Do spectators even care about the scrum?

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    During his recent visit to Australia, Brett Gosper, CEO of the International Rugby Board, is reported to have voiced his concern about the “enemies of continuity” in the game of rugby.

    A viewing of any game at the elite level will produce evidence his concern is well placed.

    It is a well-established fact that the time the ball is in play seldom exceeds 35 minutes out of the allotted 80. The laws of the game, their interpretation by the referees and the response of players and coaches are all responsible for some of the time wasted.

    Recently, Andrew Slack drew attention to this state of affairs in his Sunday Mail article. The culprit in the examples he gave was the scrum, where collapses and re-sets resulted in extended periods where no pass was thrown (and no player ran with the ball).

    When the issue of the scrum is raised in any gathering of rugby watchers it is fairly certain that vigorous debate will follow and solutions for fixing its problems will be expounded.

    Many rugby adherents have a view of what is going wrong and what should be done about it.

    The IRB continues in its efforts to find a workable solution but as yet, none of the changes instituted can be judged successful.

    A comparison of the scrums in the first Test against the British and Irish Lions with those in the three games of the 2001 Lions tour illustrates the point that little progress has been made in the effectiveness of the administration of the scrum.

    A lower percentage of scrums were completed; there was a decrease in the percentage of scrums that are stationary when the ball was fed in; the time per scrum has doubled and the number of penalties has shown an alarming increase.

    These statistics for the 2013 Test mirror the result for the 2013 Six Nations competition. Followers of the game will have different views about whether this is relevant and whether it matters.

    While the scrum is a part of the game about which all rugby followers have definite opinions, there seems to have been little attention given to documenting those opinions. As a consequence we do not know if the rugby watching population is really concerned about the scrum’s influence on the structure of the game.

    Fortunately, in an effort to produce some consolidated evidence of the opinion of players and spectators, Griffith University is currently undertaking an online research project with the distribution of a survey of opinion.

    The survey addresses several issues:

    Is the scrum essentially the heart of the game or could it be dispensed with?
    Are the laws relating to the rugby scrum effective in regulating how scrums are conducted, and are they clear and easily understood by those who play or watch the game?
    Do the laws and the way they are interpreted by the referees provide adequate safety protection for the players?
    Are scrums conducted in a manner that upholds the objective of fair play?

    The objective of the Griffith University study is to contribute to the process of improving understanding and enjoyment of rugby and to add to the context in which the lawmakers make changes. The survey is open to anyone interested in the game, takes about 15 minutes to complete anonymously, and is available here.

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