Scrum-rule change packs more action
What's in a word? Apparently a lot if you are talking about scrums.
Super Rugby has replaced the long and inconsistent call of "crouch, touch, pause, engage" this season with the shorter and more consistent "crouch, touch, set".
And Sanzar referees' boss Lyndon Bray believes it's the reason for a huge reduction in the number of reset scrums through the first three rounds of the season.
"It's early days but the scrum completion rate at the moment is amazing," Bray said this week. "You have to remember last year's average was only 60 per cent."
Which means only 60 per cent of all scrums in 2013 saw the ball leave the back of the scrum on the first try.
At the weekend the Waratahs and Rebels achieved a 92 per cent success rate, the Chiefs and Cheetahs 86 per cent, the Blues and Crusaders 85 per cent, and the Reds and Hurricanes 77 per cent.
"The worst game, between the Sharks and Stormers, was still up at 53 per cent," Bray said. "Those are incredible stats . . . the touch to set call has given the stability we've asked for and it's not slowing it [the engagement] down.
"We record all the touch to set timings and we have a really consistent space between touch and set. I think they are getting a better hit as a consequence and because of that the scrum is holding together longer."
Last year the length of the "pause" call varied depending on the referee and could be different from scrum to scrum and match to match.
But Bray is also crediting players and coaches for the early success.
"In a big-picture sense the teams have been positive about their scrummaging . . . long may it continue because it makes a huge difference when the referees aren't dealing with negativity from the players."
Hurricanes loosehead prop Ben Franks was a little sceptical in his ninth year of first-class rugby, but hoped Bray would be proved right.
"I was thinking about it last night that since I started playing I've had ‘crouch, engage', ‘crouch, touch, pause, engage' and now ‘crouch, touch, set'," Franks said.
"I just think it's more the role of the teams now. They are putting a lot more work into the scrum because it's such a good way to get your strikes going.
"I always thought it works well when you get two teams willing to stick in there and fight through it.
"There will always be a collapse here and there or a hand down because the forces are just so great. The amount of work that goes in, the analysis. Guys are bigger and stronger.
"But if you can get around 80 per cent completions that's pretty acceptable and a huge improvement."
Bray also heralded the new powers given to television match officials as a success despite a number of controversial calls.
Allowing the TMO to scrutinise whether tries had been fairly scored or not had taken a lot of the emotion out of the relationship between the players and the onfield officials, he said.
Although there would always be debate about close calls he believed his referees had got it right so far.
That included Crusaders wing Israel Dagg's disallowed try against the Blues, and the penalty try awarded to the Hurricanes in round two.
The Dominion Post