JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Perception of the scrum can swing the outcome


Spiro Zavos

Level field … the Wallabies' forwards finally got a fair deal.

Level field … the Wallabies' forwards finally got a fair deal. Photo: Getty Images

IN HIS essay The Problems of Knowledge, Bertrand Russell described an experiment where people were asked to look through a keyhole and describe a table they saw inside the room. But when the door was opened, what was revealed were cunningly placed lines of string. Russell deduced from this that a false perception leads to false knowledge.

This is a roundabout way, but an important one, to get to the issue of the Wallabies' scrum. Its emphatic performance against the highly rated England pack revealed once again that British referees (particularly) have a false perception of the strength of the Wallabies' scrummaging, and penalise it, unfairly, as a consequence.

The Wallabies' scrum seemed to be energised by this decision 

The tendency of British referees is to see the string-scrums of European teams as table-scrums. This is what happened when Nigel Owens, a Welshman, refereed the France-Australia Test. He gave the Wallabies' pack no credit when it did, from time to time, beat the French pack at scrum time. And it is not only the Wallabies' scrum that suffers from this false perception. Last weekend, the All Blacks' pack monstered the fearsome Italians at scrum time. Every time Italy fed the scrum, All Black Tony Woodcock forced the "world-class" tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni to pop out of the scrum. Irish referee Alain Rolland refused to penalise Italy for the repeated popping-up transgressions. But when Italy finally got one strong scrum shove on, the All Blacks were penalised.

One of the features of the Wallabies' fine victory over England was that French referee Romain Poite refereed what was in front of him at scrum time, rather than what he perceived was happening. At the first scrum in the Test, with the Wallabies on defence, Poite ruled that England had pushed early. He correctly awarded a short-arm penalty against England. The Wallabies' scrum seemed to be energised by this decision. Ben Alexander did such a demolition job on the mohawked Joe Marler that the latter was taken off early in the second half. The scrum dominance established by the Wallabies, and accepted by the referee, was crucial to the result of the Test. Towards the end, England had chances of putting down five-metre scrums.

In the past, these scrums have been a weapon for England to defeat the Wallabies. They provided a relatively easy source of penalties and the occasional push-over try. Not last weekend. England had to take lineouts, which were defended with more ease than five-metre scrums were defended in the past, or against France.

Back to the Test against France. The first scum, on the Wallabies' five-metre line, had the referee penalise Nick Phipps for a crooked feed. The next feed to the scrum by the French halfback was so crooked that I gasped as it was rolled in. A back-row move from the scrum, following this feed, led to France scoring an early and important try. Nathan Sharpe, the Wallabies' captain, said this scrum was the turning point in the Test. I can't read the mind of Nigel Owens, but I reckon it is possible he believed Phipps was helping a weak Wallabies' pack and the French pack was so strong it was immaterial where the ball was fed.

The point about all this is that the main chance of the Wallabies losing on Sunday revolves around whether the Italian pack can smash their scrum. The moment of truth will come when Castrogiovanni bores in illegally (which he does all the time) or is lifted. If the referee, the South African Lourens van der Merwe, penalises him (as he should), the Wallabies will be well on the way to winning the Test against an Italian side that showed against the All Blacks that they have some new flair in their attacking play.

Italy, with a strong win over Tonga and a gutsy loss to the All Blacks, and well coached by Jacques Brunel, look to be a strong Test side capable of beating the leading teams in world rugby like the Wallabies. Is this a false perception, though, or real knowledge?


11 comments so far

  • Dream on Spiro!! Any suggestion the Wallabies were not buried by the French pack & deservedly whistled off the park is blantant bias (yes I know your a Kiwi so I can only guess as to why you wear a yellow eyepatch) If anything the Wallabies have been a protected species at scrum time. They are a poor scrummaging side (as are the current English pack) and should be duly penalised as they CORRECTLY were against the French. They collapsed scrums, bored in & twisted & turned to avoid a straight out contest as they do every each & every match. Their scrum tactics is to blatently cheat in the hope that they'll avoid a out & out contest & only cop 50 - 60% of the penalties. The sad fact is that clueless referees get suckered in by it. How often does an AB or SA scrum get penalised whilst a Wallaby prop lies flat out prone after collasping under the presure???? More often than not!

    The Winners Circle
    Date and time
    November 24, 2012, 12:05PM
    • @ Camomatic

      '....a protected species at scrum time.' Not on my watch, buddy !

      inner west sydney
      Date and time
      November 24, 2012, 5:38PM
    • You must've been off duty 2 weeks ago huh?? On my watch they got smashed..... again & resorted to type by adopting whatever survival tactic possible, only for once they got penalised.

      The AB's have publicly stated they are no longer attacking scrums (despite it not being the weapon is was this season) because they're sick of weak packs not being able to hold thier side & referee's protecting them..... who do you think they were talking about?

      The Winners Circle
      Date and time
      November 25, 2012, 9:24PM
  • I rarely read Spiro's articles because of the bias he has displayed in the past. Sure enough more of the same old bias in this article. I will come back next season and take another check. Hopefully I will be surprised. Some chance.

    Date and time
    November 24, 2012, 8:27PM
    • Spiro,
      You continue to amaze me. For a man who has followed Rugby for as long as I have you have a funny view of the game. Perhaps it is your rose coloured glasses. I was waiting for Woodcock to get penalised all game for boring in on Castro, which actually caused him to pop as you put it. Look at Woodcock, not once did he drive straight. It was the only way he could deal with Castro and he got away with it. Perhaps it (ABs getting penalised for this boring in) didn't happen possibly because the refs are scared of getting the Dickenson treatment if they police the AB scrum.
      Now the English pack last week was was "highly rated" was it? In whose book. Dan Cole is not that highly rated as a scrummager and Mala certainly isn't. The rest of the pack is a bit like the 1998 one, pretty new and without much cohesion. IMO it was certainly to weakset pack England has put out since that ill-fated test against the Wallabies in that year. Take off the glasses and try watching with a critical eye.

      Date and time
      November 24, 2012, 8:42PM
      • Dream on camomatic. Spiro is frequently prone to hyperbole, but his central premise that the Wallaby scrum is penalised because of perceived weakness is true and has been since that Test at Twickenham over 5 years ago. If refs are in any doubt (and they're short of their IRB mandated penalty quota for the match) then they ping the Wallabies scrum because obviously it must be their fault, despite tv replays frequently showing they're blameless.

        Rather than the Wallabies blatantly cheating all the time as you claim, opposition scrums are collapsing, boring in etc and banking on the ref's perceptions to get unwarranted penalties.

        On scrums in general, I believe most refs have never packed into a scrum and have no idea what goes on. Due to the laws of physics and the forces involved, sometimes a scrum is going to collapse through no fault of either pack. Refs as part of ther training should have to attend scrum training and if feasible pack down in several scrums (even if only in the back row) so they have some idea. The IRB has gone some way to improving the scrum issue by amending the stupid engagement sequence, but could do more. eg If the ball is at the No.8's feet when the scrum collapses PLAY ON!!!

        Date and time
        November 24, 2012, 9:01PM
        • Of course! That makes perfect tactical sense! An opposing scrum decides rather than play to their strength & the Wallabies weakness, they'll avoid an out & out competition at scrum time (which they'll win 70% of) & play for the referee's penalty lottery. Wow genius......... hold on.... is that you Robbie??

          The Winners Circle
          Date and time
          November 25, 2012, 9:32PM
      • Just select a couple of second tier Kiwi props with jubious connections to Australia and that will fix your problems.

        Date and time
        November 25, 2012, 1:11PM
        • Give Robbie their numbers.... Got to be better than "POP" (out of the scrum) Alexander. If I was paid >$10k for what he does and has done for years I'd give it all back!!!!!

          We have a scrum technique and numerous scrum coaches but thes blokes don't know how to constantly use it???

          Wondering if they fully understand their coaches???

          romiley rider
          Date and time
          November 26, 2012, 1:47PM
      • @Catatonic
        Perhaps your perceptions are influencing your paranoia?

        Date and time
        November 25, 2012, 4:24PM

        More comments

        Make a comment

        You are logged in as [Logout]

        All information entered below may be published.

        Error: Please enter your screen name.

        Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

        Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

        Error: Please enter your comment.

        Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

        Post to

        You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

        Thank you

        Your comment has been submitted for approval.

        Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

        HuffPost Australia

        Rugby World Cup 2015

        Round 1
        Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
        ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
        TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
        IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
        Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
        SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
        FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
        SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
        WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
        Mon, 21 SepTimes shown AEST
        NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
        Wed, 23 SepTimes shown AEST
        SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
        Thu, 24 SepTimes shown AEST
        AUS 28vs FJI 13 Report Stats
        FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
        Fri, 25 SepTimes shown AEST
        NZL 58vs NAM 14 Report Stats
        Sat, 26 SepTimes shown AEST
        ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
        ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
        Sun, 27 SepTimes shown AEST
        SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
        ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
        AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
        SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
        Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
        IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
        Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
        TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
        Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
        WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
        FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
        Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
        NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
        SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
        Sun, 04 OctTimes shown AEST
        SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
        ENG 13vs AUS 33 Report Stats
        Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
        ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
        IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
        Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
        CAN 15vs ROM 17 Report Stats
        FJI 47vs URU 15 Report Stats
        Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
        SAF 64vs USA 0 Report Stats
        NAM 16vs GEO 17 Stats
        Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
        NZL 47vs TGA 9 Report Stats
        Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
        SAM 33vs SCO 36 Report Stats
        AUS 15vs WAL 6 Report Stats
        ENG 60vs URU 3 Stats
        ARG 64vs NAM 19 Report Stats
        Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
        ITA 32vs ROM 22 Report Stats
        FRA 9vs IRE 24 Report Stats
        USA 18vs JPN 28 Report Stats
        View All Fixtures
        Round 2
        Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
        SAF 23vs WAL 19 Stats
        NZL 62vs FRA 13 Report Stats
        IRE 20vs ARG 43 Report Stats
        Mon, 19 OctTimes shown AEDT
        AUS 35vs SCO 34 Stats
        Sun, 25 OctTimes shown AEDT
        SAF 18vs NZL 20 Stats
        Mon, 26 OctTimes shown AEDT
        ARG 15vs AUS 29 Stats
        Sat, 31 OctTimes shown AEDT
        SAF 24vs ARG 13 Stats
        Sun, 01 NovTimes shown AEDT
        NZL 34vs AUS 17 Stats
        View All Fixtures
        Rugby World Cup 2015
        Team P W L D +/- Pts
        Australia 4 4 0 0 106 17
        Wales 4 3 1 0 49 13
        England 4 2 2 0 58 11
        Fiji 4 1 3 0 -17 5
        Uruguay 4 0 4 0 -196 0
        View all
        Rugby World Cup 2015
        Team P W L D +/- Pts
        South Africa 4 3 1 0 120 16
        Scotland 4 3 1 0 43 14
        Japan 4 3 1 0 -2 12
        Samoa 4 1 3 0 -55 6
        USA 4 0 4 0 -106 0
        View all
        Rugby World Cup 2015
        Team P W L D +/- Pts
        New Zealand 4 4 0 0 125 19
        Argentina 4 3 1 0 109 15
        Georgia 4 2 2 0 -70 8
        Tonga 4 1 3 0 -60 6
        Namibia 4 0 4 0 -104 1
        View all
        Rugby World Cup 2015
        Team P W L D +/- Pts
        Ireland 4 4 0 0 99 18
        France 4 3 1 0 57 14
        Italy 4 2 2 0 -14 10
        Romania 4 1 3 0 -69 4
        Canada 4 0 4 0 -73 2
        View all

        Follow Us on Facebook

        Featured advertisers