ANYONE who tuned into Sky Sports’ coverage of Hull Kingston Rovers’ home Super League game with Leeds Rhinos last Thursday would have witnessed something unusual.
No, not the Rhinos making it three wins in a row and thereby securing four home games for the Qualifiers – although, given how this season as gone for the defending champions, that might well in itself qualify as unusual – but the sight of a team winning a scrum against the feed.
The incident in question occurred in the 52nd minute after Leeds’ James Segeyaro had thrown a forward pass little more than 20 metres from his own try-line.
Perhaps desperate to make amends for his error, along with taking advantage of some absent-mindedness from Rovers scrum-half Matty Marsh, the Papua New Guinean hooker decided to resurrect the lost art of striking for the ball at a scrum.
And it proved successful too. Not only did Segeyaro win possession back for his team, but it was quickly followed by the visitors being awarded a penalty for a dangerous tackle and setting them up to move deep into Robins territory.
How much of an impact this had on Leeds going on to take a 24-20 victory it up for debate, but it produced much incredulity from Sky co-commentators Mike Stephenson and Barrie McDermott – both of whom are undoubtedly familiar with some of the dark arts of the pack from their own playing days.
It is unlikely that Segeyaro’s throwback to the days when hookers actually used to hook the ball will lead to a sudden upsurge in contested scrums and the abandonment of the gentlemen’s agreement which came in following the contorted mess this set piece had become.
But what it does underline is how this much-maligned aspect of rugby league still has a purpose and offers the option for teams to surprise their opponents.
Unlike the 15-man game, which is often subject to minutes of delays due to scrums being reset before a penalty is mysteriously awarded to whichever team the referee feels deserves one at that point, there is nothing in the Laws of league specifying those players on the field as props, hooker, second rows and loose-forward must pack down at a scrum.
This, therefore, opens up a number of opportunities for running plays off the back of the scrum involving forwards lining up in open play or taking up other positions in the scrum, which is what Hull KR seemed to be planning.
At this particular juncture, the Rovers front row consisted of second row Kevin Larroyer, and props Adam Walker and Dane Tilse – the former in the hooking role – while hooker John Boudebza went in at loose-forward, which is a tactic favoured by many teams these days.
Leeds lined up with the more traditional two props and a hooker, which Segeyaro took advantage of, although it was interesting to note their full-back on the night, Liam Sutcliffe, was positioned at loose-forward and was the man who first got his hands on the ball following it being hooked back.
There are, of course, those who will continue to call for the abolition of the scrum in league and insist it should be replaced with a handover.
However, occurrences like this show it is an area teams can exploit with a bit of imagination and that there is perhaps more going on at the scrum in each game than meets the eye.