Nothing attracts the derision of non-league fans more than the group hug we lovingly call the scrum.
Try to make the case that the mass-embrace of a dozen stationery men takes the forwards out of action and thus triggers open play and you get anywhere.
Explain that this curious ceremony is an important tradition and a spiritual link to the sport’s origins, and you will be lucky to earn more than a grunt.
I don’t care that the halfback now tosses the ball somewhere near the lock’s ankles while everyone stands statue-still. I never thought striking in scrums was a spectacle, and anything that avoids tedious Union-style scrum penalties is to be applauded.
My problem with scrums is the complete lack of imagination NRL sides show when presented with the single best opportunity for creative play from a standing start. Tries are scored directly off scrum wins about as often as Bunty Afoa has a haircut, and that needs to change. (The rate of tries, that is, not Bunty’s excellent do.)
Time and again at modern scrums the ball is moved one or two passes wide on the open side to an attacking player who falls into the arms of his opposite number. It would be great to see teams trying new tactics in order to ask genuine questions of the defending team. For example:
1. Kick off the scrum win. Place a halfback at lock, and as the ball comes out kick immediately in a pre-planned manner. If the scrum is in a team’s defensive half, kick the ball as far as possible downfield and have the fastest players chase it. If it is a scrum in attacking position, put through a grubber under the posts, or even kick laterally to a winger. If the scrum is inside the defensive 40, why not shoot for a 40-20?
2. Overload the blindside. Challenge the defending team to either number up against the blindside attackers – creating more space in the defensive line for attacking players lined up on the open side if the ball is sent that way – or risk facing a four-on-two on the short side if the defence chooses not to match the attacking formation.
3. Cluster backline players on the open side. Rather than stringing the backline out in conventional neatly-spaced fashion, have three players shoulder-to-shoulder at second receiver. Again, it challenges the defending team to either match this with their own players (creating more room elsewhere for other attacking backs) or risk having three attackers surging together looking to create a three-on-one.
4. Seek mismatches. The team second to the scrum has the opportunity to see the types of players packing in. Consider putting light players in the scrum and position bullocking forwards opposite smaller defenders in the ‘backline’. It’s not as if there is going to be any sort of scrum push!
5. Chip kick over the scrum itself. Have the player in lock position lob a chip designed to land in the space behind whee the opposing lock has bound in. In this set play the blindside centre and the half who fed the scrum sprint for the ball as soon as the kick is executed.
6. Kick to the blindside winger. The first receiver is passed the ball from the scrum base while standing on the open side, then kicks diagonally across the scrum to give his blindside winger a chance to compete in the air, hopefully against a bludging defender.
Would all of these tactics work? Would any? What would be an acceptable success rate?
Tries are hard to come by in the NRL. Commentators love to talk about ‘trick shots’ when what they are referring to are well-worked but conventional set plays.
Genuine ‘trick shots’, enterprising and creative strategies at the scrum might be a shortcut to a cheap try or two. At the very least, it would be great to watch.