Kriwan: Scrum changes needed straight away

Last updated 18:22 25/03/2014
Sir John Kirwan
BLUES COACH: Sir John Kirwan.

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Blues coach Sir John Kirwan believes rugby's scrum problems have become so serious it needs Sanzar and the IRB to put their heads together and introduce an immediate change to the way the set piece is officiated.

Kirwan has made his opinions known about the game's scrum issues several times already during the Super Rugby season, but has taken his viewpoint to a new level, calling for a trial law change mid-competition.

"I know what needs to happen, it's pretty easy," he said as the Blues prepared for Saturday's visit to Eden Park by the Highlanders. "Above us they need to make a decision and let the halfback put the ball in without the call from the ref. It's as simple as that, clean the game up and we'd be fine.

"I think the IRB and Sanzar need to make that decision, and I'm sure [Highlanders coach] Jamie [Joseph] and I would be quite happy to trial it this week if they want. Something needs to be done, and that's it."

The scrum continues to be a blight on rugby, even with a subtle change in the laws this season that see referees giving halfbacks an indication when they want the ball to go in, rather than making the call aloud, as was previously the case.

But this change has not gone as far as the IRB's scrum law recommendation panel urged and it's left the set piece a mess as attacking teams still struggle to clear clean ball from their own put-ins.

The amount of clean play off scrums in Super Rugby this year remains at a low level and Kirwan believes the difficulties at the set piece are a big reason why so many referees are under-performing.

Sanzar refs boss Lyndon Bray has axed Stuart Berry, Lourens van der Merwe, Francisco Pastrana and Angus Gardner from appointments this week after poor performances.

"I know referees are probably the focus this week, and a few guys have been dropped," said Kirwan. "That's a consequence of what's happening because they have been concerned so much on what's happening at the scrum instead of the full game.

"If you just let the halfbacks call them, a lot of the problems will be resolved, then the referee can stand back and have a look at the two or three things he needs to control.

"At the moment the referee is up so close to a scrum [his] vision is difficult. The solution is simple - we just need to have the courage to change mid-season."

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Kirwan, though, is dead against any attempts to de-power the scrum, like in rugby league.

"Our game is great because we've got the giraffes, we've got the front-rowers, and we've got the halfbacks. The scrum is a great part of this game, but we just need to let the advantage go to the team that's putting it in. Then if you're good enough, push us off it when we've put the ball in.

"That's the little advantage you have knowing when the ball going in, But you've still got a couple of tons of angry men trying to push each other off the ball, so leave it as a fair contest.

"It's not just our problem, it's the game's problem at the moment. If we can try that simple thing it will clean everything up."

The Blues have struggled more than most this season at scrum time, though Kirwan's plea certainly has the game's best interests at heart.

As rugby battles in a competitive broadcast and spectator market, it needs to make its product more free-flowing and entertaining, not less.

But the IRB is a notoriously conservative organisation when it comes to change, and despite Kirwan's call for haste, it's hard to see anything happening too quickly on the scrum front.

- Fairfax Media

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