Long live the scrum - but with the pause clause sorted out
Contest ... it might not be pretty but the scrum is integral to rugby. Photo: Reuters
Watching the State of Origin during the week I was bombarded with questions by my non-rugby mates. I felt as if I was being interrogated from all sides about the state of our game.
They weren't having a go per se, they wanted an explanation of some of the laws of the game and how they could fix the flat spots. The conversation usually started, ''What's with the …'' I did admit rugby certainly has some moments of ''non clarity'', such as the ruck, the scrum, the conversion. Even the time-off rule.
We have many laws in rugby, and perhaps that's our first fault. Most sports have rules but we have laws. We also have assistant referees … sorry, touch judges. Did he touch the line? You be the judge … hence, touch judge. Anyway. Sometimes there is ambiguity in the game that confuses all, so here goes in trying to clear the fog.
Let's start with the scrum. I understand it's a contest and the intricacies are far beyond you and I, but what confuses most is the call before the actual engagement. Crouch … touch … pause … engage. How long is that pause? Is it an upward inflection from the referee, or down? It catches players out and the crowd gets disenchanted at the constant resets. So how do you fix it? I understand there is a safety issue but the scrum used to be self-regulated. The two packs would meld together and, for some reason, the ball came out and there'd be no need to set another scrum.
The question posed was, why not play a scrum just as a platform to restart the game a la rugby league? In and out and be done, because what you really want to see is ball movement unless you live in scrumland. When done correctly, it is a genuine contest and one team can gain ascendancy and that's what separates the two games. So long live the scrum, just sort out that pause thing on the way.
Next. Did anyone see the Blues-Chiefs game two weeks ago when Blues forward Liaki Moli charged Aaron Cruden's attempted conversion? Moli was waved away by the referee saying Cruden had not started his movement to kick the ball. He missed the first attempt and ended up having another, which he converted.
We are seeing more and more players display idiosyncrasies before they kick the ball. Often, they move after they have ''set'' themselves at the top of their mark. Sometimes it's a shuffle, other times it's rocking the body and moving the arms, a la James O'Connor at one stage. I checked the relevant IRB law (9.B.2 [b]) and it states: ''Neither the kicker nor a placer must do anything to mislead their opponents into charging too soon.'' So be careful, boys.
Another law states: ''The kicker must take the kick within one minute from the time the kicker has indicated an intention to kick … The player must complete the kick within the minute even if the ball rolls over and has to be placed again. The kick is disallowed if the kicker does not take the kick within the time allowed.''
Let's shorten the time to 30 seconds or, better still, stop the clock for conversions and penalties. Get rid of the time wasting. My mate could not believe the amount of time lost in this area. He nearly dropped his beer when I told him the average time of actual play in a game is 33 to 35 minutes. He thought it would be north of 55. So there is a lot of hanging around that could be put to good use.
Next. The value of a penalty raised its head again. A big concern is how can a team that scores tries can be beaten by a side kicking penalty goals and drop goals. Surely the value of scoring a try outweighs the potential to be beaten by two scores from the boot?
Referees need to be tougher with yellow cards. Make a statement that you have the card and brandish it, not give a token wave in the 76th minute.
I flicked through a few more or the quirky laws of rugby and found the dimensions of the ground are to be no longer than 100 metres long and 70m wide. The length and breadth of the playing area are to be as near as possible to the dimensions indicated. This comes after Scotland altered the size of the Murrayfield pitch in 2006 to make it smaller for a game against the Wallabies. Knowing the Australians would be restricted running the ball. It was nearly a mini pitch! Fortunately, the Wallabies prevailed 44-15. While most of us play on grass, it's also comforting to know you can play on sand, clay, snow or artificial grass. Gee, thanks.
And, finally, clothing … ''A player may wear supports made of elasticated or compressible materials which must be washable.'' That rule obviously applies to the backs!
Twitter - @burkey710