Crouch, pause, enrage - scrum laws penalise rugby

IAN SNOOK
Last updated 05:00 15/11/2012

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OPINION: Welcome to the northern hemisphere, where the scrum is almighty and the referees are its servant.

In fact, if you are not wearing a number up to nine then it pays to dress up warm.

Something has to be done. Law 20 states: "The purpose of a scrum is to restart play quickly, safely and fairly," which is obviously as far away from reality as the All Blacks losing on this tour.

This dark, uninviting battleground, where coaches and players endeavour to gain an advantage through any means at their disposal, and referees do their best to guess correctly within the 12 major laws, contains 26 penalisable offences, and another 19 free-kick options.

Games continually demonstrate there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the law is achieving its purpose.

The "game within a game" has become the great divide amongst the haves and have-nots.

England may have put 54 points on Fiji at Twickenham, but scrummaging apart, there wasn't a great deal of difference between the teams.

Italy managed a 28-23 victory over Tonga, purely down to the fact that at the crucial times the Italian scrum was a lot better. The Pumas, although good in more facets than their Welsh opponents, were able to dominate at scrum time, which ensured their victory as Wales were not able to compensate in other aspects of play.

Romania, another group of big lads, lost to Japan, but scored a penalty try from a scrum and managed to stay in touch, purely because of their stronger scrummaging pack.

Samoa, a side gaining in credibility at every outing, no doubt smashed the Canadian scrum in scoring 42 points, and poor old Australia were whistled up at almost every scrum against France, even though to the untrained eye France appeared to be doing much of the law breaking.

This was most certainly a referee having a preconceived idea of who was the strongest pack.

But the most interesting part of any scrum is listening to the never-to-be-questioned referee's explanations as to the reason behind the inevitable free-kick or penalty.

Let me remind you that there are 45 options from which to deliver the final verdict.

"You are binding on the arm and not the jersey." "But ref he pushed my arm away." "OK I'll keep an eye on it. Now get back 10." "You are not staying square." "But ref they pulled back on the loosehead." "OK, I'll keep an eye on it. Now get back 10."

As a suggestion for a quicker, fairer and safer contest, the two front rows should pack down first, with the remainder of the pack all in place before any pure confrontation is carried out.

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From then on the packs are free to manipulate the scrum in the ways they are utilising with the proviso that no forward leaves the scrum until the ball is out.

The referee need only keep an eye on dangerous play and loosies slipping their binds. The scrum law states it is there to restart play, so let's do that.

Unless a great deal of thought goes in to the scrum law interpretations at international level then the game will remain a physical confrontation only, punctuated with penalties and free-kicks, probably not a lot unlike the early days when William Webb Ellis decided to run with the ball.

It is time for the scrum to become an updated and streamlined version of what is currently on offer.

Ian Snook has coached professionally for the past 25 years in New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, England, Ireland, Japan and Italy.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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