Talking Point: The scrum is sexy again, with SA sides showing off

rugby16 January 2024 14:38| © SuperSport
By:Brenden Nel
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Sti Sithole © Gallo Images

It was just about a decade ago that Australia tried to float plans to make the scrum less and less a part of the modern rugby game.

The talk was that it was just a “reset”, that the setpiece was just a means to an end and not an attacking weapon that could be used by sides who regard rugby as a game for all.

Well, fast forward to the past weekend and South African franchises have fast established themselves as some of the best scrummagers in the world.

While the DHL Stormers two campaigns in the URC were built on the backbone of Frans Malherbe and Steven Kitshoff, without them the Stormers have one of the highest per centages of winning scrum penalties in the Investec Champions’ Cup and it is no secret why.

The re-emergence of the setpiece, the holy grail of forward play, has ignited a passion within South African forwards that is hard to extinguish.


“The Stormers are the most dominant scrum in Europe by way of penalties. We’re third. So the setpiece is king, isn’t it. It is something you’ve got to win. It’s important, isn’t it?” Sale Sharks coach Alex Sanderson remarked this weekend, underlining the point.

Neethling Fouche, Sti Sithole, Ali Vermaak and others are carrying the Kitshoff/Malherbe legend forward, and the Stormers have been thankful for every penalty. So far the Stormers have won 25 penalties at the setpiece in the URC, more than any other team. (The Bulls have 17 and are 3rd in this category).

From the basis for the Springboks’ back to back World Cup wins to the Vodacom Bulls demolition of Bristol Bears this past weekend, the scrum is sexy again.

The dark arts have been mastered, the forwards relish the battle and while there are a number of teams worldwide that perhaps can lay claim to a forward barrage at the setpiece, none of them as consistent as the South African teams.


Gerhard Steenekamp and Wilco Louw demolished Bristol’s scrum to such an extent that the English side had to go to uncontested scrums, and down to 13 men when they were yellow carded for their consistent infringing in the scrum.

When Khutha Mchunu came on it continued, as when Simphiwe Matanzima made an appearance.

The Bulls were bullies again. Bristol learned to fear the setpiece. They learned to loathe it.

In fairness they chose their own demise when England props Kyle Sinckler and Ellis Genge weren’t selected, but it is a moot point whether they would have done better.

Sinckler and Genge have been on the wrong side of scrum hammerings from the Boks too many times to mention and it isn’t clear it would have been any different with them on the field.

“To be fair, we did say before the game without Ellis Genge and without Kyle Sinckler, it was always a place we were going to target. But it is pleasing. Especially when the first choice guys went off and we were able to apply pressure,” White said afterwards.

“The old adage that the forwards win the game and the backs decide by how much is exactly what happened. “


The change may have come a while back when Daan Human arrived at the Bulls and told Trevor Nyakane to “pack his lunch” differently. The focus on the scrum as an integral part of the onslaught. As a weapon that can demoralise, a weapon that can hurt your opponent was born.

Human crafted these same “lunchboxes” at the national team and was rewarded for it.

Ox Nche’s legendary performance against England in last year’s World Cup semifinal comes to mind. But just this weekend again the cake-eating monster was terrorising unfortunate French tourists in Durban and claiming another man of the match award in the EPCR Challenge Cup.

The Sharks may be struggling but there was little wrong with their setpiece performance against poor Oyannax last weekend.

Even the Lions, perennially a side that isn’t spoken about among the greats of Europe, has laid down a few markers in both URC and the EPCR Challenge Cup.


The Lions front row of the Smith brothers, Asenathi Ntlabakanye, Morgan Naude and appearances by journeymen Corne Fourie and Conrad van Vuuren has made them pretty dominant in the setpiece as well, and there are few sides that have shifted the Lions this season.

The Lions are fourth on the URC scrumming stats, and while they may have only won 8 penalties this season, they top the scrum per centage for the competition with a whopping 97 per cent of scrums won.

So while there may be other factors that determine the results of games, the dark arts of the scrum is a place where SA sides are magicians. And are dominating in stunning fashion.

Long may it continue.