Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Importance of the Scrum

So last Friday a handful of collegiate coaches got together, and over a brew, discussed several things rugby.

One topic that game up was the importance of coaching position specific skills. The majority of us present considered ourselves "Tight Five Specialists" (so many coaches come from the tight five!!!), which sparked a discussion of how important, REALLY, it is to provide position specific coaching at the collegiate level.

We did not agree. This was nice, as it sparked much interesting discussion.

One coach was of the mind that the amount of time spent coaching the skill of scrummaging should directly equate to the amount of time spend scrummaging in a game. And, since scrums come largely from handling errors (forward passes, knock-ons), a team that handles well will have less scrums. So, the idea was proposed, spend more time on handling and less on scrums.

Basically, the idea was, our time with the team is limited, and should be focused on the activities the players spend most of their time doing on the pitch.

In my gut, I see the point, but don't agree. First phase possession is where it all starts - if your backs can launch off an attacking platform (a scrum moving forward), they will be more successful. If your back row can launch off a neatly executed controlled wheel, they will be more successful.

If, rugby-gods-forgive, your scrum starts turning over your own possession, its really seems to demoralize the whole team.

So I thought to myself, how much time really IS spent scrummaging, and how many opportunities to attack come from a scrum? Looking in my match stats from past games, it seems that there was a low of 15 and a high of 31 scrums in an 80 minute match. Since scrummaging is so closely related to handling, I thought to investigate the pros ..

Guess what I found? According to, in this last round of November tests, there was a low of 15 scrums and a high of 28 scrums. That's not any different than collegiate women! I suppose that the handling skills are better, and probablly so is the defensive pressure, which forces errors.

So me personally, I can't underestimate the power or significance of the scrum - no way. I've seen games played where the offense were DREADFUL ball handlers, and it didn't matter, because every single time there was a knock on, whether it was their put-in or not, they got the ball back. It didn't make for pretty rugby, and it sure sucked for the more dynamic, more mobile team, but the scrummaging team walked away with a win. Does that mean I want MY team to be dreadful ball handlers? No. Of course not. I, like everyone, want to minimize the times we turn over the ball.

But we scrum when the OPPOSITION turns over the ball too, and I want to put as much pressure as possible when THEY turn over the ball and WE get a scrum. I definitely don't want to give up that ball, and if possible, I want the win the engagement and get them moving away from our back line before we even start our attack. That means scrum, and scrum BIG.

Seriously, doesn't it put fear into everyone when the team you are playing has solid scrummagers, and suddenly there is a 5 meter scrum in your red zone, on the left side of the field? How many games have been won or lost that way?

Will the new engagement laws change the power of the scrum? I guess we'll have to wait and see. Here's an article about it on - Next year's Super 14 will be the litmus test.

Concern over saftey-first scrum laws.


OBG said...

I agree with you that you can't take a percentage-time-in-a-game-vs.-practice approach. You have to win your set piece. I'm sure every team is different but I have 7 years of statistics that show me if I win 80%+ of my put and steal 30%+ of theirs, we win (usually). And that counts "bad ball" (we won the hook but it's so bad coming out that it might as well be a loss).

Here's something interesting from an old coach when I was a player. He said, "whoever has first possession of the ball, I want you to knock it on. I don't care where you are or what you can do with it. You knock it on. And then we'll send a message to the other team with our first scrum." I don't recommend the strategy, but that's how important he thought demoralizing the opposition scrum was to the game.

OBG said...

Oh, and happy birthday. Love your blog.