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Scrums sucking too much precious time out of rugby

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Expert
3rd May, 2019
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What’s the best rule change that Global Rapid Rugby has introduced? Easy. The scrum time limit of 60 seconds.

Even in Super Rugby, which is regarded as fast-paced and free-flowing compared to northern hemisphere club competitions, fans have to endure tedious scrum sets and re-sets.

World Rugby should address this as there’s a consensus from rugby fans across the globe; they want scrums set quicker, the ball moving sooner and fewer re-sets. Take a leaf out of Twiggy Forrest’s GRR book.

Remember, statistics show that Super Rugby averages around 30 minutes of ball-in-play time during what’s supposed to be an 80-minute game. Sluggish scrums and re-sets are probably the biggest time-wasters.

The Waratahs were pretty dire about a month ago in Newcastle against the Sunwolves. The Tahs hardly deserved any favours. But the closing stages highlighted how sluggish and laborious the game can be as the Japanese side – leading 31-29 – strangled the life out of the game.

They opted for scrums when awarded penalties, buoyed by the fact that a scrum can be an effective way to run down the clock. It’s a decent strategy for a scrum-savvy team, but a poor indictment on the game and hardly makes for an entertainment-filled finish.

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Player safety is paramount at scrum time, especially when pack weights often hover around the 900kg mark at the top level. That means referees must adhere to the scrum engagement calls. But rugby fans are fed up with the game being held up as front-rowers and locks treat scrum time as some kind of protected rugby ritual.

The lack of urgency to pack a scrum can be exasperating. Refs need to get the scrums set and get the pill in play – not let scrums become a time for excessive posturing and time-wasting.

And if front-rowers struggled to keep up with faster scrum sets, then coaches will need to use their bench sooner.

But one of the biggest blights on the game of rugby union is the scrum re-set. There’s little that’s more nauseating and infuriating than the precious game time that is eaten up by 16 big blokes peeling themselves off the ground after a scrum collapse and unhurriedly repacking another version.

Only five games have so far been played in this season’s Global Rapid Rugby, but it’s refreshing to see more urgency from teams to get organised to set scrums and get the ball in play.

Referees have presumably been given a bit of a licence to be more decisive in awarding penalties when there’s a scrum collapse instead of opting for a re-set.

Super Rugby refs should be told to follow this path: be more resolute at scrum time, and blow more penalties without the need for a reset. There’s a lot to keep an eye on as an on-field ref and they could do with more help.

Angus Gardner speaking to Ben Smith and Bernard Foley.

(Photo: Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

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They should be able to get more guidance from the TMO. And the TMO should be given access to more technology to help them adjudicate on scrum infringements.

A fairly simple bit of technology that would help is using a drone or Spyder-Cam that produces overhead video footage. This would be crucial for TMOs to advise the on-field referees when a pack isn’t aligning straight, which is often an intentional ploy.

A couple of weeks ago during the Queensland Reds’ upset over the Sharks in Durban, the home side’s tight-head prop Coenraad Oosthuizen clearly had a plan to bore in on young Reds loose-head prop Harry Hoopert.

The Sharks won some scrum penalties. It took Reds hooker Alex Mafi to alert the ref to the tactic, and the Reds then proceeded to compete strongly at scrum time. Some overhead footage would’ve picked this up quickly.

We’ve all got a mate that’s got a bit of Chris ‘Buddha’ Handy in him – the former front-rower who relishes the scrum battle and while watching a game gets unduly revved up for the first pack-down of the match. But thankfully they are convincingly outnumbered by those with the good sense of wanting to see more of the ball in play.

There’s much to admire about the motivations from Global Rapid Rugby to change the laws of the game to make it more free-flowing (line-out time limits of 45 seconds is another). Scrum time limits are a positive step and World Rugby should consider any solutions that would speed up scrums and reduce re-sets.

And while they are there, they can ditch the worst law in rugby: the ridiculous one in which the defending halfback at scrum time is allowed to follow the line of the ball to the opposition’s side and harass his rival No.9.

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