They were hoping that this will then result in lesser penalties and more attacking rugby. The law forces the front rows to be engaged and be steady before the ball is put in, taking away the big hit of the two packs.
In the first international match with the new scrum law in place, New Zeeland took on the Australians and of the thirteen scrums in the match only one was reset due to a collapse after the feed.
Also, of the thirteen scrums set in the match only two where collapsed on the hit where both occasions Ben Alexander went down on his knees. The referee did not penalise Alexander on any of these collapses, which was a good call as Alexander got up on both occasions before the ball was fed into the scrum.
The biggest concern in the application of the new law is still before the ball is put into the scrum because we have each referee concentrating on a different aspect prior to the feed.
Western Province coach Allister Coetzee said this week that he hoped the referees will settle quickly on a standard with the new laws as every referee seems to allow different things when it comes to scrum time. The frustration for coaches and players that came out the past few weeks was that assistant referees who stands 50 meters makes a call on the scrums and communicates this through to the referee which comes as a delayed call in a match situation.
One aspect of the new law which is causing a stir is the crooked feed by scrumhalves. The referee seems to give a free kick at the first crooked feed followed by a full-arm penalty for a repeat offense. Continued feeds which don’t meet the referee’s standards have also seen yellow cards being issued (even if it was not the same scrumhalf).
It all seems a bit silly to issue yellow cards for this type of offense and one thing that would be interesting is to see whether referees will continue with this script or calm down.
I support any new law that will give the ball more air and force teams to play attractive rugby. We will follow the stats carefully in the next few weeks to see what the trend will be with the players adopting and referees consistency in the game. But given what we have seen so far I am not holding my breath.
For instance, the first test of the law at a set piece at international level came after 10 minutes of New Zealand’s 47-29 victory over Australia at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday.
The first effort collapsed just as surely as it would have under the old laws and at the reset, Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia was penalized with a free kick for not putting the ball in straight.
The straight feed has long been a law more honoured in the breach but confusion reigned when All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith was allowed to get away with a similarly crooked introduction of the ball at the next scrum.
South African referee Craig Joubert blew up for a crooked feed for around a third of the scrums, leaving Wallabies coach Ewen McKenzie to describe the set piece as a “lottery for both sides”.
While there was clearly no sign of the advantage to the Australian front row that some observers had anticipated, Wallabies skipper James Horwill thought the laws would work better once everybody got used to them. “It was a bit of a feeling out process for everyone, including the referees,” said the second row forward. “Obviously, they’re going to be pretty strict on the feed and we will learn from that.”
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, with more than a hint of sarcasm, described the scrums as “great”. “We have just created another issue, haven’t we? So once we get that sorted out and halfbacks put the ball in straight we’ll be fine,” he said. “Obviously at the moment the referees are being very vigilant on it, so you had two sets of halfbacks out there who, every time there was a scrum, were very reluctant to put the ball in because they didn’t want to be yellow carded.”
Another team looking for advantage under the new law was Argentina’s Pumas, but if it gave them any edge, it scarcely made a difference as they were humbled 73-13 by South Africa in Soweto.
The fans at Soccer City had to wait less than a minute for the first scrum in this match but it ended in the same way as that in Sydney with the referee blowing up for a free kick.
This was the first of a couple of decisions against the Pumas front row for not binding properly by New Zealander Chris Pollock, who was even stricter on the crooked feed than Joubert had been in Australia.
Everybody expected the new law to take some time to bed in but it looks to be the halfbacks, required to bring an end to decades of lobbing the ball under the boots of their locks, rather than props and hookers who have most to learn.
“We said there would be teething problems but the great thing is we didn’t have too many collapses,” Hansen added. “Once we iron out the whole thing and get used to it, I think it will be great for the game.”
So let’s wait and see…