If somebody said that scrums were a mess, would you contradict him? Paddy O'Brien, the IRB's refereeing manager, agrees.
Just recently the IRB published statistical analyses of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, and you were led to believe that the game was in a much better shape than in years past - except for the scrum, that is.
There the statistic told that 50% of scrums in Tier 1 matches collapsed, 31% were reset and 41% ended in penalties or free kicks. That's awful. (Tier 1 vs Tier 1 was the worst followed by Tier 1 vs Tier 2 followed by Tier 2 vs Tier 2, which suggests that the better the scrummagers, the worse the scrummaging.)
Before the World Cup, O'Brien said: "Everyone acknowledges that the scrums are an ongoing concern for rugby." he said then that it was the only aspect of the game where law changes could be expected. He said: "I'm sure that the scrum will be the main focus. It is the one area of the game that is not good and will be reviewed."
After the World Cup, O'Brien described the scrum as a nightmare.
Over the weekend there were matches broadcast in the Top 14 and England's Premiership. Scrums were a problem throughout.
Look at one match - Saracens vs London Irish at Vicarage Road. There were no weather problems and the pitch, unlike the one in Toulouse, did not cut up.
In this match there were just 15 scrums, two of which ended normally, i.e. ball in and ball out for play. Two out of 15. That is 13%. That is awful.
The 15 scrums produced 10 resets, 8 collapses, 7 penalties and 3 free kicks. That is unnatural.
There is also the time taken. If you took the time from whistle for infringement to ball again available for a team to play with it, the situation is ridiculous. If you take a scrum, collapsed and reset and then penalised. One player kicks at goal. The other side kick off and then players are allowed to play again - after 2 minutes 50 seconds.
These are the 15 scrums
1. To Saracens. Reset and free kick. 1 minute 16 seconds
2. To Saracens. Reset, collapse, penalty. 3 minutes 6 seconds
3. To London Irish. IT WORKED! 49 seconds
4 & 5. To Saracens, wheeled and then to London Irish. Reset, wheel, two resets. 3 minutes 13 seconds.
6. To London Irish. collapse, penalty. 2 minutes 22 seconds
7. To Saracens. collapse, reset, collapse, penalty. 2 minutes 11 seconds.
8. To London Irish. Penalty. 1 minute 38 seconds.
9. To Saracens. collapse, penalty. 3 minutes 42 seconds
10. To Saracens: Two resets. 1 minute 42 seconds
11. To London Irish: Free kick. 58 seconds
12. Top Saracens. IT WORKED. 59 seconds
13. To Saracens. collapse, reset, penalty. 3 minutes 10 seconds
14. To London Irish. Collapse, penalty. 42 seconds. (Tap penalty taken)
15. To London Irish. Reset, collapse, reset, free kick. 2 minutes 10 seconds
(The time taken in all of these is running time, not including 'time-out'.)
Add the time up: 26 minutes 16 seconds. Out of 80 minutes. Over 32%. 32% of a game spent on 15 scrums. That's madness.
It's just as well that the number of scrums has been reduced.
Nobody wants to get rid of the scrum, which has always been a part of the essence of rugby, that which helps it to continue as a game for all shapes and sizes.
Sensible people realise that it is an aspect of the game demanding great care as catastrophic injuries are possible.
so we have to balance care and the mess - the collapses and what happens afterwards.
The call setting the scrum has come in for criticism - CROUCH, TOUCH, PAUSE, ENGAGE. But on this O'Brien has said: "Since crouch, touch, pause, engage, apart from being a mess, we have had only one catastrophic injury.
"It works - I don't know how, but it works."
It seems that it helps to stagger the process of coming together. If that is so it should be retained, though PAUSE may be unnecessary.
The problem is after that - what happens on engage. It's called the hit. There is not one thing in the :Laws of the Game requiring a hit. Not a thing. Yet we even get referees acting against teams for 'not taking the hit', 'fading on the hit'.
In fact the law says there should be no hit - not in the way it happens.
Law 20.1 (h) A crouched position is the extension of the normal stance by bending the knees sufficiently to move into the engagement without a charge.
(i) Charging. A front row must not form at a distance from its opponents and rush against them. This is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
Watch some of the hits. See the tighthead hit down on the loosehead who then gets penalised for collapsing or for putting his hand on the ground to save himself.
Take away the hit. Let the front rows come together in orderly fashion and begin their scrumming wrestle after the ball has been put into the scrum, preferably starlight so that there can be a fair contest for the ball. If the hitting is eliminated then perhaps the referee will have a better chance of monitoring the scrum feed.
He may also be able to concentrate on illegal actions in the scrum, such as pushing up. It is illegal to push up in the scrum. It is NOT illegal to stand up in the front row and never could be as often a prop will stand up for safety's sake. If you see a referee penalise standing up in the front row, be suspicious.
And it may be possible for the IRB, custodians of the clothes we play in, to ensure that pops' jerseys are grippable.
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