Thursday, January 15, 2015


The solution to the endless collapses and boring re-sets is straightforward. The side with the put-in has one minute to get the ball in and away. If there is no decisive resolution, a free-kick is awarded. Re-sets would effectively be outlawed unless props can maintain their footing, stay bound and hold the scrum up. In other words, the game will simply pass them by.
It is not a perfect answer, as defending sides in a tight spot near their own line would still be sorely tempted to go to ground, time-waste or wheel furiously in the hope of conning their way out of trouble. Referees, though, would be keeping a close eye on them and could still dish out yellow cards where appropriate.
The amount of ball-in-play time would increase significantly and the number of straight-arm penalties for scrum offences would be reduced, opening up the potential for a more fluid game. The scrum would remain a potential weapon but cease to be the protracted eyesore it has become, particularly on softer surfaces.
There are alternatives – going to uncontested scrums if the front-rows go down more than once, or reducing the number of players involved in the next scrum each time one collapses. What is clear, either way, is that patience is running out even among those who might be expected to be the scrum’s staunchest advocates. Ultimately it is supposed to be a means of restarting a game, not an arcane cheat-athon that sucks the life and momentum out of a contest.
Another observation is that the day is approaching when union may have little choice but to do away with flankers and become a 13-a-side sport, like rugby league. The reason scarcely needs spelling out: with players getting bigger, stronger and faster, pitches remaining the same size, and the breakdown becoming ever more congested, the amount of creative space available has decreased hugely. At the highest level, the sport continues to mutate ever further away from the game for all shapes and sizes it aspires to be.
We have not even mentioned the swirling issues of concussion awareness and young player injury risk.
Add everything together, either way, and rugby union cannot blithely assume that nothing much will change in the next 20 years. When knowledgeable rugby men from the relatively recent past, speaking independently of each other, insist their sport needs to grasp some major nettles, it is hard to disagree.


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