Scrummaging became the All Blacks bete noir on their last
visit to Europe in 2010 and might again be a problem area given
New Zealand's lack of exposure to the new engagement procedure.
The IRB are trialling a reduced engagement phase that will
feature only three instead of four verbal commands. The All
Blacks' opponents have all had a few months to practise
engaging to the sequence of 'crouch, touch, set'.
The All Blacks, though, are effectively coming in cold, with
Dane Coles the only New Zealander who has had significant
game-time under the trial laws that were used in the ITM Cup
but not in the Rugby Championship.
The change may appear trivial - not something with the
potential to trip up the All Blacks, but they have certainly
upped their preparation load so far in Edinburgh to improve
their timing and execution.
They are definitely wary that what might appear a subtle
change is actually much more, with the potential to upset
their rhythm and hand their opponents, who have had longer to
bed in, a handy advantage.
"We have obviously done a crash course on [the changed rules]
in the last week," said All Black hooker Andrew Hore.
"Colesy [Dane Coles] and those boys who have played it all
year have got quite good. The boys [we are playing against on
tour] have had a few games to get used to it but,
unfortunately, we have had none.
"There have been issues with a few reset scrums so whatever
we can do to keep scrums a big part of the game - I'll be
happy to try it out."
Making the All Blacks particularly wary are memories of their
last visit to the UK when they conceded more than 20 scrum
penalties in their Grand Slam tests.
Such an enormous penalty count was entirely out of odds with
the rest of their season and made especially strange by the
fact that nearly every penalty conceded in 2010 was on the
When the All Blacks were hammered six times in the second
half of their final game against Wales, then assistant coach
Steve Hansen even suggested his side were seriously
contemplating not pushing in scrums in 2011.
The furore died down but the scrum could easily become a
central feature on this tour as the northern hemisphere sides
all back themselves at the set-piece. They all see the scrum
as a weapon and an integral component of the battle.
The All Black forwards spent much of their first outdoor
training on Tuesday working the scrum and the forwards stayed
behind on Wednesday for more specialist tuition.
- By Gregor Paul in Edinburgh