Has new engagement sequence fixed the scrum?
Crouch, touch, pause, engage has been banished to the history books with the shorter more precise crouch, touch, set being introduced this season. Josh Kewell examines the impact after the first weekend of matches.
I understood the need for safety, and in 2007 when it was introduced, the four step series seemed to be the answer – fixing the distance between the front rows would decrease the impact. However the idea of telling nearly two tonnes of muscle and power to pause is simply ludicrous and with the rate of collapses at the top of the game seemingly never ending, the IRB has acted in both the interest of player safety and the spectacle of the game itself.
Let us look at the sequence. First the idea is to crouch and touch as per the old call, making sure that the two scrums are within an arms length of each other. ‘Set’ now replaces engage as the trigger call – part of the reason to change the word is that the new call is one syllable as apposed to engage being two. Professional rugby is now so marginal that front rows would react on the ‘E’ of engage meaning one could have an advantage over the other if they react quicker. With the use of set, referees should be more able to judge infringements and more importantly make the right call instead of the lottery of penalties that ended last season.
So how will the game change both from the view of a player and a spectator? As a spectator, so far so good. Over this last weekend I watched the beginning of the season with a remarkable air of wonderment. Scrums did seem to be staying up and they were competitive. Treviso v Ospreys was a bore fest played out in very wet and windy conditions at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo, but the scrums were in good shape. Both teams seemed willing to stay up and contest the ball, Treviso even did the unthinkable and won the ball against the head with a clean strike. One or two scrums did go down: one sticks in the mind from the Ospreys who deliberately went to ground to avoid being shunted back. A few were reset due to slips, but other than that I was amazed to see upright scrums competing with each other.
As a player the three calls took me a little by surprise. They are much sharper than expected and the scrums seemed to collide much more quickly. Officials can really bark out the orders and can clearly see who is going early to win the hit, leading to fairer, more justified penalties.
All in all these new calls seem to be taking the game back in the right direction. One thing for sure is that rugby can never lose the scrum. It makes the game what it is, and the idea that two packs of men can collide in a test of strength, power and technique is unique to our game and can never be lost. Hopefully these new engagement criteria will help to right the scrum and make it an even contest, and if the IRB would just sort those crooked feeds, I will be a happy man.
By Josh Kewell