Could an answer to the game’s most problematic area, the scrum, be on the horizon?
Just maybe, says former All Blacks loose-head prop Carl Hoeft. And it involves fewer collapses, easier decisions for referees and, crucially, rewards for superior technique.
Hoeft’s voice is important for three reasons. First, he is not long out of his playing career. Second, after winning 30 All Blacks caps he spent six and half seasons in France and understands and respects the scrum mentalities in both hemispheres. And third, he’s at the coal face.
In his job as scrum coach for the Chiefs’ development side he has been working under an IRB trial that reduces the impact of the scrum “hit”.
Hoeft likes what his sees, and his feedback will go directly to the governing body.
“There is a lot less impact in the hit, so in that regard it’s a lot more stable and you’re not finding as many collapses, and it gets the game started quicker,” Hoeft says. “It will take props back to really having to use technique rather than sheer momentum on the hit.”
Hoeft has been mentoring his props in the Pacific Rugby Cup, an IRB competition involving emerging talent from the Australian and New Zealand franchises against development sides from Japan, Fiji, Samoa and Tonga.
In an attempt to clean up the scrum, which has increasingly left players, coaches and fans confused and exasperated, the IRB has been trying out a new engagement process that requires the props to “pre-bind” – effectively engage – rather than charging at each other like crazed bulls.
“The difference is that you’re a lot closer,” Hoeft says. “On the ‘touch’ [call] you get a pre-bind, so your head is almost half in already.”
The result is simple. The impact of the “hit” has been reduced – significantly. In fact, All Blacks scrum guru Mike Cron recently said 25 per cent of its impact had disappeared, along with all the instability that brought.
Has the new process removed some of the guesswork from officials if a scrum does go down?
“I think so,” Hoeft says. “If you get a bad hit, the way the rules are currently, there’s actually an opportunity for props to take the scrum down. This way it becomes a lot more obvious if you take the scrum down when you’re setting up bound-up already.”
Of course, there will always be suspicions, especially from the northern hemisphere, that any attempt to change the scrum is a sneaky ploy from the south to depower it. But Hoeft, with his respect of French scrummaging fresh in his mind, makes it very clear that he would not endorse anything that would take away the contest.
“At the beginning … any change is a bit hard to take, and you wonder what it’s all about, whether they are trying to depower the scrum, are we trying to make it like a league scrum,” Hoeft says.
“[But] if you are a prop that knows your technique, knows how to work angles, within the boundaries of the law of course, there’s still scope to work there.”
In fact, the new process might even play to northern hemisphere strengths.
“After playing in France for six and half seasons, a lot of work [there] is done after the hit,” Hoeft says.
“They rely on working angles, body positions, after the hit … the same with the English props and Irish and Scottish and Welsh, they have got pretty good technique.
“Over there, scrums probably last a bit longer. In the southern hemisphere they are working on speed of hit, quick feed and gone, where over in the northern hemisphere you’ll find there will be double shunts, triple shunts, holding the ball in. It’s become a bit of a lost art here.
“I can’t see it [the new process] detracting from what the northern hemisphere sides do already, because they are good at working angles.”
Any change to the rules at elite level take time. Often, change occurs at what seems a glacial pace. But Hoeft says it might not be too far away: “From what I’ve heard they may be trialling it at the end of year tour.”
He believes it is an overdue step in the right direction.
“It makes the props become more technical, rather than just working on size and smashing against a brick wall,” he says.
The vast majority of supporters would say amen to that.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.