RUGBY SCRUMS A WASTE OF TIME! By Gregor Paul (NZ Herald) and my reply…..

See below my response/comments to Gregor Paul from the NZ Herald,

Hi Gregor – you have raised several very valid points that are slowly but surely becoming “the Royal pain” of the rugby world (on and off the field) to rapidly become “the million dollar question”. Therefore, I’d like to briefly touch on a few points to do with the scrums, attacking rugby, the Laws, the referees, and rugby in general. I beg your indulgence as these vital points have been bugging me for quite some time and would like to throw them into the ring for an open and sensible and commonsensical discussion:

I have been saying now for the last 5 years that two main areas of rugby require an URGENT OVERHAUL.
They are: A) THE LAW; and B) THE REFEREES.

Rugby is, in my opinion, a fairly complex game which is complicated even more by referees and administrators (e.g. some Laws). Scoring tries from scrums in my view is a secondary objective or resultant of doing several things right beforehand.
From scrums, it is advisable to always follow a logical sequence of events or steps to avoid “counting your chicks before they hatch” or having an unrealistic expectation.

I apologise if am too didactic so:
1st step: Re-start the game,
2nd step: Obtain possession; and /or
3rd step: Work to gain position/territory (steps 2 & 3 are both part of attacking)
4th step: If, using the ball properly and exploiting opposition’s weaknesses you may score tries from scrums! (This is not a Law though but a byproduct of hard work!)

In 43 years, having played, coached and watched rugby to the highest levels (Triple Rugby Union International, 42 test caps over 14 years at international level, No, I’m not bragging, merely stating the statistical facts of my rugby career).
I can give my 100% guarantee that the only way to SAVE TIME, and GAIN CONTINUITY in rugby and scrums for that matter, can be done by simplifying the LAWS and the OFFICIATING (this will also make it much more palatable to spectators that have less and less patience to learn (hence one of the reasons they go to watch easier to understand sports!)

In my opinion the IRB as the top global administrator of rugby are responsible for several half-hearted or half-cocked initiatives in recent years, and I list:

a) Tampering with and tweaking with the LAWS utilizing referees to conduct this highly specific job, when in fact should have employed/contracted PROFESSIONAL LAW MAKERS (with no VESTED INTERESTS in this vital process!) E.g. 2005 the maligned CROUCH-TOUCH-PAUSE-ENGAGE conceived by a group of referees.

b) In the last 10 years have given a lot of power to the referees, who in a very DRACONIAN way to interpret the LAWS (forced/coerced by their peers to control matches one way or the other)

c) Referees these days are talking to players while the game is on! (this is NOT ON), they should only talk to the captains after the game is STOPPED.

d) Have put the focus on shall I say: “CONTROLLING THE GAME” in an autocratic style (as against ENABLING it and sensibly administering the game).

e) Too much energy, time, money and emphasis has been directed onto players and coaches as “responsible parties on upholding the Law.

f) No consideration has been given to: “How these initiatives and directives do affect the paying public?

g) Referees are not to MANAGE or COACH the players. Their clear function is to enforce the Law acting like a Supreme Court Judge (not a nit picking constable!)

In March/April 2013 Mr. Graham Mourie (Chair of the Scrum Steering Group – SSG) asked me to review 17 trial matches (You Tube) where the new sequence “CROUCH-TOUCH-SET” was being applied (later changed to the current: “CROUCH-BIND-SET”.

Furthermore, I sent him a 4 page letter/report, also supported by a lobby group called Scrum Experts Lobby (SEL) (comprised of 17 ex International players and Coaches from all over the world, including Ray Williams OBE and myself as a self-appointed coordinator)

The SSG was charged with handling the scrum problems and of generating the solutions (in one, fixing the problem!). To me it just was another PR and pacifying exercise. Received no response, not even a discussion was granted or a thank you letter!

Incidentally that Scrum Steering Group was comprised by: Brian O’Shea and Mike Hawker (Australia), Graham Mourie and Mike Cron (NZ), Didier Retiere (France), Richie Dixon (Scotland, Mike England (England), Norm Motram (USA)

My four page report included specific practical and commonsensical recommendations gather from Jeff Probyn (England Int.) and Phil Keith-Roach (England Scrum Coach, 2003 RWC). Yet no response, invitation or discussion was granted from this group. It was obvious that the “SSG ship” was already set on a unilateral direction with little or no flexibility to consider other views! For a moment we believed that our contribution was worthwhile of further consideration.


1) The Laws must be brought from 20th century into 21st century

2) The Referees must be: a) assisted with a simplified set of Laws; and b) their function shouldn’t be MANAGING, CONTROLLING OR COACHING but ENABLING the game by giving priority to outcomes against process and minutiae.

3) The scrum only needs TWO CALLS: “Crouch and Pack” (less is more!)

4) The referee should have the function to only ensure SAFE PROCEEDINGS THROUGHOUT the whole scrum.

5) The decision of when to put in the ball STRAIGHT is the half back’s domain (it should be a legal tactic to delay the put in, for 1 or 2 seconds, in order to counter the oppositions push! – common current complain)


7) Both packs can only push when or after the ball is in.

8) One of the 4 principles of rugby has been let down by the administrators: CONTINUITY! The much needed and craved continuity of the game is in the hands of referees and administrators.

9) Incidentally if rugby wants to be fast and furious? Then the IRB must reinstate: “THE RUCK”. Including some very tough laws and penalties to stamp out FOUL PLAY (Player safety first & foremost)

10) Adopting these steps and techniques will go long way to restore the advantage of the team in possession and to a certain point “protect” it for 1 o 2 seconds.

Have spent 17 years (on and off) writing, colliding materials and collecting information, including the views of more than 30 International players and coaches, resulting in a 218 page Scrum Thesis published in August 2012 (without any official support). Most of my above views are in in different shapes, concepts and explanations, but the full essence of scrummaging is well spelled out with many options to study.

However, some sort of malaise or curse prevents IRB administrators from consulting with “Experts” in the area of scrummaging. I guess it may be because they may have to admit that they were wrong before. Thus, their good reputation and name is more important than fixing the problems affecting contemporary rugby. I’m only speculating; don’t know that for sure, most probably I’m wrong……again!


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 -
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