This will hardly shock the foundations of the rugby world, but it needs saying. The scrum isn’t working and it needs sorting out (if only to avoid yet another in-game rant from Brain Moore). According to Moore’s article on BBC Sport today only 37% of scrums resulted with play being restarted in this year’s 6 Nations . That simply isn’t good enough. Whilst Moore does a fine job of diagnosing the problem and I agree with his suggestions (the hooker should actually hook, the ball should go in straight) I feel there is one other change that could benefit the flow of the game for the man and his dog on the touchline.
There are a few things to consider here first. One is that the players have a responsibility to the fans and the game as a spectacle, but it is understandable that, as professionals, they are paid to win and therefore if they have an opportunity eek out points or try to take some of the pressure off their team, why shouldn’t they? Second is to the referees and whether there is anything that can be done to assist them in their role. Perhaps a second referee to adjudicate the opposite side of the scrum? Or the touch judge entering the field of play to assist?
I must be clear; I am not putting all of the blame on referees for this situation. I believe that they are largely consistent and get their calls correct. Those who have less patience with the players have my support, Nigel Owens being a tough talking example. However, neither of those solutions seems as though it would fix the problem indefinitely. A specialist scrummaging referee has a certain appeal but instinctively that feels as though it belittles the work of our diligent referees and secondly, it doesn’t do much to reverse the loss of momentum and flow that endless scrummaging is causing.
The only other area to look at is rule changes. A few have been trialled and laid to rest; the ‘SET’ call appears to be here to stay. I am not particularly in favour of making any drastic changes in this department. A more strict (and perhaps nuanced) enforcement and understanding of exactly what goes on in that dark place would help (as Moore prescribes). The only move that I can think would make any real difference (i.e. eradicate the problem entirely) is to pre-bind, 80’s style and just shove when the ball is engaged. Whilst this again does carry some appeal, it is not without obvious flaws. The fact that such a change would likely marginalise the role of the prop forward (potentially right down to the amateur level) leads me to proceed with caution on this one.
My main suggestion to alleviate this area is a simple one, which would not require any drastic changes for the referee or the front rows, but would definitely speed up the game. When a free-kick is awarded (say for early engagement) remove the option to take a scrum. Too often, we have a free-kick given away for early engagement or some other technical but not dangerous infringement, the players run back ten yards, the scrum-half has a look to see what’s on and then stands still and we all get called back to start again. Having a tap or a kick from hand as the only option would not only speed up the game, but would not necessarily over-penalise dominant scrums and as an Englishman I would not want to deprive us of one of our genuine weapons (Cardiff notwithstanding). We might also see a few more tries as a result.
This is a topic sure to spark plenty of debate so let rip below with any suggestions, changes or general moans.
By Patrick Cheshire