South African rugby has this reputation of having a powerful scrum. In fact the perception is that South African rugby is totally dependent or at least over dependent on its scrum and if you can counter the South African scrum they are easy to beat.
After having watched the Stormers scrum getting totally annihilated by the Crusaders I have come to the painful conclusion that the perception of South African rugby having a powerful scrum is a myth. It is a myth that is actually causing more harm than good because the fact of the matter is that we rely to much on that perception and are therefore way to vulnerable. The problem is that we actually think we have a powerful scrum and rely on it but our opponents have no difficulty in beating us in the scrum.
This myth is based on the fact that the 1937 Springboks used the scrum to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand and the fact that the 1949 all Blacks were behind in transforming to a 3-4-1 scrum formation. They actually asked Danie Craven to help them with their scrum and struggled quite a lot in the scrum during the initial stages of that tour. By the end of the tour their scrum was as good as the Springbok scrum writes Winston McCarthy.
Since then the All Blacks have targeted forward play and are clearly the leaders in world rugby when it comes to scrums and rucks. That year, 1949, was the last time the All Black lost the scrum battle against us and one only need to read tour records of 1956, 1965, 1970, 1976, 1981, 1992, 1995, 1996 and watch video footage of tri-nation series since 1996 to see that we have never been able to beat the All Blacks in the scrum since 1949.
The few times that we were able to more or less hold our own against the All Blacks in the scrums we could do so only with the help with exceptional individuals namely Mof Myburg in 1970 and Os du Randt in 1995 and with illegal tactics (Johan Strauss in 1976).
I personally can’t recall one occasion where we actually dominated a New Zealand side in the scrum (both super rugby and test rugby).
For a nation that stakes its entire game on scrummaging strength we are a joke to be honest. It seems that each and every nation that decides to take us on in the scrum has no difficulty in succeeding.
In 1974 the British Lions targeted our scrum and destroyed us up front. In 1981 the Jaguars toured South Africa and scored a push-over try. Two years ago during the EOYT Italia dominated us in the scrum. Scotland gave us a hiding last year and I have difficulty recalling us dominating the weak Wallaby scrum over the last 10 years.
The issue is not whether we can sometimes hold our own in the scrum it is about dominating because if we want to play rugby around the scrum as platform we need to dominate in that area and not just hold our own.
It was embarrassing to see a South African team so totally out scrummed as was the case on the weekend with the Stormers and South African teams need to accept the truth that we are not as good in the scrums as we think we are. It is time to face the reality and let the myth go.
The last time we put up a reasonable scrummaging performance was in the first test of the 2009 Lions series. However that lasted for a brief period and the Lions rectified the problem with apparent ease in the second and third tests of that series.
I for one don’t believe the myth anymore in fact I reckon we are going to get out scrummed in this year’s WC by the French, the All Blacks, the English and dare I say it the Italians should we play against them. We will probably (but only just) hold our own against the likes of Samoa, Fiji, Australia and Ireland. Truth is I don’t think we can dominate any of the top six rugby playing nations anymore in the scrum.
I would like to be proven wrong but there is a massive scrum coaching problem in South Africa in my opinion and I had my gutsful of seeing SA teams getting pushed back in the scrums week after week.