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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

Japan's U20 side are showing the world how to dominate the scrum without 'dark arts'

Despite being 72kg lighter, Japan destroyed the French scrum at the weekend.

WE’VE SEEN AN increased scrutiny on player welfare in the last year, but unfortunately it hasn’t made its way to the scrum.

While around the park players are being given constant reminders about their duty of care to their opponents, it’s still a free for all when the sides pack down.

At the moment, the scrum is viewed as a place for wily old competitors, pulling the wool over a referee’s eyes, milking penalties through their ability to con, or being “masters of the dark arts”.

But the reality is that props are being applauded for dangerous play. Intentionally collapsing a scrum, driving in at an angle, or lifting your opponent may con the referee, but are potentially far more dangerous than many of the offences we’re seeing yellow and red cards bandied about for.

Even when everyone operates within the laws of the game, freak accidents are only a slip of a boot away, so driving at an angle or pulling down a bind isn’t just cheating, it’s incredibly dangerous.You can’t see a game any more without props on both sides illegally and dangerously driving into each other, all in the hope of milking a penalty.

However, a moment from this year’s U20 World Championship has the potential to buck this trend.

Japan may have taken heavy beatings from England, France and Wales in this year’s tournament, but in a seven minute period against the French, they proved that it’s possible to legally dominate a heavier pack in the scrum.

The Japanese won four penalties in a row, and eventually a penalty try on the fifth pack down as you can see below, but we’re going to break down each scrum and show exactly how Japan dominated their opponents, despite a staggering 72kg weight disadvantage.

Source: Ruddy Darter/YouTube

We’ll break down the scrums one by one.

As the French prepare to feed the first scrum, we can see that their three front rows are all parallel to one another, and importantly driving in the same

AustraliaÕs Michael Hooper 29/11//2014

And a closer look at the near side of the scrum shows the difference in the footwork of Japan’s Tatsuya Kakimoto and France loose-head Quentin Walcker.

Kakimoto (left) has just his front studs in the ground, giving him far better manoeuvrability, while Walker’s feet appear to be planted. The importance of this becomes clear as soon as Japan begin to drive.

1 - feet

With Walcker’s weight on the back of his feet, he has less power to fight back when Japan begin to drive, and as a result, the Japanese scrum moves forward with ease.

Watch how the three Japanese front rows are still driving parallel to one another, rather than angling in across their opponents.

Also, with French number 8 Anthony Jelonch, who is no longer driving in the scrum, meaning their 72kg weight advantage is rendered useless. Compare the position of Jelonch to that of his Japanese number 8 Tevita Tatufu, who is driving in unison with his teammates.

1 - drive

Eventually, the French front row begin to stand up and twist the scrum to prevent themselves going any further backwards, and it’s instantly penalised by the referee.

While Japan just had to worry about driving on the previous scrum, it would be interesting to see how they handled the hook when faced with their own put in, but once again they dominated.

As they engage, again keep an eye on the footwork. Once more Kakimoto is driving with just his front studs in the turf, with Walcker’s feet fully planted.

2 - feet

Their success here was down to patience. As we can see below, the front rows held their positions and allowed the ball to safely get back to their number 8′s feet.

Also, watch how Tatufu remains fully bound at the back of the scrum, compared to his counterpart Jelonch, who is standing up, waiting for the break, rather than helping his team drive.

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2 - WAIT

With the ball safely at the back of the scrum, Japan then attempt to drive, and with their front row all moving in the same direction, they split open the frantic French pack, who again concede a penalty after wheeling the scrum.

2 - drive

By this stage, France are in deep trouble, and when Japan opt for another scrum, loosehead Walcker tries to con the referee by angling across his opponent, scrummaging perpendicular to him.

Watch his body position in the still frame below. Walcker must be square and straight to his opponent, but there is a clear difference in angles between he and Kakimoto.

3 - crooked

The net result is that when he begins to drive, the scrum moves sideways as so.

After three penalties in a row, the French front row are warned by the referee, and one started to wonder were we entering penalty try territory.

Again, the Japanese scrum is anchored by the basics.

Tatufu waits for the ball to make its way back through the scrum before calling on the pack to drive, while yet again we can see difference in Walcker and Kakimoto’s footwork.

4 - themes

However, this time the scrum goes down on the referee’s side, and it’s tighthead Quentin Bethune (all three frontrows were called Quentin, which is fairly bizarre) who is rightly pinged, as he folds inside and collapses.

With Bethune now in the sin bin, Japan opt for one more push, and with France a man down in the pack, a penalty try seems inevitable.

As usual, the Japanese get an initial shove, and early on it looks like the French are holding their shape, despite going backwards.

5 - drive

But eventually, the pressure becomes too much and replacement tighthead Michael Simutoga turns in and stands up, and it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back, as the penalty try finally arrives.

5 stand up

While Japan were poor overall, losing heavily in all three games they played, they did prove brains can beat brawns come scrum time.

Dangerous scrummaging is always defended by ex-pros and pundits claiming that “every loosehead drives in”, or that “every tighthead binds on the arm”, but the longer dangerous techniques like that are allowed, the closer we get to crisis.

The forces running through a test scrum are only getting greater, and you only have to look at the neck surgeries on Cian Healy, Dave Wilson and Dan Cole in just over a year, and the neck injury that forced Andrew Sheridan to retire in September to see the strain this is having on front row players.

And unless more teams don’t start scrummaging like this Japanese side, it may take a high-profile broken neck on the pitch for World Rugby to  clamp down.

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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