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Long live the scrum - but with the pause clause sorted out


Matt Burke

Contest ... it might not be pretty but the scrum is integral to rugby.

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

45 comments so far

  • Last nights Australia v Wales clash showed everything that can be wrong with rugby: scrum after scrum where the talk is about hip height, shoulder twisting and a raft of technical short and long arm penalties. There was a shortage of fotball being played and the commentators like burkey were wetting themselves over the scrums! The rugby crowd may have watched another code on Wenesday night which had everything this rugby test didnt have and wonder what it can do to match that standard.
    More scrums wont do it.

    Date and time
    June 17, 2012, 9:43AM
    • What, you mean big blokes running into each other for collision after collision, brought down with high tackles and shoulder charges, then after 5 of those a kick?

      Rugby needs tweaks no doubt... but copy league? No thanks!!!

      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 10:45AM
  • I have no problems with scrum - just a scoring system that encourages kicking rather than scoring tries. That's what league has over union. The more times people crossing the line - the more exciting the play is.

    Date and time
    June 17, 2012, 10:08AM
    • So how do you stop "professional fowls" by defence to stop a try?
      Assumption: penalty goal is now worth 1 point- a psinical defence will always fowl with 1 point penalty to stop a try for 5 points.
      However if you start being more aggressive with the yellow card and sending off, maybe it could work.

      Date and time
      June 19, 2012, 2:29PM
  • I finally worked out what's wrong with Rugby at the elite level, and Matt has touched on it here.
    There are too many laws which allow penalties to be given for extraordinarily technical stuff, most of which has nothing to do with the actual smooth progress of the game.
    So with too many opportunities to kick penalty goals, the game has become a technocrat's dream and a spectator's nightmare.
    As an entertainment spectacle, rugby runs the risk of being comparableto visiting an art gallery!

    Phil J.
    Date and time
    June 17, 2012, 10:45AM
    • Yes, the playing time is a total joke in rugby with often less than a half of the allotted time actually involving PLAY. To scrums, lineouts, penalties and other fabulous rugby time wasters you can add the enthralling periods when the ball is locked in a ruck. There it sits idly waiting while the half decides what he'll be having for dinner later, whether his muscles look big in the tight jersey and if it is possible for his loose forwards to actually organise themselves sometime before the crowd goes to sleep. Time to introduce another rule: if the ball is sitting in the ruck for more than 3 seconds then it is deemed to be out and the defending side can go and get it.

      Date and time
      June 17, 2012, 11:17AM
      • I believe next year there will be a rule to address that time waster, but I think it will be 5 seconds at the back of the ruck. If not used, scrum to the opposition.

        Date and time
        June 17, 2012, 7:33PM
      • Yeah, why not add another thing for the ref to be concerned about (and erego another thing for fans and coaches to bitch about).

        I mean he only has to watch for when the tackle is competed, tacklers releasing, ball carriers releasing. when the ruck forms, which players have the right to go for the ball, who has to go back around and through the gate, players using their hands (and when they are allowed to), players going off their feet, players pillaring, backlines behind the last feet and any shenanigans going on.

        Let's add that they have to also time each ruck as well.

        Never mind that most coaches and players aren't even aware of when the ruck forms, and so will start complaining 3 seconds after the tackle is made.

        If you aren't happy with the half taking his time, counter ruck. If you are incapable of counter rucking, suck it up and get ready to make a tackle. The ball being held at the back of the ruck isn't a law problem, the ball is available to any team willing to work for it.

        Getting rather sick of hearing ways to 'fix' rugby every other week - it ain't broke Matt, leave it alone.

        Perth via Rakaia
        Date and time
        June 18, 2012, 11:34AM
      • @ Jon
        There's another game of football called Rugby League, you might want to try it as I think it will better suite your needs for the basic.
        Give it a go, you never know. Your wish for uncontested scrums, men in tight jerseys and the need for good feed may find a home.
        @ piru
        Not that I condone the comments above but having read your comments I was thinking (yes... I do from time to time) what about the other two gentlemen (the ones with a flag in hand) surely it's time for them to be more involved?
        Totally agree with the continual....' fix it' cries. Fix this !

        inner west sydney
        Date and time
        June 19, 2012, 9:26AM
      • Chook, getting the ARs involved here just complicates it even more - if they are to time the ruck, from where do they start the clock? Which one is timing it? If only one, how does he accurately judge rucks on the other side of the field? If both, you will be in the farcical position of having different interpretations on different sides of the field!
        How do they communicate to the ref? Only 1st grade and above has any reliable access to comms gear, leaving the grades below in the lurch.

        By and large, it's at best a complicated solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

        I mentioned it above, but it bears repeating, The ball in the ruck is IN PLAY, let teams counter ruck for it. If they get themselves in a position where they can't legally get at it and time is running out, well, boohoo. They had 80 minutes to win the game.

        Perth via Rakaia
        Date and time
        June 19, 2012, 2:55PM

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