July 21 2016
I’ve shouted “Ref, if he doesn’t want to scrum, send him off and they can bring on someone who will!” at games so often that it’s now become a catchphrase that someone hit me with on Twitter a few months ago.
But in my opinion, that’s where the whole problem with the scrum lies: cheating players. The lawmakers have messed about with rules and processes – though binding before the ‘hit’ seems to have brought about an improvement – but the problems remain. The problems remain because the core issue hasn’t been tackled.
Carl Hayman once said something like “It wouldn’t matter if they shouted ‘Crouch, pause, tiddlywinks’”. I take that to mean that the processes aren’t the problem, which leaves us with the players. Referees are criticised and certainly a lot seem to guess what’s going on, but I’ve never seen a referee pull a scrum down or collapse because of poor technique – that’s always down to the players.
At the end of April I watched Kendal v Kirkby Lonsdale in North 1 West, the sixth level of the game. On a pitch that was admittedly quite dry, but then softer than usual too because the area was flooded a few months ago, the (amateur) players on the field needed maybe two scrum resets in the whole eighty minutes.
The following day I watched Saracens v Newcastle on the TV. A game played on a 3G artificial pitch, between ‘professional’ players (one set of which is the best in the land) and the same scrum problems that blight the game at the highest level were evident again. The same thing happened when the Falcons played Sale at KP on the final day of the Premiership season.
Towards the end of the season, I had a chat with a Falcons supporter who gets to Darlington Mowden Park sometimes, and her findings were the same as mine at Kendal – amateur players on a grass pitch, but far fewer problems in the scrum than between professional players even on an artificial pitch.
This leads me to the conclusion that the players are responsible for the problems. In some ways you can’t blame them – if your scrum is dominant, take your opponent down and you’re likely to get a penalty. If you’re under pressure, go down and take the risk of conceding a penalty because maybe you’ll actually win one.
Players need to remember however that they are in the entertainment business, and current audience levels are not sufficient to sustain the business model, particularly if the BT Sport bubble were to burst (remember ITV Digital?). Five minutes of collapsing scrums, three or four times in a match, is a turnoff for a potential new supporter.
I don’t expect anything to change soon, but since we need articles over the summer and I’ve been thinking about this for a while, I just wanted to get this rant out. Thank you.pqs: qs:
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it shouldn't always be a penalty, but then you're relying on referees, who can't even spot a squint line out throw or feed at the scrum, to get it right.
As to collapses, the referee shouldn't be allowed to reset - he should only have the option of awarding a penalty or free kick. If a mutual collapse the a free kick to the side putting in. If liability is evident then a penalty against the guilty party. I think a lot more scrums would prove effective.
As for line outs, I have seen plenty penalised as not straight so the referees must have some demarcation between a bit squiff but acceptable, and deliberately thrown not straight.
Refs just keep ignoring this law, yet will penalise a hooker for throwing in not straight at a line out. Very frustrating that refs can pick and choose which laws of the game to enforce.
(d) The scrum half must throw in the ball straight along the middle line, so that it first touches the ground immediately beyond the width of the nearer propís shoulders.
Sanction: Free Kick
Direct quote from the latest edition of rugby's tired old myths.
Not everyone's like that though. I remember a reserve game at Northampton a few years ago, there was a gentleman sitting near me who screamed at the referee at every scrum (well, every Falcons scrum anyway) that the ball didn't go in straight. I couldn't believe he was getting so worked up about it, when a) Saints were doing the exact same thing and b) I don't think it makes that much impact on the game.
Just to complete the story, this guy's crowning glory was shouting sarcastically "We'd be lost without you, ref!" I thought: "Without the referee we wouldn't have a game to watch, mate, and you'd have to sit at home watching Eastenders and Corrie, shouting abuse at the actors at your TV."
Now if we actually apply the law as it is written instead of ignoring it then the technique and physique of forwards would have to fundamentally change and maybe rugby union would revert to being a game for all shapes and sizes. You would certainly see a de-powering of the scrum with some differentiation in size between hookers and props and you'd have to get a properly bound pack that would free up space in the rest of the pitch. A proper contest for the ball, fewer resets and more space. What's not to like?
Or as a mechanism for generating penalties which is what it has become.
Indeed. It is a rare sight these days to see the ball come out in the hands of a No8 on a mission, instead we get reset after reset, eventually resulting in a penalty. The scrum has become a power contest with no more objective than winning penalties. A return to a contest of skill to restart the game would be very welcome.
As the man said, what's not to like?
Although in fairness, collapsing scrums isn't something that seems to blight the game at Kendals level.