ time we’ll know more but what’s happened with the new law, it depowers the scrum by up to 24 percent on the hit, and after that it is more stable, so that’s why theoretically there should be less resets.”
Moore said he expected Saturday’s match to be a learning experience for everyone, including referee Craig Joubert, and expected some teething problems.
“Obviously the aim of the new calls is to tidy up the scrum and have less collapses and make it less of a time waster in rugby,” Moore told AAP.
“If that’s what it achieves then I think it’s good, but I think it will take a while for us to see that.
“It is a bit of a different style for the front rowers and the whole forward pack to adapt to, so I’m not expecting it to be 100 percent perfect straight away.
“I’m sure the referees will be well aware of that, and they are the same, they wouldn’t have refereed it before.”
Moore said the Wallabies had been working hard on their scrummaging after being comprehensively outplayed in that area in the final British and Irish Lions Test.
“For the most part of that Lions series we scrummaged really well, it was just on that we let ourselves down a little bit there, and our strategy maybe wasn’t where we needed it to be,” Moore said.
” I thought to their credit as well, they scrummaged really well on that and their plan worked really well.
“Those kind of nights happen, you’ve got to take it on the chin and move on and we certainly need to scrummage well in the Rugby Championship.
“In any Test match the set piece is crucial. This is going to be no different, so we know the importance of it.
“If we want to get a result, we’ve got to be strong in that area, so that’s what we’re working hard towards,” he said.
Sources: TVNZ’s One News & AAP