The Wallabies went into camp on Sunday and they have a lot of work to do on their scrum in a very short period of time before they face a Springbok scrum that has performed well against the Pumas.
The new scrum laws apply to both teams but they do provide an advantage to a dominant pack – I don’t see that as an issue.
The All Blacks have clearly adapted better to the new laws and have shown the Wallabies the benefits of better tactics and technique.
Under the new laws most teams are scrummaging higher than they did under the old laws. The exception has been the All Blacks who have used the tactic of scrummaging lower to make it very hard for the hooker to get in position to strike for the ball. Combined with a coordinated shove as soon as the referee calls ‘Yes Nine’ the All Blacks have dominated the Wallabies.
The Wallabies have simply got to be better and there is no reason improvements can’t be made very quickly.
For many people improving the scrum means starting with the front row and there are definitely problems with the Wallabies tighthead side in the front row. However, I believe the best way to make an immediate improvement is to improve the performance of the middle row.
Pleasingly Andrew Blades, the Wallabies forwards coach, made the comment last week that the Wallabies back five have to be better so I expect they’ll have been working on this area this week.
You’ll note that I talk about the middle row because the reality is that those four players – the two locks and two flankers – have the biggest impact on the force that is generated to produce forward momentum.
I was asked over the weekend what changes can be made with the middle row in a short space of time. My answer consists of three parts and when you read them I’m sure you’ll say that’s too simple but I can tell you from experience that very few teams get these basics right.
Get the locks’ shoulder position right
Locks only use one shoulder to push on their prop. They must start with that shoulder under the roll of the prop’s backside with the point of the shoulder ‘up the prop’s date’. This wedges their shoulder in place so that it doesn’t pop out whilst they’re pushing.
That sounds obvious and you’d expect that the Wallabies are already doing that but as you can see from the images below, their shoulders normally start on the cheek of the prop’s backside or higher and then ride up above the hip as they push.
Before you say the issue is with James Horwill and Rob Simmons, let me assure you this is not an issue that has developed this season or since the introduction of the new laws as you can see with Sitaleki Timani’s shoulder position last year.
During the setup of the scrum the locks should go down on their knees to get their shoulder in the correct position and then they have to keep their shoulder wedged in place. When the referee calls ‘bind’ they should come up off their knees so they are in position ready to push.
Staying that low is hard – it places a lot of pressure on players as it’s a very awkward position, but when they come up off their knees if the locks stand up too high their shoulder will no longer be under the roll.
Rather than getting into the optimum position and maintaining it the Wallabies are using a technique where before the ‘set’ the middle row starts with their legs nearly straight and as they move forward they bend their knees and drop their lower body down. The problem with this is that when they straighten their legs before the ‘set’ they come up so high that their shoulders are no longer in position under the roll. As a result you get the shoulder position shown in the images above.
Again this is not a new technique that’s been adopted by the Wallabies this year.
Have a look at the comparison of the height of the Wallaby and All Black middle rows before the set in Bledisloe I in the following image.
Flankers have a major role to play
Because the locks only push on their prop with one shoulder the direction of that force is applied on a slightly different angle to that on which the prop wants to drive as shown below.
The flanker on each side needs to counter the angle of the force from the locks by pushing in and forward as shown below, not just forward.
The flankers also have to get their shoulder under the roll of the prop’s backside but they don’t have the benefit of being able to wedge their shoulder ‘up the prop’s date’ so often you’ll see that when a flanker is pushing their shoulder slides off the prop and their force is no longer available to help the prop. Pushing inwards helps overcome this issue which keeps the flanker’s weight on the prop.
Each prop is therefore reliant on their lock and flanker and this is why you’ll often see me referring to ‘two pods of three’, one on each side of the scrum. Of course those pods also work with the rest of the pack but when one side of the scrum isn’t performing you have to look at all members of the pod, rather than just the prop. Getting those pods of three working well is actually more important than focussing on the ‘tight five’.
Adherence to these three simple points would fix ninety percent of the issues with the Wallabies middle row and provide enormous assistance to the props.
These aren’t new concepts and they’re not theoretical – I may use some different terms to others but the same concepts have been used all around the world for years.
I consider Mike Cron, the All Blacks forwards coach, to be the leading scrum coach in the world. I was given some footage of Cron coaching All Black and other New Zealand Super Rugby forwards last year and it was no surprise to me that he was pounding away on basics including these.
If the Wallabies were getting these basics right I’d have no images to show you and would be able to write an article praising the performance of the Wallaby scrum.