He is a man who has packed down in his fair share of them, and Micky Ward is throwing his weight behind the new scrummaging laws which are changing the face of professional rugby
He is a man who has packed down in his fair share of them, and Micky Ward is throwing his weight behind the new scrummaging laws which are changing the face of professional rugby.
The biggest change sees both sets of props having to bind on to each other before the two packs engage, while a hard-line policing of the put-in aims to bring about a more even contest for the ball.
As director of rugby and active tight-head player at National One side Blaydon, front-row coach at Newcastle Falcons and a scrummaging consultant with Championship side Rotherham, the former England Saxon has a first-hand interest.
Controversial to traditionalists who fear a thin end of the wedge towards passive scrums, Ward said of the initiative: “I think the new laws are good, overall.
“The main thing they do is reward the most technically efficient scrum, and if you get yourself into the best position quickly then you are going to benefit from the changes.
“Gone are the days of hitting the scrum in a poor position, and relying on your weight to get you through. You have got to be really technically effective, and it is a positive development for the sport.
“It means teams are unable to virtually guarantee their own ball, as they could do previously, but for the paying public I think people want to see that contest evened out a bit. The new laws certainly do that, and it is bringing it back to a more technical battle.
“Yes, there will still be aggression, and rightly so. But you cannot just rely on being a big lump who can lie on the scrum – you have got to be able to actually scrummage properly. For the past two or three years some people have been able to get away with it, but they won’t do any more.”
Newcastle’s French prop Franck Montanella has been among the vocal critics of the scheme, and Ward admits the new laws have not been an instant hit with all of his Falcons’ charges.
“It takes a few weeks for the players to buy into it, because they are so used to having a big gap between the two packs,” said Ward, who made more than 200 appearances for the Kingston Park club.
“The Falcons lads have found it pretty good, to be honest, and I like the new laws. A lot of people don’t, but I am not one of them.
“The players have been able to fire into each other and rely on pumping their legs, but now the distance between the front-rows has been halved, or cut by even more. It is a more punchy hit from a shorter distance now, and you have to be much more controlled and steady once you have engaged, before exploding when the ball comes in.”
With the Falcons having played three friendlies and a single Premiership game under the new laws, Ward has been an interested observer as the national teams of New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina have adapted to them during the on-going Rugby Championship.
He said: “I have been watching a lot of the early games under the new laws, and already you can see certain trends emerging.
“One of them is centred around scrum-halves having to put the ball in straight, which might sound daft, but it is not when you think that for years they have basically been able to feed it into their own side. The fact that hookers now have to hook for the ball makes them a sitting duck in the middle of that front row, and they are under so much pressure on their own put-in.
“At the top level in professional rugby. hookers have never had to actually hook, but now he has to lift his foot up as he hooks the ball. That creates an opening for the opposition tight-head to drive right through, and when you look at the New Zealand v Australia games the hookers are really coming under pressure during that strike.
“What it does do is make it much more of a genuine contest, and I think that has to be good for the game.”