Justin Marshall: SCRUMS ARE HURTING RUGBY (NZ Rugby Herald) + Comments by TOPO

Comments by Enrique TOPO Rodriguez
“Justin Marshall’s Chalkboard: How scrums are hurting rugby” (www.nzherald.co.nz) – 21st March 2014

See below five (5) points made by Justin Marshall and my comments following:

1) Scrums are the big time wasters – and the new interpretations of the laws have made it worse.

ETR – Clock Stoppages in rugby are negligible, we tend to favour and like more continuity, don’t think we would have currently more than 5 minutes maximum of stoppages. The other irritating factor on this subject is the amount and extension of the TMO’s referrals (completely over-done)

While I’m here, one of my pet hates an source of distraction is when we see on the field up to 10 (ancillary staff, trainers carrying amongst the walkie-talkies all sort of things) and run around the players on the field while the play is ON, this abnormality should be much tighter controlled.

However, back to the scrum, with an average of 15 scrums (+ -) p/match at 1 minute per scrum, would give you 15 minute of stoppages (of course I assume not every scrum will have to be reset but need to start somewhere). I can take an “educated guess” today TV appears to have more power than the IRB in regards to the length of the spectacle/show (an extra 15 minutes of satellite would be awfully expensive to sustain/justify (am sure the IRB would say that)

I believe with the new physical and fitness demands on players at times they could be deemed “unfit” to sustain a full scrum. Therefore, I would suggest for refs to re-set it only ONCE, if a SECOND time scrum goes down then give a non-challengeable (tackles allowed after the 3rd pass), also to be a non-kickable tap ball (either to touch or posts) to the original put in team. Thus, the ref limits a bad scrum to be set twice only.

2) The defending scrum gets an advantage because it can manipulate the set piece wherever it wants.

ETR – Justin, this has happened always, with the differentiation that today everything has to be done almost at the turtle-pace of the referee. The elimination of the “initial hit”, I think it was a smart move by the IRB to stop “the charge”. Nonetheless, what has followed around that directive has many flaws due to the lack of good understanding of the physics and bio-mechanics of the scrum, as well as players’ attitude and competitive mentality. This has made the scrums ponderous, predictable and even more premeditated due to the slow forming process, here is where the defense has gained initiative!


a) The Scrum Law, needs to be brought into the 21st century, adapting to today’s demands of a Game-Show-Business Format, referees and players (for one rugby is much faster game today than 30 years ago). By the way, this job needs to be done by Professional Law Makers (not referees or other)
b) The Referees, need to understand better their function as ENABLERS of the game and not as managers, coaches, constable and referees (clarification of their mind set is needed). Refs are human and need less work or things to look for, NOT MORE! – Furthermore, more emphasis is needed to give priority to OUTCOMES over PROCESS. Rugby is stuck in the minutiae of 19th & 20th century.

3) The manipulation of scrums by the opposition, makes the ball stay in scrums for longer time,

ETR – I explained and admitted that with the new rules the non-put in team or defense has some advantages due to the fact the “the surprise factor” has been eliminated from scrums. This is something those Professional Law Makers would have to have a good look in order to maintain “the team in position” somehow, on the front foot.

4) A good, dynamic No8 used to be able to get off the back of the scrum and make a big impact – getting in behind the opposition’s backline and putting his team on the front foot. But now that he doesn’t have that stable launching pad, he can’t have the same impact. More often than not he has to quickly feed it to the halfback or the No9 scrambles away with it. This is one of the negative repercussions/consequences of the new scrum laws. The No8’s game has been effectively nullified making the defense in scrums so much easier.

ETR – Similar to point 3 & 2, the function of the No8 has changed dramatically as things happen: a) A lot slower; b) The demands to push in today’s scrum are much greater thus he is no longer free to run. This also happens to the flankers. The consequence of all this is a SLOWER BALL and a SLOWER GAME.

5) As I’ve said, it’s a clock-draining curse on the game. After all, it’s a restart of play after an opposition error of some sort. If the new rules are working so well then why are we no longer seeing push-over tries? For me, it’s simple – fix it or stop and restart the clock at scrums.

ETR – Justin, we all are suffering with this problem, and this is what encourages people to join other more accommodating sports. I encourage you to continue voicing: your opinion, those of your peers and those of “regular Joe Blogs” until something is done.

ADDITION: The New Scrum Laws have switched the concentration, attitude and strength from before the ball put-in (“the previous hit”) to after the ball goes in. This is what by Law used to happen back in 2005 when the IRB asked Referees to fix the problem) and the new sequence “Crouch-Touch-Pause-Engage” was concocted and introduced completely disrupting the engagement sequence that at the time was somewhat working (not perfect though!)

THE SYMPTOMS we see and have experiencede in the past, are none other than the “reaction and frustration” of super fit players that are not allowed to channell their competitive spirit, physical prowess and winning attitude = All product of preparing to and playing rugby at their most competitive level possible. If you clamp down a player (with laws), between the coach and player himself, both will look for and find a way out or a way to explode to achieve advantage over the opposition. (Human Nature, and not the musical group! – And I didnot say cheating either)

These New Scrum Laws are ON TRIAL until August 2014 when they will be either ratified or rejected, so this is not “fait accompli”. Yet, knowing how the IRB operates, I’d say they will accept these changes because:

i) they have followed all the steps for law modifications by the self-imposed rules
ii) and being bureaucrats as they are, they generally speaking are disinclined to pay attention to other outcomes o public opinion.

Best regards,

About toporod

Triple Rugby Union International (1977-1991) The ART of SCRUMMAGING - 2013 Gold Medal Winning Author - [IPPY] - 2014 Silver Medal Winner [eLit Awards] - Enthusiastic writer on Rugby and Bipolar Disorders - International Rugby Consultant and Public Speaker - www.expertrugbyconsultants.com
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