December 11 2013 Latest news:
By James Cunliffe
Thursday, September 5, 2013
Saracens hooker Jared Saunders has praised the introduction of the new scrum laws despite some outspoken criticism ahead of their trial when the new Premiership season gets underway this weekend.
Richard Cockerill, the director of rugby at Leicester Tigers, has been the most outspoken opponent the questioning top flight coaches were not consulted about the new sequence, which forces opposing props to bind fully before engagement.
But Saunders, who has made the decision to switch from prop to hooker, believes the new laws will allow players in his new position to do what they were originally intend to.
“The hookers are going back to the old school now where hookers have to hook,” the 23-year-old said.
“I actually agree with it. It’s more of a pushing contest, fairer and I’m really all for it.
“It’s going back to the old days where hookers now have to be quite bulky.
“The players [in the scrum] now have to be set so there’s no moving around, it’s a lot more controlled and I think it’s a really good decision.”
Other challenges than new set-piece drills await the South African-born forward this term - which starts against London Irish at Twickenham on Saturday - as he attempts to put two seasons of injury trouble behind him.
It has meant he’s only made 11 appearances for the north London club, which has not helped his transition from the edges of the front row to the centre.
He said: “It’s been tough but I did ask for it. It was a decision between all of us and I am pleased with it but I do lack experience there.
“I’m looking forward to it and this season there is going to be plenty of opportunities. I just need to grab them with both hands.”
Legendary Springbok skipper John Smit retired this summer to open up an exciting competition for the hooker role this year with Schalk Brits and Jamie George leading the way while Saunders competes with other young guns like Scott Spurling and Max Crumpton.
But with so much time missed in his development, Saunders admits he may have to take his chances wherever they present themselves.
“It has been pretty frustrating with my knee, ankle and hamstring, but I’m feeling really good to have a season where I can crack on, even if it’s in the A League or on loan,” he said.
“I’m going to make sure I’m constantly fit and playing.
“I wanted to have a good pre-season, but my main goal was to get through it, to be fit and injury free.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Sarries completed their pre-season campaign with a 71-12 thrashing of Bedford Blues at the weekend, a side where many of the Premiership’s promising younger players have benefitted from the dual registration relationship between the two clubs – and it’s not something Saunders would rule out.
“They are a Championship side and that’s really ideal for players in the Championship who aren’t getting game time,” he said.
“But the A League is what I’m looking for as well. Hopefully I can push myself and raise the bar a bit here to push the other hookers.
“It all comes down to game time so I’m really excited and can’t wait for the season to start.”
NEW SCRUM LAW FOCUS
The International Rugby Board’s new scrum protocols come into effect in northern hemisphere competitions on Friday night.
Here we examines the rule changes.
WHY ARE THE LAWS BEING TRIALLED?
Primarily to enhance player welfare. Advocates claim that the new engagement will reduce the power of the initial hit by 25 per cent. But scrums had also become a mess with too much time being spent on re-setting, 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 on to each other before engagement and the packs can only begin pushing once the ball has been fed into the tunnel. The ball must now be fed straight by the scrum-halves.
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 director of rugby Richard Cockerill claimed they have only served to create a different type of “mess” and that the changes have made it dangerous for hookers. Cockerill and his Newcastle counterpart Dean Richards have also questioned whether they are an attempt by the southern hemisphere to depower 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 will test will come over the coming weeks with the Aviva Premiership beginning on Friday. Leicester have a strong scrum, which perhaps in part explains Cockerill’s opposition. Of the southern hemisphere teams, only Australia has 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, strong 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?
While the changes have been trialled in this year’s Rugby Championship, they will come under greater scrutiny over the coming months when they are put into practice in the northern hemisphere competitions. They are to be reviewed next summer when it will be decided whether they should be made permanent laws.
•Saunders was speaking as Saracens visited the Metro Golf Centre which is situated yards away from Allianz Park. The club aim invest in former Copthall site, working alongside partners such as the Metro Golf Centre to deliver a vibrant sporting hub for the community.