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Talking Rugby: The problems with the scrum

Peter Bills
scrum1 300x184 Talking Rugby: The problems with the scrum

England pictured in the scrum against Georgia

A major attempt to bring to an end, or at the very least curtail, one of the most boring, problematic aspects of rugby union is being made by a former Australian prop forward.

‘Topo’ Rodriguez, now an Australian but of Argentine extraction, loves the scrum, as befits a former tight head prop. Or rather, he loves the concept. He is far from enamoured with the current drawn out, often illegal mess that the scrummage in modern day rugby represents.

As England coach Martin Johnson said of one recent match “What we had at Murrayfield was a game of rugby trying to break out in between scrums.”

The Sydney-based Rodriguez is in the process of producing a complete, detailed publication focused solely on the scrum. Called ‘The Rugby Scrum Treatise’, Rodriguez has worked tirelessly for the last 18 months and more on the project and consulted around 150 ex-players and coaches all over the world about the vexed issue of the scrummage.

He starts by highlighting certain principles of law making which are what he calls “abandoned” in the current scrum laws.

1. One is that compliance is relatively easy. But, he says, “it is impossible to pack when you start from a standing position of one arm’s length (about 60 centimetres)”

2. A second principle is that a law should never be inserted unless the intention is to have it adhered to.
“Seemingly referees have been authorised to allow the scrum put-ins to go behind the hookers’ feet. How can the players be expected to comply with some laws when others are blatantly ignored by our leading referees?”

3. A principle of law making is that in trying to solve one problem you must avoid creating a worse one.
“The law has succeeded in eliminating a potentially dangerous long distance apart before the engagement but has created an equally dangerous short distance apart. It has also succeeded in penalising early engagements but has forced delayed engagements which have far worse ramifications.”

4. Another principle is that laws must have regard for safety.
“The sequence of ‘crouch-touch-pause-engage’ breaks this principle by causing more collapses than it eliminates.

5. In every contest for possession, both sides must have some reasonable chance of acquiring the ball.
The way scrumhalves are allowed to put in the ball clearly breaks this principle and as a consequence the power of both scrums is increased

6. Don’t compare ‘like’ with ‘unlike’.
“In comparing a school scrum with a full blown senior scrum the lawmakers have compared ‘like’ with ‘unlike’.

He goes on “I do not doubt the goodwill of all legislators because in this case their goal of increasing scrum safety is unquestionable. But it is wise not to become too “goal oriented” or we are in danger of missing the elephant in the room: the process.

“With the scrum, a partial goal has been attained in terms of getting better injury statistics but at the cost of enjoyment and spectacle so no one should rest on this laurel”.

In Rodriguez’s mind, there remain many unanswered questions surrounding the scrum. These include, with the power scrum that came into the game in the Seventies why was collapsing so rare?

“When people say, ‘But you wouldn’t be able to do that in the modern professional scrum,’ or ‘In this modern game you must have referee management,’ I have to ask, why”?

Like everyone else, he regards safety of paramount importance. But as he says, “I sincerely hope the pursuit of safety is carried out with an open mind and not driven by alarmist lawyers and insurance companies obsessed with the “Precautionary Principle”.

He and those who have advised him around the world insist that there has to be a return to the ball being put in fairly but early pushing must not be allowed. “The pushing contest starts after the ball entry”.

He adds “Before anyone can provide a remedy (for collapsing scrums) we must determine the cause and I don’t see that we have done that yet.”

Rodriguez’s 1984 Grand Slam coach Alan Jones says “Safety must be a major consideration.

“But the “duty of care extremists” have got these scrum laws horribly wrong. In their attempts to legislate safety they have not only denigrated the spectacle but ironically have added to whatever safety problems might have existed in the first place.

“Anything that increases the collapse of the scrum must increase the potential for injury and if the risk is in the engagement process, then surely it must follow we should reduce the time, complexity and intensity of this step.”

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  • JoeDM

    How about Props shirts having a flap of material for the opposition to bind to?  The problem with modern kit is that it has reduced the ability of the props to bind properly.

  • margarethildaroberts

    Reasonable idea JoeDM, but wouldn’t that make props vulnerable to ’shirt grabbing’ which is what the modern top is suppoed to avoid. Surely the real problem is that modern forwards are now too big and strong and generate too much pressure for a structure which was always unstable, though acceptably so, and is now unacceptable. An answer might be to reduce the scrum by dropping the 2 wing-forwards and reduce to 13 men. This would also open the game making it a more running, fluid affair. Opponents would argue this would make it too much like rugby league. but this is a bullet the union game must bite at some time. Since the game became professional the core rational for rugby league-a professional rugby game-has been removed, and the game is in slow, long-term decline, while union is in long term expansion. Union has not sought a showdown with league but it will happen and union should not eschew its optimum configuration merely out of a wish to avoid giving offence.

  • Fasdunkle

    “Since the game became professional the core rational for rugby league-a professional rugby game-has been removed”

    Most rugby league is amateur.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Mike-Hewlett/1009274966 Mike Hewlett

    A basically sound idea. However;
    2&5 are essentially the same issue and I’m not sure what the follwing sentence suggests? ‘.. the power of both scrums are increased…’ If the hookers feet are that far forward they can’t also be pushing.
    What’s wrong with crouch – touch – engage – ball, where referees can penalise for contact before they instruct ‘engage’ and for pushing before they instruct ‘ball’? To me the pause instructions just gives everyone time to launch and engage is often redundant.
    Surely among the problems is that we are applying modern full time athletes to a 19th century activity. Root & branch work needs to be done on this essential cornerstone of rugby.
    In answer to margarethilda, 13 men results in other problems, league already exists and modern laws on ball release in the tackle largely address open flowing play issues. I’m not sure the decline of lthe league code is terminal nor that union has the answers.
    Textile designs don’t prevent binding as such the opportunity is removed by the crouch-touch-hold-engage dance, by the time the ball arrives the scrum has hit and started pushing.

  • sceptic64

    why are we reprinting articles published last week in other outlets?


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