Working on set piece attack is a given for most rugby teams, but attacking scrums inside the opposition’s defensive third of the pitch may be worth more attention than anywhere else.
These situations are stacked in the favour of any attacking team that can get an accurate scrum platform and then take advantage of a testing defensive scenario for the opposition. Clearly, we don’t want players to become overly slavish to, or dependent on, pre-planned patterns in general play, but being prepared for these specific situations and having a defined mindset of ruthlessness can prove vital.
Scoring points on as many visits into the opposition’s territory as possible is obviously integral to winning games, and an attacking scrum in this area of the pitch presents a wonderful chance of doing exactly that, especially through tries. Last weekend, during round 12 of the Super Rugby competition, we saw several examples of teams touching down directly from attacking scrums in the opposition’s defensive third of the pitch.
In the first example above, the Blues have the feed to the scrum around 26 metres out from the Reds’ tryline, in the middle of the pitch. It’s a stressing defensive situation for the Australian side with so much of the pitch to cover, and with less of an ability to push the Blues’ attack into touch on the drift.
As we see in the video, the passage starts with John Kirwan’s side ensuring they win the scrum and allow number eight Jerome Kaino a relative degree of solidity in picking the ball as the base. Scrumhalf Bryn Hall heads for the right-hand side of the scrum to take the first pass from Kaino, before sending his pass back to the left. It’s a move we have seen many teams attempting this season, but with far less success than here.
Essentially, Hall is selling a dummy to the Reds defence. As we see in the shot below, openside flanker Liam Gill and number eight Jake Schatz buy it, accelerating to cover their team’s left-hand side.
Compounding that initial move from the Reds back row is the fact that inside centre Anthony Fainga’a, who is on the right-hand side of the defensive scrum, also ‘buys’ Hall’s dummy movement. We see below that the midfielder has begun a covering run towards the left, before realising that Hall is passing back to the Red’s right. It leaves Will Genia a good five metres ahead of Fainga’a and suddenly presents the Blues with a disjointed defensive line to run at.
From there, Ma’a Nonu makes a superb decision and pass, while wing Lolagi Visinia shows his pace and awareness to set up Jackson Willison for the score. It’s a ruthlessly effective team try from the Blues, grasping the favourable attacking opportunity with both hands.
Just under 15 seconds is all it takes to manufacture the try, with scrum competence, control, passing, decision-making, pace and anticipation all playing their part.
The Blues have clearly prepared for this exact situation on the pitch, with each player aware of what is required of them and focused on carrying out that particular role. As mentioned above, we do not want to take all autonomy away from the players by overly defining their roles in general but in this scenario, the Blues benefit from a superbly executed plan.
Kirwan’s men actually scored another try directly from an attacking scum in the same game, as we see below. It is worth first pointing out that the Reds are down to 14 men in this example and make the decision to put fullback Mike Harris into the scrum on the blindside flank.
The Blues react with wonderful intelligence and through a simple, effective play. Nonu steps in at first receiver, immediately adding another stress for the Reds’ backline defence, a factor they possibly were not expecting.
With the powerful All Black looking set to carry the ball aggressively, the Aussie team rush up on him with swift line speed, leaving that space in behind their front-line for Nonu to nudge the ball into.
Again, the Blues’ scrum is vital to their backline being able to attack so effectively. The ball is clean and steady for Hall to pass from the base, while the pack actually gets a good nudge on to provide the initial forward momentum. Although many of us have issues with the modern scrum [the straight feed appears nearly extinct again], there is a genuine pleasure to be taken from tries that originate in the eight-man set piece.
That link between forwards and backs, the dependence of the latter on the foundation the former can provide is in clear evidence in the tries above. The backs are responsible for the scoring in a more direct manner, but the forwards facilitate their clinical use of the extra space on the pitch at scrum time.
That relationship was in evidence as the Waratahs ruthlessly took their chance from an attacking scrum seven metres out from the Hurricanes’ tryline, as we see in the video below.
The Australian side’s scrum delivers exactly what they backline needs to carry out their planned attack, hooking down the channel one while also working enough of an angle that Nick Phipps can pass from an open base, rather than having to pick the ball on the right-hand side of the scrum and pass back across it.
The ‘Tahs never get a huge shove on in the scrum, but they do manipulate the Hurricanes into the angle they want. If anything, tighthead Paddy Ryan goes slightly backwards, but that simply facilities the angle Phipps needs at the back. Loosehead prop Benn Robinson does superb in getting underneath Jeff Toomaga-Allen, driving him slightly inwards and helping the ‘Tahs to get up on that side of the scrum. The obvious shove of Kane Douglas behind him in the second row should not go unmentioned either.
Those huge efforts from the forwards ultimately result in the scrum rotating as the ball is being played away, ever so slightly tying down the Hurricanes openside flanker Jack Lam from bursting into a strong defensive position.
Lam’s requirement to stay bound to the scrum until the ball is shifted by Phipps suddenly allows a wide space to open between the ‘Canes flanker and scrumhalf TJ Perenara, as we see in the shot above. As with the Blues in the examples above, the Waratahs backs are ruthless in exploiting the opportunity their forwards have afforded them, with out-half Bernard Foley turning on the footwork to draw in Perenara for a split-second, then Matt Carraro showing his power to finish.
Note the arrival of Hurricanes number eight Victor Vito just after Carraro has grounded the ball. It goes back to that excellent effort from the Waratahs forwards, rotating the scrum and pinning down the ‘Canes back row in order to allow their backs to go one-on-one with their opposite numbers.
For those dubious about the second Blues try we highlighted above [with Mike Harris engaged in the scrum], it’s worth taking a look at one of scores the Highlanders produced during their enthralling encounter with the Stormers at Newlands.
The scrum platform is perhaps less impressive than others, but the Highlanders pack does enough to ensure that scrumhalf Aaron Smith gets exactly the delivery to hand that he wants. From there, the New Zealand international combines superbly with Ben Smith to finish the chance clinically, fully exploiting the spaces that these wonderful attacking opportunities afford.
This close to the line, the defensive team simply has to rush up and close down the attacking side as quickly as possible. That leaves a narrow channel of space in behind, as we saw with the try for Blues wing Visinia earlier.
Smith carries out a difficult skill of a delicate grubber kick with remarkable effectiveness for the Highlanders, showing clear evidence of deliberate practice for his exact situation, as with the examples that have gone before. It goes without saying that grubbers behind the advancing defence are not the only way to score from close-range scrums. These examples are merely what some of last weekend’s Super Rugby offered up.
Whatever the means, the idea is to be utterly ruthless in taking these chances. Part of the joy of the scrum is the sheer space it provides in tying down eight players from each side. Backlines should be thrilled about the possibilities, especially in attack.
Everything comes back to the forwards in the end though, no matter how sparkling the end product from the backline. Looking for an example of where the scrum platform perhaps didn’t allow that we turn to the Lions in their clash against the Chiefs.
On the face of things, it’s quite a solid effort from the Lions forwards and certainly one that would go down on the ‘scrums won’ section of the stats sheet. However, the channel in which the ball comes back is far from suitable for where the Lions appear to be planning to attack.
As we see in the video above, the pill arrives on the right-hand side of the back of the scrum, forcing scrumhalf Francois de Klerk to scamper all the way around to pick it out, then add in another step to clear himself away from the scrum before passing to the left. With all the backs having lined themselves up to the left of the scrum, the ideal would have been to see the ball hooked back in channel one, arriving towards the left foot of number eight Warren Whiteley.
Without knowing the exact move the Lions have planned here, it is hard to judge whether the ball arrived where they wanted it to at the base of the scrum, or if they worked the angle they had hoped to in this instance. Regardless, they simply don’t take their attacking chance, instead offering a stuttering, disjointed two-phase passage that ends with a momentum-boosting turnover penalty for the Chiefs.
In a game where the Lions’ chances were few and far between, this was a huge blow.
Does your team spend time on improving their attack from scrums? How important is the role of the forwards in these instances? What have you found to be the best way to score in these situations? All thoughts and opinions are greatly welcome.