The Dominant Scrum? - Green and Gold Rugby
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The Dominant Scrum?

The Dominant Scrum?

Reds Brumbies ScrumWe’ve all been lauding the powerful Brumbies scrum in 2013 and there have been plenty of suggestions that the Wallabies should just pick the Brumbies front row to start the first test against the Lions. There’s also been a lot of comment about the weakness of the Reds scrum.

Dan Palmer told us recently on the Podslam that the Brumbies are trying to use their scrum as a weapon to attack the opposition and coming into last weekend’s match between the two teams I commented that the Reds scrum would really have to step up to combat the power of the Brumbies.

How did the two teams perform in this crucial area? There were twelve scrums in the match – seven fed by the Brumbies and five fed by the Reds. The Reds won all of their scrums (100%). The Brumbies won five of their seven (71%) with Ben Alexander conceding two penalties, one for going to ground under pressure and the other for having his hand on the ground.

So, a pretty clear victory for the Reds – they not only thwarted the Brumbies much vaunted scrum but they dominated, or so the stats say!

Let’s take a closer look at the scrums to see whether there is any difference between the stats and which scrum was dominant.

Firstly, let’s look at which scrum went forward – that’s always a pretty good sign of which scrum was dominant. Even if the opposition feed the ball and win it, if your scrum is moving forward that signals you’ve got the opposition under pressure and there’s a good chance that dominance will lead to some return later in the match if you can keep that pressure up.

In the video accompanying this article I’ve included a graphic for each scrum indicating which scrum was going forward and importantly, which side of the scrum was going forward. This analysis helps us to work out which props for each team were most effective, which would also indicate they got good support from the lock and flanker in their pod.

Of the twelve scrums in the match, I marked five neutral where neither team really went forward. In three scrums the Brumbies went forward on both sides of the scrum. In one scrum the Reds went forward with both sides and in the remaining three the Reds went forward on their loosehead side. Overall that’s four scrums where the Reds went forward and three where the Brumbies went forward so the result was a lot closer under that measure than the percentage won.

The other thing to watch out for when trying to work out which scrum is dominant is which team is folding in or going to ground under pressure. This is where the analysis gets really interesting and opens up the opportunity for a debate! If a prop folds in or goes to ground, was it a result of something illegal the other pack did or does it indicate which scrum is weaker? Here’s my view on each scrum:

  1. Alexander missed his bind but didn’t go to ground and then drove through James Slipper. Slipper wasn’t helped by Ed Quirk behind him who added no weight to counter the push. Once the Reds were going backward, Palmer got his side moving forward as well. The Brumbies were completely dominant in this scrum and the Reds were correctly penalised;
  2. Neither side managed to go forward but Greg Holmes was penalised for driving on the angle. When you watch the video you’ll see that it was actually Palmer that was at fault in this scrum – he didn’t engage straight, didn’t bind and folded in which caused Holmes to follow him in and down. The referee got this penalty wrong;
  3. Both Slipper and Alexander started square and flat but then you’ll see in the video Alexander’s elbow is pointing to the ground just before he hinges under pressure. He then went to ground and was correctly penalised;
  4. A relatively neutral scrum. The Brumbies did go to ground but by then the ball was at the back so no need for it to be pulled up;
  5. On the near side of this scrum Slipper gets very low and this causes Alexander to hinge but he maintained his bind and got back up and drove forward. On the far side the referee penalised Holmes for going to ground but there’s no footage to comment on. The Brumbies were the dominant scrum going forward so it’s likely Holmes did go down;
  6. Palmer drove on the angle in this scrum and when he folded in, Holmes followed him. This meant the Reds loosehead side went forward but Holmes went to ground as he had nothing to push on. It should have been a penalty against Palmer but the ball came out so the referee allowed play to go on, which allowed the game to continue on;
  7. Holmes dominated Alexander in this scrum with the Reds loosehead side going forward;
  8. A neutral scrum with the ball in and out very quickly;
  9. The Reds dominated this scrum with both sides moving forward;
  10. A neutral scrum – the far side went down but there’s no footage to comment on;
  11. The Brumbies dominated this scrum even with Pat McCabe packing at flanker but Alexander was penalised for dropping his hand on to the ground;
  12. Holmes dominated Palmer in this scrum – when you watch the video look at how Palmer folded in under pressure and his angle compared to the rest of the scrum. The Brumbies were one man short for this scrum but they went to ground before the Reds could take advantage of that advantage.

On that analysis the Reds were dominant in five scrums and the Brumbies three, with four neutral.

Analysing the scrums in three different ways – percentage won, moving forward and under pressure – the result is the same. The Reds were the dominant scrum in this match.

Holmes was the dominant prop on his side of the scrum in this match but has been a penalty magnet this year for the Reds earning 15 penalties against him and Alexander’s not been much better for the Brumbies, conceding 13. Alexander, Palmer and Slipper must all be in contention for the Wallabies starting pack but in my opinion, Alexander’s scrummaging doesn’t warrant his inclusion as anything more than a bench option.

I believe Benn Robinson should start at loosehead for the Wallabies with Palmer and Slipper the options to start at tighthead. Palmer has been scrummaging really well this year and his general play has also improved. However, Slipper showed in Saturday night’s match that his scrummaging is close to par with Palmer and his general play is much better.

Slipper played the full match on Saturday whilst Palmer only played 60 minutes. Palmer made nine tackles, missed one and only ran the ball once – he was also first into just one breakdown. Slipper made ten tackles, missed one and ran the ball eight times – he was also first into eight breakdowns. If he continues to scrummage well, the difference in general play numbers in Slipper’s favour is too big too ignore.

Surprisingly after that performance, Palmer made the Green & Gold Rugby team of the week ahead of Slipper! Regardless of which of them starts at tighthead for the Wallabies, I expect the other will be on the bench together with Alexander.

  • Fatflanker

    Scott very interesting analysis. I must admit I’ve never rated Slipper as a test quality prop but clearly he has come on. Conversely I would have thought most people would have Fatcat as a shoo-in. How do you see these lads standing up against the likes of Sheridan (maybe) and Jones come the Lions?

    • Scott Allen

      I don’t think it will be Sheridan but I do expect Jones to start.

      That will pit Robinson against Jones and that hasn’t gone so well in the past but if anyone can handle the Hairbear, it’s Robinson – his experience will be vital.

      I think it will be Healey at LH – pitting him against Palmer or Slipper. That will be difficult but one thing I’m absolutely certain of – if Alexander is at TH and Healey is at LH for the Lions, our scrum is gone! Alexander has been towelled up so many times by Healey. If it’s Jenkins at LH for the Lions, I won’t be as worried.

      • Rex Munday

        yeah but he scores tries out wide

      • Lee Grant

        Agree – LHP Jenkins struggles to get a starting game at Toulon because Sheridan gets the big matches, Healey was a bit of a LHP joke a few years back and was known for his work around the park – but he has become a strong scrummager.

        THP Adam Jones wasn’t that crash hot this season after being out with an injury but he certainly had his mojo back by the time 6N was finished. Geez that bloke can scrum.

        Our guys will have to be at their best but, I agree about Alexander – bench spot at most.

        Benn Robinson could be one of the most important Wallabies this winter.

        • chris

          For me, Benny A is a long way away from the scrummaging answer at test level. In the match against England last year, often he just could not take the weight. But the Wallabies won that game so we were happy. Fortunately for him, he didn’t play against the French SORRY??
          What game did you watch?Alexander destroyed Marler(the next big thing over here) at Twickenham(I was ringside and astonished at how immense our scrum was) in November to the point that he was dragged and set his career back several years.
          Media headlines I read ‘Alexander the Great’
          Short memories. He goes well.

        • Kiap

          I well remember Alexander being lauded. But it was undeserved.

          He could not take the pressure and was repeatedly standing up, or folding against Marler. Benny A was torn asunder.

          Have a look at the analysis:

      • BOPSteamers

        I know theyll bring Jones…What are your thoughts on Dan Cole…I thought his work against the touring southern hemisphere sides was enormous and not just at scrumtime….Admittedly though i have not watched alot of 6N.

        • Scott Allen

          From watching the Six Nations Jones was much better than Cole. I expect Cole will be in the party but will be the bench option is Jones is fit and stays in form.

          He’s a good prop too so whoever is the Wallabies LH is going to be in for a torrid time.

  • I noticed Palmer’s folding from the sideline on Saturday and I have photo’s. Do you think it could become a problem for him?

    • Scott Allen

      Mate, any international standard referee would have nailed him for the two scrums where he folded, so that is a problem.

      The last scrum is a major worry – I haven’t seen a prop fold that badly at professional level for … well, I can’t remember when. If that’s the best he can do to resist an opposition scrum trying to score a pushover try when the game is on the line, then he has a problem because I’m sure there will be plenty of those occasions in the Lions series.

      • BOPSteamers

        Re. the scrum at 28.29 Brumbies feed.

        For me Slippers bind is too short and is on the arm which causes Alexander to hinge…Whilst i believe it should of been Brumbies penalty surely BA has been around long enough to know that hes gotta shoot longer with that bind…Its a feature in Scott Sio’s scrumming i have been impressed with. Thoughts?

        • Scott Allen

          I appreciate that the video is quite small on the site, so here’s a close up for you showing Slipper’s bind clearly under Alexander’s arm pit

        • Kiap

          That bind looks clear enough. For me, Benny A is a long way away from the scrummaging answer at test level. In the match against England last year it was obvious that often he just could not take the weight. But because we won the game some of us Oz fans simply didn’t want to see it.

        • BOPSteamers

          For me a bind on the armpit is as illegal as a bind on the arm as he uses it to leverage him down( i mean if he can get away it go hard but i think that this is the main contributing factor to BA going down…..However if Alexander shoots long almost for Slippers shorts this will counterbalance that. Watch Scott Sio’s bind when he played the brumbies, Chris King had no answer.

        • Scott Allen

          Mistermouse has quoted the law a little further up the page and as you can see by reading, binding under the armpit is not illegal.

          When you’re trying to work out whether a player was pulled down or hinged the clue is what happens with their hips and legs.

          If they are pulled down on their upper body their hips will drop from where they were before the act of pulling down.

          If they hinge because of forward pressure against them their hips will lift up (because they either have to take a step backwards or they hinge as a result of the pressure).

          The clue for whether their hips went up is whether their legs straightened or not – if they did their hips must have gone up, if not their knees stay bent as they go to ground.

          Look at the clip again and you’ll see Alexander’s legs straighten, his hips rise and then he starts heading down. As he goes down his hips fall and he bends his leg again.

          It’s a bit like a crime show – just have to know what the clues are and look for them.

      • BOPSteamers

        Re. the scrum 41.29 Reds feed.

        This ones interesting because your supporting a penalty for Holmes whereas i believe Palmer shooting for space between Hanson and Holmes has gotten through to Hanson because he has not put enough pressure through his left shoulder. I think that step to the left has very little to do with the outcome because in effect Palmer and Moore have turned it into a 2 on 1 vs Hanson and Holmes is essentially scrumming noone.

        Conversely the 55min scrum Brums feed Slipper on the far side has done a Palmer slipped his loosehead and ended up with his head on the wrong side of Moore’s head (if that makes sense) causing him to pop up if you watch closely. Ed Quirk i think it is also contributes by “hoeing” into the L/H aswell.
        The fact that Saia Fainga is on also leads me to believe that he does a better job in keeping the tighthead out. However this maybe also because (a) Alexander is not as efficient as Palmer or (b)Its there feed so hes not looking to do damage on the hooker.
        I guess what im saying is for this scrum yes i agree Reds are dominant however i believe it has more to do with Slipper and less to do with Holmes.

        Thoughts? haha Sorry for the overload i just love talking Scrums.

        • Scott Allen

          On the 41.29 scrum, Palmer is definitely on Hanson but that’s the point – the only way he gets there is by angling across. I know what he’s trying to do but it’s not legal. The step across just confirms that he was driving on the angle – if he’d been driving into the gap between Holmes and Hanson (as he’s supposed to) he wouldn’t need to step across but would have stepped forward.

          On the 55 min scrum, look at the forces in the following diagram – with the Brumbies front row being wheeled through their tight head side and the Reds trying to drive straight down the field (which is what they’re supposed to do), they naturally go across the Brumbies so Slipper will always go across Moore. That’s how it works in my experience but with the action we’re talking about being on the far side of that footage, we can’t be certain on what really happened on that side.

        • BOPSteamers

          Tell me exactly where the reds are driving straight? Not one step forward is taken by Greg Holmes he goes sideways straight away the whole scrum walks around to the left which is just a weak attempt at a wheel….Its not until Slipper splits in and heads for the hooker, pops Moore and then they get forward motion which is exactly what Palmer was doing in 41min scrum Brums feed?? You sound like a ref looking for cues not like a prop who knows what is actually happening? Greg Holmes Definately does not dominate him hes walking around which is why Aussie scrums in general are awful this habit of walking around just because we arent solid enough through the connection with our hookers to drive straight. If Alexander had any brains he should of just slipped Holmes and headed straight for Faainga.

  • Rex Munday

    The fact that Holmes is and has been a good prop for years now will be ignored.

    • Scott Allen

      I agree he will be ignored. Even if the front line goes down, he appears to have been forgotten but the number of penalties against him this year (rightly or wrongly awarded) is a negative.

      • Rex Munday

        I reckon Australia has had about two series in the last 12 years where they could match a top shelf side in the scrum. One of them would be 2006 winter internationals when Holmes and Rodzilla dominated England and Ireland both at the scrum and in general play. Unfortunately both got injured and were subsequently ignored in favour of (god help us) Dunning, Shepherdson and Baxter. It’s as if Australian rugby has some sort of aversion to being competitive in the scrum.

        • MM

          When was the other time?

        • Rex Munday

          When Baxter finally came good and won two tightheads v England in 2008(?)
          Of course, we couldn’t deal with such silliness and got rid of Baxter just as he was finally in his prime

  • Tomikin

    Your Wrong Completely I clearly remember the brumbies forcing the reds to concede a scrum penalty on their feed. And if I remember correctly your a Red’s fan and some of your comments have shown that. Red coloured glasses maybe

    • Tomikin

      I probably need to go watch it again looks like you got more of a look at it then me :) sorry

      • ralph

        welcome to the site Tomikin

    • Scott Allen

      Fire away – which scrum was that?

      The Reds had five scrums at 40.53, 61.26, 63.44, 66.25 and 72.55. They’re all in the video if you need to watch them again but do let us all know which one you remember as a penalty against the Reds.

      Don’t just throw your comment out there – back it up with detail!

  • Guest

    Slipper is on the Podslam this week. Maybe he will get selected in a few teams of the week from now on!

  • Mistermouse

    Mate regarding your comment on the scrum where “Alexander’s elbow is pointing to the ground” that is a direct result of Slipper’s illegal bind on the arm.

    Law 20.3 (d) states “…The tight head prop must not grip the chest, arm, sleeve or collar of the opposition loose head prop.” and the sanction is a penalty kick. The call from Jackson was incorrect on that basis. The next scrum which was largely neutral, Slipper again binds quite clearly on the arm. It’s worth noting that once Alexander switches sides, he does the same.

    It would be interesting to know whether Fisher’s comments re the “blind” penalty were for the same infringement.

    I agree completely that the last scrum was a schmozzle from all concerned. To my eye, Holmes set up for the scrum angled in. Then Palmer folded in. All the flankers were largely disinterested and in the Reds’ case didn’t stay bound.

    All in all I think it’s fair to say that it was a pretty even contest and it came down to who got away with what and, most of all, who was most switched on at scrum time.

    • Who?

      When was the last time a TH was pinged for binding on the arm? The last time I can remember was 2009, when Joubert penalized Baxter off the park at Eden Park. And his armpit binds weren’t as bad as the average TH bind these days…

      I’d have no problem with blowing the penalty for binding on the arm if it were consistent… With the current policing, it’d be inconsistent. More inconsistent than the penalty against the lifters at the kick off, which I thought was penalized somewhere the weekend before…

    • Scott Allen

      Not so – see the close up below in response to BOPSteamers – Slipper is binding under the armpit and it gives you a much better view of Alexander’s elbow pointing down.

    • Scott Allen

      On the last scrum, go back and have a look at the replay so you can see the setup before the scrum – I didn’t show that in my video but just went back and reviewed it carefully – Holmes was always set up straight. He’s straight through the scrum and he ends up straight driving straight into Palmer’s ribs.

      Flankers never stay bound as the scrum crashes to the ground – caused purely by Palmer folding and collapsing.

  • Jimmydubs

    going by the fox commentary you’d have thought the brumbies shattered them at the scrum.
    my thoughts live were that the brums were the better scrum but not by the margin that the commentators (and Mowen for that matter) were believing.
    looks like it was pretty even-stevens in reality.

    Great work by the way

    • Scott Allen

      Yes, I was amazed at the commentary and articles since claiming the Brumbies dominated.

      I think that’s just pre-conceptions of what would happen.

  • Lee Grant

    An outstanding blog Scott – only one of many. Enjoyed it hugely.

    Haven’t anything to add but it confirms my thoughts on some of the protagonists.

  • Pedro

    Maybe Palmer would have scrummaged better if he didn’t have his head stomped on by Horwill early in the piece. Hmm I wonder if that would be a red card by the letter of the law? Might have changed things a little.

  • Muffy

    The way Palmer hits on the angle is a worry, Ben R made his name doing the same thing (on different sides of the scrum I know) but once other THs picked up on BRs technique hey countered him effectively. BR has honed his technique the last 12 monts or so and is back to world class.

    BA is not our TH answer, neither DP, in fact I don’t think we have a genuine tight head answer yet. Hopefully there is a metal working labourer eating pies and skulking beer out there somewhere in training for the WC …

  • This is an awesome article Scott.

    I thought for a while Holmes has been underrated interstate. McKenzie often picks him over daley against stronger scrums or brings him on when the Reds Scrum is suspect or under pressure.

    He does seem to be a penalty magnet for refs and I think this is because he plays more against the better scrums and doesn’t get spoken about in the media for the Refs to acknowledge his ability.

  • Gnostic

    Pretty much what I thought on the night. Alexander, for all the plaudits he has got saying his scrummaging has improved, his technique remains flawed. Often on the set up his shoulders, especially his outer shoulder is angled down. There is no doubt he has enormous upper body strength, so is this a ploy to encourage the opposition prop to take the scrum down on the hit to earn the Brumbies a penalty? Probably not as he seems to have had this issue for a long time.

    On thing this has done for me though is cement my view that the “hit” cannot be done away with too soon. No hit and all this becomes moot as the Ref will have more time to look at the actual contest, that is when the ball is actually fed. All of these “offences” took place before the ball was fed in the most part!!

    Add to that the fact that most of the feeds went straight under the hooker’s feet and in one instance White threw it under the locks feet through the Hooker’s channel.

    I cannot wait – ban the hit!!!!

  • Wheatman01

    Great article Scott! Thanks for answering my twitter question. Most of the scrums were well away from my seat, however the way they imploded made me think it wasn’t all Holmes fault.
    The last (or 2nd last ~ 72min) scrum when the reds got the penalty after 2 resets showed to me I wouldn’t be picking Alexander (only as a reserve LHP). It was right in front of us, he was lucky he wasn’t penalised the first engage as his hand went straight to deck and then up.
    This leads to another question. Is there any benefit to the Loosehead putting his hand on the ground quickly at engage before binding? I would think it would change the dynamic a fair bit, but it’s hit and miss when it’s penalised (or you have to have a name for it). Noticing quite a few LHPs doing this now days.

Melbourne Rebels

Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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