Refs to crack down on scrumhalves
Lyndon Bray, SANZAR's Game Manager, wants referees to get tougher on scrumhalves not feeding the ball properly and forcing hookers to hook.
Lyndon Bray, SANZAR's Game Manager, wants referees to "get stronger" on committing the scrumhalves to a proper feed and forcing hookers to hook for the ball.
Alistair Hogg, SANZAR's media and communications manager, spoke to Bray,, whose portfolio includes managing referees, about the first two weeks of Super Rugby.
He believes that the tackle and the scrum are much better than they were last year - even the scrum feed.
However, he also pointed out that referees must take a tougher stance to ensure scrumhalves feed the ball properly - an area that was overlooked in Rounds One and Two.
Bray makes it clear that teams are approaching the laws of the game with greater compliance and he clearly he believes that things are better and will get even better.
It is Bray who speaks: "Firstly, I think the really positive aspect has been the way in which the rugby has panned out in the first two weeks. My first comment about that is the very positive endeavour being shown by the players. Largely, their work around the tackle has been up in terms of standards and compliance from previous seasons, which ultimately makes the referee's work rate a lot easier."
On the scrum:
"Overall, we've seen a positive start to scrummaging, but also with a couple of things we really need to improve on as we move forward.
"If you look at scrum as the area we're focused on with the new process, teams are now expected to provide stability having engaged. What that means from a dominant scrum point of view is that you almost have to take some of your weight off to provide a strong platform and stability at the scrum.
"In return, we have a total expectation that the feeding team needs to be held accountable for a credible feed which forces the hooker to hook for the ball. If they're good enough, they can feed straight and push over the ball; Argentina does that a lot at Test level.
"The key fundamental principle that we've all agreed upon is that the feeding team must be forced to hook for the ball, which allows for a fairly contested scrum.
"If we allow a halfback to feed it directly under a hooker's feet into the channel, it belittles the contest of a scrum and makes it too easy for that team to clear the ball quickly and the process really becomes irrelevant.
"Having agreed this with our team coaches throughout workshops around this issue, I thought some of the scrumhalves were very poor in their feed on the weekend. We largely ignored it, which is not good enough. So one of the key messages going into Round 3 is that we need to get stronger on committing the scrumhalves to a proper feed and forcing hookers to hook for the ball."
On scrumming improvement this year:
"Having said that, when we did get good stability, we had some excellent scrum outcomes and really good contests. Chiefs vs Crusaders resulted in 94 percent ball in, ball out; they were having a great contest. Waratahs and Force is traditionally a poor scrum game, but we saw 82 percent ball in, ball out which was fantastic. Brumbies vs Reds saw 72 percent and Lions vs Stormers 70 percent, so they are very high figures of ball out scrum completion.
"Last year we got up towards 70 percent. Our goal was 60. This year we're really pushing that we get over 70 percent. We're tracking well above 70 percent through nine games, and that's good. That's a really promising start, we've just got to maintain that."
On the breakdown:
"When it comes to quick ball, there are two key factors.
"One is that the defending team, when they are tackling, have to get out of the way of the release of the ball and that channel for the halfback to get ball clearance.
"Secondly, the defender who gets over the ball must be legal and if so, that he is able to contest for the ball, which means that the attacking team can't then seal off and kill that contest, or remove that threat illegally.
"There were a couple of examples over the weekend of clean-outs where the attacking team was under threat and they came in from the side to clean that threat out. That's what we're looking to stop and give the appropriate penalty to reward the defending team. There were also some good examples of a tackler being forced out of the way, or being penalised quickly because he's slowing that ball down. That's a key focus for us around encouraging quick ball at the breakdown. I thought teams played with really positive intent which is great for the game and really helps us, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we were highly accurate in our work around the breakdown."
"In terms of where are we at, we need to keep on improving, just as the teams do. It's early days, but it's a very positive outcome for the game if the players are positive."
On the 'team of four' - referee, assistant referees and TMO:
"One of the big commitments that the referees have made this year is to undertake a lot of professional preparation with their team of four. They've compiled - in their own time - presentations that they use within their team which include vision as to how they are looking to rule as a team of four and making sure that if an assistant referee comes in with a call, that's relevant, so that the referee can just go with it and he doesn't have to second guess.
"There were some examples on the weekend where we are not yet where we want to be with that. One of the important things with the team of four is that the assistant referee is, to a certain extent, disconnected from the action by being on the touch line. His challenge is to stay connected with the game and the referee and therefore make relevant calls in the here-and-now, which is easier said than done. But it's a really important aspect of his role.
"Secondly, it's about being able to strike a balance. We get it right against one team and we've got to get that right against the other team and make sure that we've got a really balanced approach across the team of four."