Rugby Column: All eyes on the scrum
Why are new laws being trialled?
The International Rugby Board's new scrum protocols, which come into effect in northern hemisphere competitions tonight, are designed primarily to enhance player welfare. Advocates claim that the new engagement will reduce the power of the initial hit by 25pc. But scrums had also become a mess, with too much time being spent on resetting, leading to a poor spectacle. Former England hooker Brian Moore views the changes as "our last chance to save the scrum."
What are the changes?
Opposing props must bind fully onto each other before engagement and the packs can begin pushing only once the ball has been fed into the tunnel. The ball must now be fed straight by the scrum-half.
How will the laws affect the game?
It is hoped the ball will be in play for longer and there will be fewer reset scrums. For the first time in more than a decade, hookers will have to hook the ball rather than scrum-halves feeding it straight into the second-row, meaning there should be a genuine contest for possession.
Is everyone happy with the changes?
No. While there is universal acceptance that the scrum problems needed to be addressed, there has also been criticism. Leicester chief Richard Cockerill claimed they have served only to create a different type of "mess" and that the changes have made it dangerous for hookers. Cockerill has questioned whether they are an attempt by the southern hemisphere to lessen the power of the scrum.
Do they have a point?
Early evidence from pre-season games is that there have been fewer collapsed scrums on engagement, scrums are more stable and more balls are won against the head, but the real test will come over the coming weeks, with the English Premiership and the Pro12 beginning tonight. Leicester have a strong scrum, which perhaps in part explains Cockerill's opposition. Of the southern hemisphere teams, only Australia have a weak scrum.
What will be the effect on the role of players in the front-row?
It has been suggested the changes will lead to the emergence of mobile props more akin to flankers, but this is doubtful as scrums will still have to be anchored and won. Technically adept props should come to the fore, whereas before the engagement it was all about brute strength. Hookers will have to learn to hook the ball back.
What happens now?
The changes are to be reviewed next summer when it will be decided whether they should be made permanent laws.