This week we concern ourselves with an interesting new scrum initiative and the Super Rugby and Six Nations talking points…
This week we will mostly be concerning ourselves with an interesting new scrum initiative and the multiple Super Rugby and Six Nations talking points…
The latest in a line of scrum engagement trials is set to start this week in the Pacific Rugby Cup, which features select teams from the Pacific Islands touring the second-strings of the Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby franchises before playing off against each other.
The trial involves the props binding with their outside arms upon the 'touch' call in the engagement sequence.
A good thing? It's definitely worth a shot. Binding is phenomenally difficult these days. A slipped bind costs many a penalty and causes much consternation among the front row fraternity; it's understandable for props to feel aggrieved that they may have cost their team three points merely by dint of being unable to grab a handful of skintight shiny bog-roll jersey while close to two tonnes of force are colliding across their spines.
What is also apparent with the new trial is that 'getting a hit' is going to be a lot harder, as the props will have to stay closer together once they have bound up, so the force of being able to step forward as scrums do nowadays will be negated.
This is going to divide opinion. Some see the hit as an indispensable part of the game, while others see it as too hard to control to be worth the time wasted officiating it. But take away the hit and you will get back to a more 'pure' form of scrummaging in which the technical ability to be able to push and opponent off will count for more.
The discussion forum is open. But if it reduces any or all of the collapses at engagement and number of free-kicks/penalties at engagement, then it is probably a good thing.
And if it makes it easier for referees to pay more attention to and control the curse of feeding, then it is definitely a good thing!
This year's Six Nations is one of the most fascinating we have had for a long, long time. There is too much to talk about to fit into the one column, but these have been the points bandied around the terraces, offices and bars we've been in this weekend:
Scotland's revival looks the real deal. Ok, they're not going to be contenders for a Rugby World Cup anytime soon, but there was a time when they looked as though they might end up perennial whipping boys. The forwards continue to work hard, while the backs have a sharpness to their play long absent from Murrayfield. Welcome back!
Ireland are officially in transition. Injuries have scalped them at every turn this season, but the generation below clearly needs significantly more time together to bed in to the international stage. Declan Kidney has to now consider giving it to them. A clearout of the aged and half-crocked was never so overdue, while the two and a half years between now and the next Rugby World Cup is enough time to sort out the men from the boys of the next generation, even if that will mean Ireland taking a few blows on the way.
France are in terrible trouble. Philippe Saint-AndrÃ©'s curious tinkering has set the team well back from where it should be right now with the talent they have at their disposal. He may get the time to put it right, he may not – a lot might depend on how the French do against an ailing Ireland – but the team looks short on ideas, direction and most disturbingly, identity.
Finally, Wales and England are both heading in the right direction for a mesmerising final-day showdown. Assuming they beat Scotland and Italy respectively, it's tough to know what would be sweeter for the Welsh: winning the Six Nations title or denying England a Grand Slam in Cardiff.
But after the false start against Ireland, Wales have settled down and are playing good rugby again. Shaun Edwards has clearly taken the defence to task, resulting in an improvement in line speed and tackling, while the backs are starting to find their ideas and lines.
They will be a tougher challenge to England than anybody thus far, and those celebrating England's win against the French should not forget that they got out of jail. Dominated in the scrum and the breakdown for much of the first hour, the game changed on a huge moment of good fortune when the accidental offside leading to Manu Tuilagi's try was not spotted, with that moment backed up by some extraordinary tactical changes from Saint-AndrÃ©.
England can enjoy their time at the top though. They are clearly mastering the art of winning when not playing well, and taking opportunities when they come. They are solid in every department, have a good, young average age and a healthy arrogance in general (although Owen Farrell and Chris Ashton could do with pulling their heads in a bit). They are the team to beat. On to Cardiff…
Probably time to send pictures to Port Elizabeth of myself choking on a mouthful of humble pie then. The Kings were good value for their win over the Force, who looked disparate and unhappy with their lot in life.
Next up for the newbies (after a bye week) are the Sharks, who will presumably provide a significantly more realistic benchmark of where the Kings are than Australia's mildly jet-lagged weakest team.
But once again what really struck home about this weekend's Super Rugby was the cavernous differences in rugby culture that the tournament provides. The New Zealand games, especially the breathless clash between Chiefs and Highlanders, were once again streets ahead of the rest in terms of skill, speed and enterprise. The Stormers-Bulls clash was a tranquilliser of a game, yet also a lesson on how to stick obstinately to structure.
Meanwhile Australia's derbies were marked by a rugged balance between the two: a little more running, but less open running than the Kiwis, less kicking than in SA.
We'll see which prevails. At some point, good though the Kiwis were, you also have to ask if the tackling was as good as it should have been, while the SA franchises will also have to wonder if they ought not just look to see if their runners – and they have some of the finest – ought not to be given a bit more to do.
We'll see over the next few weeks. But as ever, it's good to have Super Rugby back again.
Loose Pass compiled by Richard Anderson