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The truth about scrum penalties in Super Rugby
Richard Kelly
March 20, 2014
There have been more scrum resets so far than in the past few seasons © Getty Images

With the dust settling on the start to Super Rugby 2014, discussion and debate has started regarding scrum time. After five rounds of action, there have been various mumblings about the state of the set-piece and how it is being managed. We crunch the numbers to investigate the situation.

Super Rugby forwards usually pack down on average between 17 and 18 times per match in this competition, perhaps an indicator of the free-running and open style of play most sides adopt. This year however, there appears to be an upturn in the number of scrum infringements with fewer put-ins being won clean.

It must be stressed that these numbers can change dramatically in just a couple of weeks, but, at the beginning of this season, there have been more reset scrums than in any of the past few years. So the complaints of such as Michael Cheika and Todd Blackadder, and the commentary of ESPNscrum columnist Craig Dowd, are based in fact. Interestingly, the teams with the scrum feed are conceding penalties more often than previously - if only slightly - while the team in possession is also benefitting from the whistle being blown more often.

This season, the Lions and Cheetahs have each struggled at the scrum with regards to discipline - averaging two penalties conceded per game so far. But the Bulls and Crusaders have been the most undisciplined in this area, per game, having each played one match fewer than the Lions and the Cheetahs.

In 2013, the Brumbies were penalised most often at the scrum (30) ahead of the Sharks (22). But, the Sharks sit pretty with just one conceded so far this season. The Highlanders have also made a promising start in the scrum, having conceded 21 scrum penalties last year.

The most common causes of penalties at the scrum are collapsing, early engagement, boring in and standing up. The volume of collapsing and early engagement penalties are falling (possibly due to the Law changes), but players are being penalised more often this season for standing up and boring in - and these numbers may give reason for clarity on why and when the referees will blow their whistles.

Follow @OptaJonny, the official Twitter page for Opta's coverage of rugby union and rugby league, and @OptaJason, the official Twitter page for Opta Sports' coverage of sport in Australia and New Zealand.

© Opta Stats for ESPNscrum

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