Six Nation Rugby

I’ve finally gotten some televised Rugby at my house via BBC America. It’s been a long time. Caught the excellent Scotland vs France game this weekend and have a question for the Ruggers here.

In the first half, the France was awarded a penalty try because, as far as I could tell, the Scotland number 3 was collapsing the scrum, repeatedly. I understand that a prop will sometimes collapse to stop the scrum from pushing over the line and I understand that it’s a penalty when they get caught. What I don’t understand was what, exactly, the Scotland #3 was doing. How could the ref tell that it was that particular player over and over? What was he doing or failing to do?

IANAP, but did play scrum half and spent several years ref’ing, so I’ll give it a crack…

There are several ways that a good prop can influence the success or failure of a scrum. For example, movement of the head is often a subtile trick that can make things very uncomfortable for the opposing prop. This is legal and not so dangerous.

In this case, the prop was most likely cranking down (or twisting with the arm shoulder) the opposing prop as they come together. This most likely results in the scrum collapsing which can be pretty dangerous.

A good ref wants to prevent collapsing scrums, but they do happen, sometimes by poor timing, poor positioning, tired players or in this case an illegal technique.

The team putting the ball in needs to control the formation of the scrum and if they can’t do it, they will lose the chance to put it in (they ref will award the put in to the other side)

So, in this case, I would guess that France was winning the scrum downs and Scotland’s prop was resorting to a dangerous tactic in effort to win back the ball.

Thanks. France was definitely winning the scrums so thoroughly that the collapsing was all that was stopping them. I couldn’t see what the prop was doing since the ref was standing in the way. It happens fast too. The prop was warned, so it’s not like he thought his trick would work and he didn’t look confused , or sorry, afterward. I’ve just never seen a penalty try before.

Hand on heart - I am a referee of rugby union. I do games quite low down the league structure in England, around London, but have, as a consequence, been to a number of sessions about the scrum for training purposes. Wayne Barnes, the ref in the game that you are discussing, has spoken at at least one of these.

The situation on Saturday in this game was interesting, as, having heard Wayne speak, he has a rule of thumb at scrum time - if a team is going backwards, it is much more likely to infringe to prevent problems - particularly in this case where failure to stop the scrum will result in a push over try. As such, I knew, as it was happening, that a penalty try was on the cards, as long as France scrummaged legally. So it proved.

As it happens, you are right, in that it happens very quickly and it can be tricky to see what the ref is spotting. We will look for three things:

  • Binding (where are the props binding on their opposite number? If the elbow is high and the hand is on the back of the opposite number, it is very difficult for the prop to be pulling or twisting down. Of course, if the elbow is low, the bind is underneath or you’ve got a situation where the prop hasn’t even bothered binding, there is a good chance that he’ll be responsible for instability or collapse)

  • Angles (both laterally and vertically - is the prop boring in onto the hooker, twisting his trunk to attack the hooker’s neck? Further, is the prop’s head in under the chest of his opposite number with an upward drive? Or is one prop under legal pressure but standing up away from it to lessen the drive. All of these contribute to instability and are liable for penalty).

  • Feet (is the side going backward deliberately using their feet and legs to take the scrum down by bending their knees or taking steps out/away from the scrum and taking it down?)

Speaking as a ref, the first two of these three are the most obvious to pick up. If you didn’t see much, it’s possible that it was feet and leg position and this maybe what was picked up on. I struggle picking that one up I have to say - I then revert to Wayne’s rule of thumb. Which side is going backwards? That’s the one that is likely to have taken it down. Of course, you then get into games of bluff and double bluff with the players - they know you are likely to penalise the team going backwards, so the attacking team can try and milk penalties by taking it down whilst they are going forward. You’ve got to be bloody good to pick that up - this is probably why I ref at a low level.

Clear as mud? Possibly. All I can say is, that certainly for the first two of the things I noted above, I know what I want to see and react accordingly. You just get used to it.

Incidentally, I thought Barnes had a pretty good game on Saturday night. It was a clear penalty try and he didn’t get an awful lot else wrong. He’s improved out of sight since his torrid time at the RWC 2007.

I am only a casual fan so I have often wondered about the scrum - thanks to all the posters for the thread, I have found it very interesting and informative so far.

I only saw parts of England-Wales on Friday, but I thought that this looks like the best side England have been able to field in the Six Nations for some years. They really look like a well-drilled unit most of the time, and some (sadly not all) of the silly indiscipline has been cut out. I hope we give the French and the Irish a good run for their money this time around.

Giving us a run for our money won’t be hard. A last minute drop goal to beat Italy, oh good God.

The major problem the Irish have is that they have the French next up - albeit at home. I expect Ireland to improve as the championship progresses and I expect they will probably beat England on the last day of the tournament - but if I were Irish, i’d want to be playing France later in the tournament rather than next.

England do look better than they have done for a while - but let’s be realistic here, Wales were terrible. Their half backs had no idea and despite reasonably decent ball being produced on occasion, they never seemed to break over the gain line. I suspect that there will be changes. They also really missed their first choice props - especially Gethin Jenkins.

I am not sold on England’s centre combination and would prefer Lawes to get back fit ASAP to pair with Palmer in the second row. Youngs wasn’t awful on Friday but he can play better, so there is that. One thing is clear though, if you’re going to kick to England, you’d better do a good job, because their back three is pretty decent. Even the much maligned Cueto put in some good passes and strong counter attacking runs on Friday.

The way I see it, it’ll probably come down to three games - England v France, Ireland v France and Ireland v England. Watch out for Scotland though - they looked alright on Saturday against a good French team. They could well beat Ireland or England and hand France the championship.

Excellent reply Cumbrian, thanks. Clear as mud, yes, but I’m comfortable with the idea that he could see something I couldn’t and could understand some subtleties that I can’t. One of the things I love about rugby is that the ref makes the calls and the players just live with the call and move on.

Totally agree about England’s centres and Wales’ halves. Phillips was poor and I don’t think Hook is the solution at 10 either.

The only thing that gives me some optimisim for Sunday is that Frances midfield defence was cut apart by Scotland. Hopefully we can do the same. I would prefer Paddy Wallace in ahead of D’Arcy in order to provide a better playmaker.

Yeah Scotland looked good, Andy Robinson seems to be building something up there. Our trip to Edinburgh should be interesting, given how they ruined our Croke Park farewell last year!

I think I agree about Hook - he never brought Roberts or Davies over the gain line when he moved to 10 on Friday night. They’ve picked him at 10 for Saturday though so we’re about to find out - though Phillips has been retained at 9, so he may find he’s buggered before he starts. Only other change for Wales is Ryan Jones for Powell at 8 I think. Good luck Wales - you’re going to need it.

ETA: Of course, if Hook moves there is another change. Byrne is in at 15.

I like the look of Scotland. Robinson seems to have decided to find the biggest, most athletic guys he can find in the scrum and use that as the building block for a fast physical game, which has proven successful at least in the short term. Their second rows look good and Barclay, Brown and Beattie are a class act (if they can get them back on the field together). I like the look of Ansbro too - his inroads on Saturday night should prove fruitful for Ireland. Ansbro is good but O’Driscoll is a class above, so, given good ball, Ireland can make capital out wide.

A Northern Irish colleague of mine has a bet on Italy to finish ahead of Ireland in the final standings, at 200/1 - think that looks like good odds at the moment! OK, it’s probably only come in to about 100/1, but still :).

Another round over - a week off before the next one.

I thought the Ireland France game was a pretty decent match in terms of excitement but both teams will be pretty keen to play to a higher standard. If Ireland hadn’t given away so much ball and so many penalties, they’d have won pretty handily - but equally France did not look very good today either. Lots of knock ons and the much vaunted scrum only showed sporadic evidence of its power. I still think Ireland will grow into this tournament - I don’t see them losing another match actually - but only provided they cut the error count and maintain accuracy at breakdown and with ball in hand.

England looked good, though Italy weren’t capable of putting together the same performance that they did last week when they were at home, so I am still wary of reading too much into the game. The championship will likely rest on their next game at home to France - and I don’t think France will perform as they did against Ireland. If England can win, I see them losing in Ireland and probably winning the title on points difference - if France win, they should probably grand slam it from there. Ashton needs to stop the showboating for me, but his support play is pretty spot on at the minute. I imagine the French will try and take him out of the game if possible.

I was pretty drunk by the time the Scotland game ended and I’ve not watched it again. About the only things I can remember are Scotland not being much cop and Wales scoring a couple of easy tries. Thoughts from anyone else?

Ugh I was so sick over this. It was the unforced errors that killed us. Sloppy passes under no pressure and poor kicking from hand. But typical French, you contain them all day then one missed tackle and they’re under your posts.

France look beatable and as poor as Italy were on Saturday England must be on for a grandslam. Flood continues to get better and better. Only negative was Ashton’s diving over the try line really.

Scotland V Wales was a terrible match. Was really dissapointed with the Scots. Dan Parks had his worst performance ever in a Scottish jersey.

Well, I have to say that that was a high-quality match between England and France yesterday - by which I mean high-quality in terms of entertainment, attrition, and competition if not in terms of error-count. Both sides conceded some silly penalties and made some fairly unforgivable handling errors - I know the commentators were going on about the slippery ball, but these players are supposed to be the elite and they practise this seven days a week (more or less), you’d think there might be slightly fewer basic mistakes (Ashton over-running his centre by about two yards stands out - I remember doing that once in a rugby match at the age of 15, you’d expect a full international to be a little more aware of their positioning).

Anyway, overall it was a performance that England should take a lot of heart from and will hopefully give them some tangible belief (a bit of an oxymoron, I know!) that a Grand Slam is in reach this year - in fact, if the Irish continue to play so poorly, I’d say it is fairly nailed on. But you can always rely on Ireland to up their game against England, so things are far from decided as yet.

I particularly enjoyed a few moments from the match - the French drop-kick attempt when the closing player was about a yard away, hitting him on the shin; Chabal being smashed into at every opportunity, he looked less effective than usual and initially tried to ignore the fact he was being (deservedly, IMO) replaced as if he couldn’t believe it would be him; Ashton’s swallow dive when Brian Moore, most of the stadium, and half the players had heard the ref’s whistle 10 seconds before - I reckon the ref deliberately delayed a second blast because he wanted to see the dive as well :); obviously, the try which was a brilliant finish by Foden; Yachvili hitting the post; a cruel (ha!) bounce robbing the French of a try when the ball was kicked through the defence.

On reviewing the above, England were perhaps lucky in places but on the other hand could have had two more tries in the second half (the just-forward pass and the dubious disallowing of Tindall’s effort), and I think they were fully worth their victory on the balance of play. Both sides were very good on turning things over at the breakdown but England edged it due to fewer errors.

I thought the ref had a very good game, and like Brian Moore I was delighted to see him correctly (for the most part) enforcing a proper contested scrummage.

I didn’t see the particular game in question. However, I played as a prop (loosehead) for an amateur side until a few months ago. As mentioned, there’s numerous ways in which props try to get the upperhand on the opposition front three. Binding incorrectly gives a prop a huge advantage in terms of levering the opposition prop and twisting him all over the place. Another is trying to “turn” the scrum by both the tighthead and loosehead working in concert. One puts on a drive, while the other backs off, meaning that the scrum spins around. This is even more effective when coupled with incorrect binding, which means the opposition prop is at a severe disadvantage, as he can be twisted all over the place whilst trying to keep the scrum straight.

Another easy way, at least at the amateur level, to make the lives of the opposition front row is for the prop to grab hold of the opposition hooker’s hands and twist his fingers. This has two effects: it stops the hooker from signalling with his hand to the scrum half to put the ball in, and also puts him off his game when it finally comes in as he’s too busy thinking about his fingers than the ball. Another more dangerous tactic is for the tighthead to drive his head into the opposition hooker’s neck. I briefly played as a hooker and had this happen to me in a game. It’s incredibly painful, and despite being banned it’s hard for referees to spot. You just have to rely on your own props driving their heads into the offender, or throwing a punch whenever it happens.

Propping is all about technique (though weighing 20 stone also helps). The very worst players I had to play against were old props who’ve been playing in the position for thirty-forty years. They know every trick in the book and can move inexperienced opposition players all over the place.

Great post, thanks. Just quoted this part to point out that this is exactly what the Scottish loosehead was yellow-carded for yesterday. I don’t envy the referee’s job at all - despite the criticism from the commentators yesterday, what is he supposed to do? He has to enforce the law (which is in large part designed to avoid front rows breaking their necks), once both teams finally got the message then the game flowed quite well.

I once played for a club second team against a better club’s 4th team (so that the game would be relatively even). In our front row was an 18 year old, making only his second start in men’s rugby - he was fit and strong, viewed as a player for the future by the club. Playing loose head, he was up against a 45 year old vet on the opposition.

Needless to say, the 45 year old took him to the cleaners - both legally and illegally - all day long at scrum. Despite being beaten at scrum, we actually managed a good performance and were several scores up with about 15 minutes to go. Whereupon the 45 year old decided that, since the game was lost, he was going to run an impromptu scrum tutorial on the fly with our 18 year old. After every scrum for the remainder of the game, he got up and told the 18 year old exactly what he had done to bend him out of shape that time. It was brilliant. I overheard several conversations that started “see that time, you tried to swivel your body and I…”.

Next week, the 18 year old came up against a 20 year old. He was a one man wrecking machine.

45 year old props know more about scrummaging than almost anyone on the planet.

On topic: was pleased the England adapted to changing circumstances against France. One they got the score up after half time, they never really looked like losing. Can’t agree that it was a technically great game though - conditions didn’t help but there was a period of about 15 minutes at the end of the second half where basic skills went to pot. Mike Tindall threw at least 3 or 4 passes that checked his outside man instead of releasing him. Hape is not the answer at inside either. The French made quite a few errors too - though it is fair to say that defenses were on top.

About the most pleasing aspect though is that both sides knew that an awful lot was riding on the game - and England adapted better to win. Games like this are what the World Cup is about. Hopefully it is a preview to England thinking carefully about their gameplan and doing the necessary to win towards the end of the year. If they can Wis against Argentina and Scotland in the group, that should see them play France in the quarters and this will be a nice one to have in the back pocket.

Scotland have completely disintegrated, after a creditable performance in France. Their defence yesterday was a shambles and they have almsot zero idea with the ball in hand. Watch them put the wind right up England now - as they’ve nothing to lose and will probably just say, fuck this, and tear into them.

Wales can still win the Championship from here. Though they’ll have to beat Ireland and go on the road in France to do it. They only played well for about 30 minutes in Rome and it was still enough. If Italy ever find half backs to go with their pack, they’ll cause serious problems.

I am still scared about Ireland on the last day for England. They’ve not been brilliant all championship but they’re getting it done. I think they match up well against England. That game is going to be another real test of how far the rebirth has come for English rugby.

When Ronan O’Gara hands you off for a try then you have defensive issues no doubt. From an Irish perspective the fact that we needed three very soft tries to beat the Scots is very worrying.

Next week’s match against the Welsh should be interesting.

First part of the above quote - I never said it was a technically great game, I said it was great to watch. I certainly agree that there were way too many errors for it to be considered a classic.

Don’t agree that Scotland disintegrated (except in defence - well, I guess that was the most important part of the result, but) they fought back well in the second half and looked like they had every chance of tying the game at one point - however, the Irish defended well and with more discipline than they had shown in the first half. I do agree that any one of four teams could still win the championship.

First point - fair enough - I shouldn’t have implied that.

Second point - I’m not sure what disintegration looks like if it is not what Scotland have done after the France game. Against Wales, they were abject. As you note (and I mentioned) their defence is a joke at the minute. But more importantly for me, they’re incredibly limited with the ball in hand. They kick too much ball and losing Ansbro has been really damaging. Since scoring tries against France, they have been blanked for tries in two home games. After a very encouraging first game, I look at them as a side that has really regressed. The back row is less Killer B’s than Bumbling B’s and they desperately needed a solid performance from both them and Blair on Sunday to ease Jackson (who looks like he has more ideas than Parks will ever have) into his role.

At the minute, for England to win against Scotland, all they have to do is keep the penalty count in their own half below 4 or 5. Scotland, with ball in hand, have got to get back to what they were doing against France in game one or they will have a tough time beating Italy.

As I said before though, watch them cause England no end of problems now - they’ve nothing to lose and might as well tear right into them and see where it gets them.

I realise now that the remainder of my post above is simply a restatement of the mathematical elements of the table :smack: