IRB – Kill The Power Hit - Green and Gold Rugby Blog
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IRB – Kill The Power Hit

IRB – Kill The Power Hit

Most aspects of rugby are better now than back in the day — except for scrums. From being a jewel in our crown they’ve become a millstone around our neck, and a new study run by the IRB itself has now proved them an unnecessarily dangerous one at that.

Scrums are collapsing, the number of resets is multiplying; front-rowers’ necks and backs are hurting; referees are guessing; dominant scrums are wondering, early engages are increasing, scrum tunnels are disappearing, scrum-halves are cheating; old skills are dying, time wasted is rising, and fans are leaving because value for money is decreasing.

Case study: Ireland v. Australia RWC 2011

There were 22 scrums in this pool game refereed by Bryce Lawrence, with 11 collapses and seven penalties. 43 per cent of the game’s points came from scrummage offences and it would have been more than half if the kickers had been successful with all their attempts.

What happened to the scrum?

A new thing happened: the power hit. It was never part of the game, but it snuck into it.

Back in the day, packs used to walk in together passively, front row first, then showed their power and technique on the power shove after the others were attached and the ball was put into the scrum. In the late 1970s some coaches got their packs to lurch into the other scrum with a bit of force. The lurch gradually became a hit, but it wasn’t too harmful.

As Ewen McKenzie said a few years ago:

I cast my mind back 20-odd years and even looked at some video. We actually used to morph the scrums together. The front rows joined even before the second rows had arrived.

But when the players were paid to be in the gym in the professional era, this walk-in engagement became a hit, and then a power hit.

The scrum contest became a hit contest: a sprint across a short distance with two 900-kilogram packs colliding — and because they couldn’t scrum head-to-head there was often a natural, sudden clockwise wheel. There was also a natural hinging down or standing up, unless the vertical forces met just so.

Things would not have been so bad if every loosehead prop could get a grip with a long bind on his tighthead opponent, but the tight 1970s disco tops of the players didn’t allow it. All Black Ben Franks said that they made it difficult for the forwards to bind:

Especially for a loosehead, it’s a lot harder to get that initial bind — there’s nothing really to grab so you’re kind of grabbing for skin!

What’s being done?

Some new research looks interesting.

Moore – before you were born

Brian Moore, a solicitor and ex-England hooker, is a long-time critic of the power hit and has commented recently in the Telegraph on many of the above matters here. In the article he mentions:

…the IRB published a report on the most detailed examination ever of the scrum, undertaken over three years in South Africa and at Bath University. It isn’t revolutionary in the sense that it contains startling results, indeed it mostly confirmed many things already known by experienced practitioners.

The point is, that for the first time these things cannot be dismissed as anecdotal or personal. They come from tests carried out at six levels of rugby, from schools to international.

The research recommends, amongst other things, the removal of the ‘artificial hit’.

Moore gives a warning:

The IRB, particularly its refereeing department, is now in an entirely new legal position. Previously courts had to decide between the opinions of opposing expert witness, of which I am one, based on their personal experience and knowledge. Now they have concrete research and recommendations from rugby’s global governing body to assist their decision.

The IRB, RFU and other Unions can no longer defend cases by claiming a contrary view is just one expert’s opinion. If they do not take all reasonably practical steps to follow their own safety recommendations they will have no defence, legally or morally.

In a conversation between Moore and Brett Gosper, CEO of the IRB, on Twitter the other day Gosper said to Moore:

The IRB should have read the signs better at the end of the 1990s. The power hit, already born, but young, grew to be the monster it is now, and instead of snuffing the life out of it lawmakers tried to control it. They still are, without success.

I say: ‘Crouch — Aim — Fire’.

Kill it; kill it now.

  • Interesting. Do we see the re-emergence of hooking skills if the hit is removed? Can anyone remember how to hook these days?

    • Brumby Runner

      And the ball being fed into the middle of the tunnel?

  • Trys NOT Kicks

    I was under the impression that many front rowers enjoyed the competition in the hit? Anyone here who plays in the position willing to say yay or nay?

    • Mr T

      As a prop I love and hate the hit. Simultaneously electrifying and terrifying.

      Frankly, as I get older, the terrifying becomes more and more prevalent. I would not be sad to see the hit disappear.

    • Chucka

      As a front rower (Loose head or Hook) I LOVE the hit in the scrums!! The more tentitive you are the worse it is for you so you need to throw everything at it…….. Then again I only play beer grade footy and i imagine the pro’s might be slighlty better than me…..

    • TerribleTowel

      as a big loose forward press ganged into service as a prop because of injuries who had to spend a significant amount of time there, I hated the hit. It’s something that takes a lot of getting used to in terms of just the sudden huge amounts of pressure your neck/shoulders come under. At the same time I was actually pretty good on the hit, I was a lot faster than a lot of props at my level.

  • TD

    I think something needs to change but i don’t think having a situation where every one just walks in and comes together is the answer then we are just to flankers off having a league match. The power hit can go but we need to keep a sturdy and solid engage

    • Ian

      Walks in, comes together, then settles and shoves i think is the general suggested scrum process. Would be far from a league “scrum”.

      Like in the video, they kind of build the scrum naturally, settle and then feed.

    • Lee Grant

      TD

      Watch the video of the passive hit 40 years ago in the article, and notice how the referee made sure the scrum was “sturdy and solid” before he allowed Going to put the ball into the scrum.

      There was no pushing allowed whilst he was doing it because the scrum did not start on the engage; it started when the ball was put into the scrum, which was the law back then, and guess what, it still is.

      I have no doubt that this procedure can be handled by professional players now though the transition will be difficult at the start.

      What we will find is that there will be scrum power, but it will be pushing power not hitting power. Big guys will still be needed to push and to wrestle – they played silly buggers 40 years ago too – and they had to stop the guy on the other team doing the same.

      They will find out also that there is a clear tunnel between the front rows most of the time, and that referees will no longer close a blind eye to crooked feeds.

      Defending hookers will see value in hooking for the ball and we will see the re-birth of the hooking contest and a new kind of star – the hooker who can earn tight head scrums for his team.

      • bill

        sounds good Lee. I’d prefer to watch this sort of scrum than the lottery we get at the moment.

  • wilful

    I complained about the hit in a thread just two days ago, and people (front-rowers) defended it. personally i think it’s a rubbish intrusion into the game, constant scrum re-sets are the most boring thing on earth.

    I wonder if one day scrum feeds will go in straight? So the defending hooker can try to snaffle the ball?

    And legally, the IRB/ARU etc have really got to watch out – if I was a schools coach/referee I would have to ban it due to risk of injury and the liabilities that entail.

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

      I love the whole idea of a genuine contest in Rugby that Refs enforce. I’ve never understood why line-out throws must be straight while crooked feeds at scrum time are seen as okay. Where’s the fair contest there?

      I’d much prefer the ball into the tunnel with hookers having a real chance to steal the ball at feed time. Even speaking as an ex-back, it’s an element of the game that the entire crowd would appreciate and get excited about. :)

      • Blinky Bill of Bellingen

        Additionally I think the ‘fair contest’ at scrum time would contribute to the appeal of playing Rugby. The more that play, the more that make it to the higher levels.

        We need to make for (ward) play sexy. Do that and Australia will attract better athletes to Rugby.

        Just a thought.

  • I really can’t understand why we have persisted with it so long. If the referee would stand in the tunnel and not allow the halfback to feed until the scrum was steady the hit would disappear in days. SCrum collapses and scrum penalties are a blight on the game. Time to fix it!

  • mxyzptlk

    One of my biggest personal problems with the scrum is the call. I had finally gotten my beagles to respond to “Couch – Touch – Pause – Engage!”, and then they went and changed it to “Crouch – Touch – Set!”

    The IRB couldn’t know that a dog has a hard time distinguishing between “Set!” and “Sit!”, so when we trialed the new scrum call in our home, the beagles just sat in anticipation and wouldn’t take the hit (their food-filled toy).

    They kind of have hooking down (they’re beagles, they can only do so much). But they can definitely hook their food-toy much more efficiently when they don’t slam into each other first.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, I’d really like to see that flicking hook you used to see back in the day, when most scrums resulted in an interesting worked play. I don’t really mind a bit of a hit, and rather doubt the players would want to get rid of that completely. But pulling back on the monster hit might create some space for some long-lost elements of the game to return.

    • mxyzptlk

      I should clarify — they each have their own food-toy. I’m not making my beagles rugby-battle over kibble.

  • TD

    I have played a bit of frotn row in my time and the hit is one of the best parts. I think you will find in most premier rugby games the scrums a relatively sturdy and there are less penalties.

    Also i feel if you take away the hit we will see the short stout prop fade from the game and it will really ruin the game for the ‘bigger lads’ who could find their niche come scrum time.

    I understand it does cause problems but to to totally take the hit out of the scrum ruins the spectacle and art of what it is……a manipulation of physics.

  • jollyswagman

    No sure I agree that taking the “power hit” out of the game would see the “bigger lads” fade TD. The bigger lads have had a place in the front row for a lot longer than the power hit has been part of the game.

    What you might find is that props are now selected based on a broader skill-set as opposed to simply being the best available at scrum time.

    I like nothing more than watching a prop lay on sweet step or show a great pair of hands but unfortunately the guys that can do that at the top level are few and far between. I know that comment is a bit of a stretch but in essence all I am suggesting is that it may encourage a more “well rounded” skill set from our front rowers.

    I have watched quite a few “old games” over the last few weeks to fill in the broadcast dead spots here in the US and one of the things I love about the games years ago was how quickly the scrums came and went, the minimal amount of resets and the way the flow of the game was not halted because of a scrum. Quiet often the forwards would come together and pack so quickly the halfback was still 10 feet away hunting for the ball. Scrums need to be “corrected” as they took a wrong turn a few years back and are now something that detracts from the overall enjoyment of the game.

  • NTA

    A scrum generally takes 30 seconds from the point where the hooker binds to the ball going in. This is because everyone is setting up their binding, getting their footing, and adjusting their position.

    I did the Coaching Foundation course here in Sydney and looked at the way they were teaching young guys to prop – feet parallel whether you were loosehead or tighthead.

    In the same year I played against a former Wallaby loosehead and noted that his left foot was well ahead of the right, to help the scrum stay up. He hit hard, sure, but it was what he did afterwards that actually counted.

    In addition, the need to lift higher at the lineout has promoted the 190cm+ prop. Being naturally bigger, they tend to opt for the hit over technique because they can physically dominate an opponent. This leads to danger when they come up against a smaller opponent and can’t scrum as low e.g. Benn Robinson versus Wyatt Crockett. This leads to collapses, leads to injury, leads to lawsuits.

    There is so much opposed force in scrums at the highest level, that we’re losing the essence of what it should be – a contest for the ball.

    Lose the hit. Bring back hooking. And most of all: get the bloody ref to shut up and move out of the way, because besides Gus Erickson, none of them have had a clue about scrums since the game went professional.

  • Drongo

    I’ve said this a few times now on this site.

    Scrum laws need to change.

    The hit shouldn’t be banned altogether but its importance needs to reduce.

    The solution is to bring opposing scrums much closer together so the force of the hit is reduced.

    Also front rowers wear less tight tops so props can get a bind.

    Whilst we are at it – we need to address the other problem of union… Rucks, refs and silly tech rules.

    To remedy this we need to:

    Bring back ELV short arm penalty for fouls (with long arm only for deliberate infringements).

    Allow rucking the ball (no heads) to prevent cheats and hands slowing it down.

    Allow each captain 2 ref call challenges per game (similar to tennis) where he can appeal refs call to video ref. this will take agony out of 50/50 ref calls.

    Remove all technical ref calls that are inconsequential to the run of play. E.g. Numbers in the lineout, accidental offside, tackler not rolling away when there are 5 blokes on him etc.

    Strongly consider reducing penalties back to two points. Drops can stay at 3. Even Dan Carter finds them hard.

  • redbull

    The power hit is actually contrary to the laws of the game. Do they not state that a scrum cannot push until the ball is in?

    20.1 (j) Stationary and parallel. Until the ball leaves the scrum half’s hands, the scrum must be stationary and the middle line must be parallel to the goal lines. A team must not shove the scrum away from the mark before the ball is thrown in.

    No-one is suggesting that the pushing and shoving be taken away. The “power hit” scrum engage is dangerous, counter-productive and illegal.

  • Danny

    Good article. There should be no capacity for resets. The ball comes out or it’s a penalty. If the way scrums are set constantly stop that from happening, change the rules so the scrums work. Agree with poster who said a free quick is an efficient way for a team to restart the game after a knock on etc.

  • Nutta

    I posted this 2yrs ago when we had a similar discussion. My opinion hasn’t changed much.

    I’ve been playing now for approx 35yrs. The first 10yrs of that was as a hooker. Then I decided to do something completely different and spent the next 10yrs at tight head. Then, recognising my risk of being type-cast, I moved to loose-head for approx 10yrs so that I had something else in my repertoire. The last 5yrs or so I’ve spent as a slut across all three positions. So whilst I am no expert and Matty Burke probably wouldn’t think I had any cred – because I’ve never played at that level – it’s fair to say I’ve packed a few scrums.

    How did the scrum get here? The walk-ins were sometimes “charge-ins”. That led to the ref checking to see the scrums were “self-supporting” (ie stationary”) before engagement. This “search for safety” meant that the scrums then had to be called together. That has triggered the gradual progression from no-call to a 4-part call. But the problem of the 4th (“touch”) call is the delay it generates and expecting the props to balance all that momentum ad infinitum. The 4-part call creates too much delay before actually packing. How is this time spent? Each scrum spends the time winding up the tension of the springs (No8 slingshotting the locks and breakaways doing same for props) until the ref finally lets us engage with an almighty impact.

    BTW – personally I like the idiotic “touch” as it allows me to play head-games with my opponents (a subtle push here, a little drag there, a slap on the head here, a finger under the headgear there…).

    Why are the scrums so bent on winding up for the impact? Because whilst waiting and balancing, the props are largely coiled/hunched back and we are hell-bent on getting over the centre-line asap as this means we have extended out our bodies and have a strong position. We are also trying to trap our opponent still hunched up (before they extend out) in a position of relative weakness

    Answer – enforce good body shape prior to engage. This will stop the mad rush across the line (which is what generates the vast majority of collapses).

    Solution to getting good body shape prior to engagement? Follow these points:
    1. Ref sets the mark
    2. Scrum binds up but then on Refs call “crouch” and have props assume a 3point stance with outside arm resting on the ground for balance. This will stop creeping, instability and/or false starts
    3. Ref keeps hands on opposing props shoulders until happy with stability and body-shapes – this is the pause – and then steps away and simply says “Hit” or some PC approved bit of nonsense that means the same thing. Bind laws apply as written. In terms of “grabbing flesh, if the prop is wearing gladwrap, I grab flesh. It hurts him. That’s his problem. You don’t like it? Wear a looser jumper.

    What’s the change? 3 point crouch by props. What will this do? Having the props in 3-point crouch means:
    1. Ref can assess front-row for good shape (hips to shoulders, straight vs boring etc) prior to engage (no Ben Alexander roll-overs or Al Baxter spit-outs leading to collapses)
    2. Props are stable prior to engage. No balancing act required (which leads to false starts and collapses)
    3. As I am already relatively extended in good position, my distance from opponent is lessened by definition as I must be much closer or I simply fall on my face (thus de-powering the engagement and thereby lessening collapses)
    4. Body height of the scrum is perfect and strong from the very start (thereby lessening collapses) due to the “knuckles” law (“If your knuckles can’t touch the ground, you’re too bloody high”)
    5. No charge-ins – the original problem
    6. This will mean a return to the shorter prop – some of the best scrummers ever seen were David Sole, Olo Brown, Richard Loe and Ewen McK. What did they have in common? None of them were over 105kg. Not like the veritable monster freaks getting around today

    BTW – my elder brother (loosehead) and I (tighthead) used to pack this way in the mid 90’s (before the 4th call came in). We regularly broke opposing packs as their lazy fat-boys couldnt match us for height or drive coming out of the 3point crouch so I know it works (and we are both only 100-105kg blokes)

    Righto – out with your knives and tell me why I am wrong…

    • bill

      I suggest “embrace the man love” for the engage signal!

  • Drongo

    Like it nutter. So all props must use the three pint (I meant point) stance, then bind, then push? When does ball get fed? Assume when ref calls GO? Makes sense to me. The hit is becoming ridiculous. And it does seem dangerous.

    Your solution seems to work as it negates all the BS that is current scrums.

    It’s a pretty radical change. Wonder if the iRB would go for it.

  • Nutta

    The 3pt stance is only pre-engage. Once ref steps away and says “Hit” it’s game-on and you lift your front hand and bang forward a foot or so until you contact the prop coming the other way. Simultaneously opposing props are going for their bind.

    The hit is very hard. I would say in some ways it’s harder as the props are staring from near optimal position & shape – straight and coming at full extension. Think of it like the flex-punch as opposed to a big right-hander.

    It also needs a small law clarification as the hooker must have his striking foot forward pre-engage to stop the scrum falling forward. It also would bring back the proper HOOKER – a smaller player who can strike properly – as the starting point for the scrum is so low, only those with very good bodyheight can get down there. Kevy Measles shapes as opposed to TPN shapes

    But you are closer together so there is less space to wander off-course and create up/down/sideways momentum. The other plus of being closer together is there is no excuse for a prop to move their feet post engage – so no looseheads stepping wide to bore across and less opportunity for a breakaway to change angle and shift the props hips.

    I may be wrong. But at least this is a solution.

  • Drongo

    Got it. Good idea. See my earlier post vis a vis bringing scrums much closer together. Reckon your way is a great technical explanation of how it could work.

    Now we’ve fixed the scrums see my other points above on how to fix rucks, crap rules and making the refs calls less influential. My other bugbears about current rugby.

  • Cave Dweller

    Where does it say anything about the hit in the laws? Why is everyone bitching to take away a thing whicis not mentioned in the laws nor required? Oops I guess you didn’t know that?

    Cheers

    Neuen

  • Cave Dweller

    Just one last thing. The hit is sometimes ignited by the no 8’s. Its called a slingshot which is illegal. But most inexperience referees do not look or pick it up.

  • Cave Dweller

    Just one last thing. The hit is sometimes ignited by the no 8’s. Its called a slingshot which is illegal. But most inexperience referees do not look or pick it up.

    As for this and this then scrum will be fixed I had to laugh. Clearly some have never pushed in the front.

    If I (the prop) feel uncomfortable, or feel my opponent has a advantage over me I will take it down and try to get a better position at the reset. No matter what you do or what you suggest if they feel uncomfy they will take it down.

    Now why have the scrums go down so often?

    Because the IRB force front rowers into dangerous positions with dangerous binding, which is uncomfortable and are going to lead to a disaster.

    Testing new ideas on kids and then implement it at senior level thinking it will be exactly the same was their biggest mistakes.

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