Video & Stats: Wallaby scrum vs the world - Green and Gold Rugby
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Video & Stats: Wallaby scrum vs the world

Video & Stats: Wallaby scrum vs the world

scrum training

As you can see in our 2009 highlights package, we’re pretty frikken proud of our Wallaby scrum. Minus a few dodgy ref calls earlier in the season, they’ve taken apart nigh on all-comers, blooding a brand new tight head prop along the way. But how can we quantify how well they’re doing? Below are some pretty fascinating stats, within which lie a few tales.

The stats come from Gary Gold’s blog Rugby IQ. Gary’s the Springbok Assistant Coach and ex forwards coach of the Stormers. He writes an excellent post, backed up with stats and reasoning that really gives you an insight into how these guys are viewing the game. Even if I don’t agree with that vision.

In his latest post Facing the Real Problems, Gary reasons that in the average test match there are, per team; 60-70 breakdowns, 65-75 ball carries, 30-40 kicks in open play, 17-20 lineouts, 85-95 tackles, and only 8-10 scrums. On top of this, 50% of tries are scored on turn-over ball, which leads him to say:

“Do you see now what I am getting at? Do you see which areas significantly affect the outcome of a match and those that do not have as significant a bearing, although all are still incredibly important?”

In other words “in the big scheme of things, scrums are the least of our problems” (my paraphrasing).

As an Australian reading this, a wry smile creeps across my face. Surely the Wallaby team for the majority of the noughties provided the controlled experiment that proves this Eddie Jones-esque logic tragically flawed. Gold accepts that being dominated in the scrum is a physical and psychological blow. See the Aus v Eng 2007 RWC QF debacle as a perfect example.

However, there’s another reason why I believe Gary really wants to think hard before going down this route; in a word – reputation. For in many failed scrums it’s a crapshoot as to what’s gone wrong, and refs watching it in real time with a single viewing thank their lucky stars when one team’s poor past performances are of such public note. It’s taken at least 3 years and the jettisoning of experienced personnel for the Wallabies to start to shift the mantle of “weak scrum”. If the Boks don’t mind it, they are more than welcome to it!

Having minimised the scrum overall, Gary then gets stuck into what are truly a fascinating set of stats (below).

2009 scrum stats

You can read his take on the Saffa scrum stats in his blog, but here’s what he has to say on the Wallaby scrum:

“Significantly, however, we (South Africa) are second on the list in terms of actually getting the ball out – i.e. the least re-sets. Of course, it’s nothing to boast about, but it does show just how small the margins are in international rugby, yet it is significant that Australia are clearly the worst. This suggests, as has been suspected for years, that Australia are perennial scrum collapsers should they not get the hit they require, and have the most resets.”

What he’s looking at is the % reset stat on the Wallabies own ball, which says that about 31% of Wallaby scrums are reset, versus an average of just over 20% across all nations (it’s misleadingly worded). It won’t surprise you to know that I see it differently to Gary’s interpretation.

With the Wallaby scrum having become so much stronger over the past two seasons, my contention is that few opposition scrums can handle the power that the Wallaby pack is exerting, at the height it’s exerted. So many times this season we’ve seen the opposition tight head collapse, legs splayed backwards. Or the loosehead crumpled, with head bent over into his chest. In the first case they’ve overbalanced forward and lost their footing, in the second they’ve not been able to hold their back-hip alignment at that height.

Why do they do this? As a prop, if you allow a scrummager like Benn Robinson to get under you, you’re gone. His short powerful legs and rod straight back, with a timed shove from the rest of the Wallaby pack, will either force you to stand straight up or simply lift you off the ground. There were plenty of examples of these outcomes over the season, probably none better than the flying lessons Fat Cat gave John Smit.

But if you’re not believing your eyes (see the video at the bottom) and my reasoning for the strength of the Wallaby scrum, look at the opposition scrum stats. The Australian scrum comes only second to France in the proportion of scrums won against the feed, at 12.8%. Even more significantly, across all of the nations in this table, there are only 4 tight heads won, and the Wallabies took 3 of them. (Interestingly, South Africa seems to have taken the mantle of “serial scrum wheelers”, a weaker scrum tactic?)

Unfortunately though, pre-conceptions take time to dispell, and the meantime the impact is huge. In the “Own Ball” stats above, Australia loses the highest percentage of own-ball scrums, at 12.2%. This deficit comes from the Wallabies having the highest proportional penalty and free kick rate against them of any team, driven by 11 full or bent arms.

Bad rep

Bad rep

Where did they come from? In just 3 tests this year – against France and then New Zealand in Auckland and Sydney – Al Baxter was penalised 6 times. We’ve previously discussed how these were more driven by perception than reality, but the statistical reality is that with 6 fewer penalties, Australia’s own scrum loss rate falls to just 6.1%, second behind Italy, who has 4.9%. You can see why Al stayed at home this spring.

In post tour interviews it was good to hear Benn Robinson describe the Wallaby scrum as a “work in progress”, because indeed it is. But for me, one of the most seismic shifts for the Australian scrum this season was from presumption of guilt, to a presumption of innocence from referees. We’ll take it, even if Gary won’t.

  • Great story! It’s been a real reversal for the Aussie pack, and I think I speak for everyone in the Front Row Union when I say its fantastic to see Fat Cat smashing his opposite over and over again. You know I remember travelling up to BrisVegas in 2008 to see the Tahs smash the Reds, and really noticing for the first time Benn’s clinical destruction of an opposition row in one particular scrum. I was lucky enough to catch up with the Tahs at their post-match function and I spoke to Fat Cat about that particular scrum, and he absolutely beamed at the mention of it. At that stage he was working his way back into the starting 15 after being told he was fat and lazy, and it sparked a complete form turn-around for him. Now I LOVE watching the little bastard pick up the likes of Smit (no mean feat!)!!

    • Robson

      Yeah, ditto, double ditto. Benn is one of the meanest Loose Heads I’ve seen over the last ten years and that includes The Myth. In fact I have never seen The Myth totally fragment anyone the way that Benn has does. Benn is also a better ball player than The Myth. Robinson has exquisite timing on his upwards shove and anyone who allows him to execute that is a goner.

  • Hillsy

    Fantastic read Gagger!
    The fact is that statistics can be read in a positive way from either side you look at them. Which is what Gary Glitter or whatever his name is doing.

    The one thing that you cannot ignore it, when is came down to the hard evidence, ie watching the game, we bitched anything that was thrown at us, the evidence has been posted above in RAW footage.

    Whilst Fat Cat is now the pin up of the Australian pack, you can not discount the tremendous job Ben Alexander did. His job made even harder with the sacking of Baxter, he stepped in and did his job. The good loosies get most of the media attention because you get a better picture from that side of the scrum.

    • Blue

      Alexander’s job is so much easier if the opposing TH can’t get a shoulder. Not that I want to put him down, but he is blessed with what’s going on next to him. What he can do is keep a bind which Baxter just can’t.

  • my contention is that few opposition scrums can handle the power that the Wallaby pack is exerting, at the height it’s exerted

    100%, harden up SA.

  • Blue

    Great post. I had read Gary’s blog post before your analysis and I think your summary makes it look as if he does not value the scrum (certainly for our speed readers who have so far commented).

    Where I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment is that the scrum is a big psychological weapon that lifts a team and their fans. Look what the scrum did to the Lions who thought they would walk all over the Boks. It completely psyched them out.

    The SA scrum has been under the pump for some time and the Smit to 3 decision was always going to be a dodgy one.

    As an SA supporter it sucks not to see a dominating scrum but I think we will be more competitive next year in the scrum.

    I guess your video does prove Gold’s point. Wallabies win scrum late in game. Down 13-32 ;)

    The great Wallaby scrum is unfortunately having less impact on the overall game than they would like.

    Scrumblue can you tell me what you disagree with? The Wallaby scrum comes in at a very odd angle. In fact John Smit comments on this in his book and explains that he actually at the moment has no answer to Robinson while he has dealt with Woodcock very well. It has nothing to do with hardening up. It’s pure fact. No chest beating required.

    • I’m not seeing any odd angle Blue. I’m seeing Smit about 6 inches too high and standing up as Robinson drives through which then causes the scrum to wheel as Smit flies out.

      It’s OK, Smit’s not the only one who can’t handle Benn. Which is sounds like he admitted.

      No-ones saying you can win games on a scrum alone (a scrum can’t fix centres not tackling like in Perthfontein) but in tight, big games (like world cups) they can easily be the deciding factor.

      • Blue

        Yeah I wasn’t implying angle Bill Young-style.

        He gets right under and has a mother of a strong back and it’s almost impossible for the opposing TH to keep his form if he is taller and doesn’t get the hit completely right he scrums with his head down, neck up and back in line with the rest of his front row. He is farked.

        I would say “major contributing facotr” rather that “deciding factor” but this is a beer discussion.

  • Gumby

    Gold is just trying to alter the perceptions of the Referees by making the Wallabies Scrum the bogeyman. It was successfully done by others. He is frightened of what is coming! A Wallaby Freight Train.

  • DPK

    lies, damned lies and statistics in the words of my dad.

  • NTA

    At the 1 minute mark of that clip – all you can hear over the rumble of the crowd is

    “Go Benny! Go Benny! Go Benny!”. Its someone near the ref so its either G Smith or Pocock. Either way, it warms an old loosehead’s heart :)

    I watched us snap the Oirish at 1:55 and Kaplan STILL has it totally wrong all these weeks later.

  • Gumby

    Kaplan! Don’t get me started…..

  • Lance Free

    What I notice with a number of those scrums where Benny gets underneath and the momentum starts happening is that Rocky is bound but standing up having a look (like a good loose forward should), not actually pushing. So the scrum domination seems to be within the tight five with Benny’s strength and technique to the fore – which impresses me even more.

  • Paris Tah

    On a slight digression, what I noticed was that in the game v Ireland, Kaplan had his “guiding” hands on the front row as they engaged in every scrum. Is this encouraged by the ref of refs or is it something he just picked up when he was at a catholic boys school?

    • Blue

      Kaplan is Jewish.

      • Bobas

        are you’re saying he’s trying to pick their pockets?


  • Paul Snodgrass

    At the end of the day regardless of what the other team’s scrums were doing for the Boks, They still won the Tri-Nations, so maybe Gary does have a point that the Aussie new found scrumming prowess does not have the effect on the game that they wish it did.

    Sounds like a team who have had a disaster of a season looking for a silver lining.

    And if SA refs are so bad why are they the ones that all cluster at the top of the IRB Elite panel rankings.

    Just saying …

    • Paul, I went as far as saying scrums alone won’t win you games, let alone a Tri-Nations, so you need to re-think your twisted logic.

      Where was the attack on Saffa refs?

      And what was the silver lining from your end of season tour by the way?

      • Paul Snodgrass

        Actually I was replying to the people who had commented above me.

        They are the ones who attacked Kaplan and Saffa refs.

        And where did I say that scrums won matches? I was just saying that Gary had a point about the scrum not being as important as it used to be.

        Most of my reply was intended for the people who had responded to your article.

        Suppose I should have mentioned that.

        And there was no silver lining on the end of year tour, well besides that our scrum looked a bit better once John smit had moved to hooker.

        But then srums don’t win tri-nations or games, so suppose it wasn’t a silver lining.

        Keep the blog going, I really enjoy it, and I like that the banter is never personal, unlike many blogs in SA, keep it up, I read it often

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Matt started G&GR just before the 2007 Rugby World Cup and has been enslaved ever since. Follow him on twitter: @MattRowley

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