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Rugby cannot keep the status quo

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John Beattie | 17:16 UK time, Sunday, 12 December 2010

Scrum time has become a problem for rugby union.

Both front rows are cheating, the referee doesn't know what is happening, the crowd doesn't know what is happening, but the spectators certainly know that they are getting bored.

Rugby can't keep the status quo: it has to change.

I was interviewing my hero last Friday. He is Francis Rossi, one of the Status Quo frontmen, and he had just finished his sound check before their concert in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium.

He sounded upbeat about life, but downbeat at the empty spaces he sees in front of him at gigs this year.

For the first time in his career Rossi, who has just bought into a whisky company, thinks that the recession is having an effect on ticket sales to Quo concerts.

The time taken over collapsed scrums is killing rugby as a spectator sport. Photo: Getty

The time taken over collapsed scrums is killing rugby as a spectator sport. Photo: Getty

And, he says, it's the same for all the bands out on the road trying to make money. Most rock bands are struggling to fill stadia. Even Quo, the ultimate entertainment rock band.

By coincidence, there's a great article in the Scotsman newspaper by the former Scotland player Iain Morrison charting the decline in rugby's worldwide audiences - though I see empty seats at football too.

The Barbarians drew just 31,318 fans for their clash with the Springboks at Twickenham while the same fixture had 58,186 in 2007. The crowd watching Wales play Australia a few weeks ago was 53,000, a large reduction from the 74,000 who watched the same fixture in 2009.

Iain goes on to talk about many other venues all over the world that have seen a decline, in visible and real terms, in rugby watching.

The first thing to say is that Francis Rossi has a point. There is a global recession. People have either lost their jobs or are fearful of losing them and one inescapable fact is that there is less money in the system for life's fripperies.

The second, quite obvious factor, is that the weather has been horrendous for the last month.

I don't know how the brave souls who watched Scotland beat Samoa at Pittodrie a couple of weeks ago coped with the cold. Many didn't come, as travel was impossible.

And it is unlikely that we will see club games this weekend where I live - the frozen waste that is Glasgow, now you ask.

Perhaps there is an awful lot more rugby to watch, but the third thing to say is that scrums are killing rugby as a spectator sport.

I watched Glasgow play Toulouse on Friday night and the scrums became a nightmare. A complete nightmare. Later on it was Northampton-Cardiff, and yet again there were collapsed scrums and kidology.

The referees do not know what they are doing. They seem to have been given brave pills; they swallow them, jump to a conclusion, and award a penalty.

It is completely unsatisfactory.

I have two solutions, and I think I hinted at them here a year ago.

Firstly, we should not be playing rugby at this time of year. But that's an argument for another time.

The second is that we have to crack down, as a sport, on scrum time.

Stick with me on this one. There should be no "crouch, touch, pause, engage".

The "engage" has become a "hit" which both packs, weight-trained for this very explosion, try to win. Or we see a fake with a "soft hit", or a collapse if one eight "lose the hit'.

Packs should go down front row on front row, with no pushing, second rows next, then back row - with pushing only allowed as the ball is put in.

If there is one collapsed scrum either up or down then there should be an official warning. And then on the second collapse both sets of front rows should be put in the sin bin.

If there is an infringement when both front rows are off then, sorry, but it's a free-kick. Lineouts, I am sure we can come to an arrangement.

The danger for front rows is they might just find that 12-man rugby would be more fun without them. Scrums are killing rugby.

Status quo is not an option. But I have bought my ticket.

You can hear John every Saturday morning, on Sports Weekly, BBC Radio Scotland 0900-1000.


  • Comment number 1.

    Think you will see some outrage from the po-pos on this one John! I agree something has to be done about the scrum, but effectively de poweering it turns the game into rugby league and takes away the 'sport for every shape' that it is so proud of. Perhaps instead of that you could have TV refs especially for scrum time who know exactly what is going on-they could see what is happening on screen and be in the refs ear?

  • Comment number 2.

    Maybe the IRB could get a good collection of former international front row players to have a week or 2 with the referees, this might help with their often bemusing interpretations of front row antics. I do like the idea of packing down front row then 2nd row then back row to remove the hit that so often leads to collapse but in that case the 'feed' needs to be straight (and I mean straight) to allow a contest and prevent a rugby league style approach to scrums.

  • Comment number 3.

    The usual rubbish from someone who should have been sacked a long time ago.

    I wish people would stop using the phrase 'Scrum time'. It's lazy and there is no such thing.

    As for scrums, like with the breakdown better refereeing would solve this problem. I am tired of seeing the opposite side of the scrum to the referee go down time after time only for the referee to change to the blindside and the open side then go down. The referee has a touch judge who he could utilise but never does. That is a big part of the problem with scrums and the breakdown. It doesn't help when the IRB dictate that there should be a pause of a random duration before the engage. The timings should be consistent.

    One other thing would help and that's citings for deliberately collapsing scrums. If a player is cited in three games then they get a ban of four games (not weeks).

  • Comment number 4.

    Think this is one of the most pressing issues facing rugby well deserving of a blog but an absolutley terrible proposed solution.
    Nothing of value in there John. I think the posters above had very good ideas for intensive training for the refs and increased role of the touch judge watching the blind side. On top of that simply stopping the clock until a collapsed scrum has reset would end the 'wasted' time.

    Scrums are the problem in vogue at the minute but without them union wont survive.

  • Comment number 5.

    A reason I prefer union to league, as a scrum half and younger fan, is the scrums. Your proposed solution would turn it into league.

    When I play, no one is allowed to push before the ball comes in. It seems that this is the main problem. Both sets of forwards, particularly front rows, are vying for superiority when technically there is nothing to fight for yet. This results in collapsed scrums, time being wasted and frustration for everyone concerned.

    If those who pushed before the ball was put in (straight) were penalised there would be an improvement. I agree with the point someone made previously too, that the time for the "pause" should be consistent. These are big men, to ask them to hover for so long is ridiculous.

    Make the rules clearer and the guidelines for engagement uniform and we might get somewhere.

  • Comment number 6.

    Fred - TV refs, not a bad idea - it's just this is getting to me

    misterhoppy - I don't want to depower scrums, I am just fed up of them collapsing all the time and the game stopping

    Bob - I am not employed if you are suggesting that it is me who should be sacked. I agree entirely with your stuff though about props conning the ref on the far side of the scrum from him, the slow timing etc. You do agree with me that there has to be something done

    shane_odk - it's what effectively happened even in the nineties if you watch scrums going down then. reasonable solution about stopping the clock, but surely if we keep stopping the clock then front rows might think they can get away with it as it no longer wasting time?

    Jim - no, I think we have to have meaningful scrums where the stronger scrum can push the opposition scrum off the ball - at the moment we have a weaker scrummaging team's cheats charter.....maybe you and I agree - it is the "hit" that is the problem, and both packs try to win it. Perhaps just simply not being allowed to push before the ball comes in would solve it.....anyway, professional props who can't scrummage are killing the game.

    I don't think good props will mind as they will be powerful whatever.


  • Comment number 7.

    I think an awful lot of the problems come down to a few areas -

    1 - The ref's don't know what they are doing. In this area however the French ref's seem to be best as they obviously come from a stronger scrummaging culture. All ref's worldwide should be put on an intensive 2/3 week course on scrummaging with numerous scrum coaches and ex players to ensure that they know what to look for.

    2 - The jerseys for binding on are so skin tight nowadays that it is a lot more difficult so there should be a handle like on a jumpers legs to be grabbed onto - if a player looses his binding it becomes obvious and should be penalised.

    3 - All backrow players have to stay fully down and fully bound and not coming up driving into the props.

    4 - An ex prop should be in the tv ref's booth and be able to communicate what is going on and combine this with the touch judges also.

    5 - Don't know if this will work but why isn't the ball placed in the middle before the 2 packs engage and the hookers will then have to concentrate on hooking again?

  • Comment number 8.

    I've been roundly frustrated for many years now by poor refereeing of scrums. I say nothing when I listen to the referees in question holding forth after the match on their bizarre (anatomically and dynamically speaking) interpretations of what was going on to call for their odder decisions, because I fear for what might emerge from my mouth were I to open it. No doubt the refs in question think they held their audience in thrall, but the audiences usually know the truth and no more need be said.

    Nevertheless, for once I disagre with the main article. My view, respectfully, is that, if we want a competition and not an American professional wresting-type sham, we cannot keep simplifying the game every time that some referees seem to manage some aspect of it imperfectly. Down that road lies League and American Football. (I haven't a problem with any of those sports: but they're just not rugby.) Already rucks, mauls and line-outs look (certainly to the uninitiated) less like full-blown contests for the ball than arcane re-start ceremonies in which the ball goes back to the blokes who had it in the first place, with a minimum of interference and with the field somewhat re-organised.

    When props don't scrummage well, we don't (I trust) demand that the rules be changed: we look for props who scrummage better. When referees don't arbitrate effectivly at "scrum time" (Three cheers to the contributor who pointed out that there's a lot more than scrummaging going on then, as with any equivalent period in the game!), we'd be silly to demand that the rules be changed until we're dead sure that referees can't reasonably be expected to make a better fist of managing them.

    Honestly, in this age of professionalism, shouldn't we expect that?

    Anyway, for my money, I suggest that in this instance the game was being harmed (probably nothing to get the wind up about, but evidently discernably) by the referee and not the scrum. It happens. Different referees wreck different aspects of the game to different degrees: the best ones don't. 'Twere ever thus.

  • Comment number 9.

    I agree with john that the way scrums are being refed at the moment, they become reset after reset until one teams scrum have or 8 decide to pick the ball as quickly as its in. I cant help but feel it does come down how it is controlled by the man in charge.

    They should utilize the touch judges! the camera from the side angle usually see's the discrepancies so surely the touch judge, who cant be far from the camera, can see.

    On the point of crowds dwindling, it might have something to do with prices being extortionate unless you want to sit with Zeus and Buddha!

  • Comment number 10.

    Bob, surely saying 'the referees should be better' is never going to be the answer. Refs play more top flight games than ever, leading a more professional life than ever. I have no idea how you're going to improve referee standards en masse. The old adage 'the refs rubbish' doesn't help anyone.
    I've yet to hear a valid argument against JB's idea of no pushing or manipulationg before the ball is put in. To me this seems a logical solution and worth trying (although I never played Front row so don't know the Dark Arts, but would like to hear any objections).
    Something needs to be done and soon(maybe start stopping the clock til ball is out as an interim idea, but it's not the long term the solution). The scrum has been allowed to become a joke. It was and can be a competitive and exciting part of the sport, but it needs action now.

  • Comment number 11.

    John is right - as a prop watching scrums, it is the engage that is the issue - depower that, but not the actual scrums - sort out the non binders and borers. Back to having good, fun, scrum time.

    At the moment, it is Crouch (long wait) touch (long wait) Pause (even longer wait) then finally engage. NO GOOD.

  • Comment number 12.

    Law 20.1.j states: Stationary and parallel. Until the ball leaves the scrum half’s hands, the scrum must be stationary and the middle line must be parallel to the goal lines. A team must not shove the scrum away from the mark before the ball is thrown in.

    So I'm afraid John the existing law allows for a stationary scrum.

    Scrums have always collapsed when props have misbehaved, probably most often through slipped binding. The laws are actually quite simple for the scrum when you read them, but the reality is rather different with all 16 players all trying to get the upper hand on their opposite number through all kinds of misdemeanours. If players stuck to the letter of the laws most problems would disappear immediately.

    As a referee, you can only see a fraction of what's occurring at any one time and have to make a call based on that, and I accept that having never played front row I am guessing much of the time. I don't have the benefit of a proper TJ, so if it goes wrong far side the guesswork element is further increased. What I do know is that players can learn to do it the way the referee wants it done if they choose to. I've seen it happen on many Saturdays. The professionals obviously think they know better than all the law-makers.

  • Comment number 13.

    John, another great column and with regard to the scrum "engagement" I had exactly the same conversation on Saturday with someone on Twitter. The engagement sequence is beyond a joke now. Having the rows engage in order would prevent a lot of these problems.
    Whilst we're at it let's try and have straight put ins as well.

    Question remains, how do you police the scrum. Is it time to have two referees as they have trialled in rugby league in Australia? I appreciate the argument that two referees who don't know how to referee properly is no better than one, but having one on each side of the scrum might help prevent some of the usual illegal binding and collapsing we see on the side the referee can't see.

    It might also give us a properly enforced offside line and better managed rucks.

    That would be a long time coming though as I doubt we have enough elite level referees.

  • Comment number 14.

    I have said this until I am blue in the face but simply put what is the difference between a contested scrum and an uncontested one?! Simple, you're allowed to compete after the ball is in the scrum so by definition the only difference you see should occur after the ball has been fed in. Watch the engagement of a contested scrum then an uncontested and the 2 are completely different.

    Also, how many uncontested scrums collapse on engagement?

  • Comment number 15.

    Why not have the REFEREE put the ball into the scrum if collapes occur more than twice? It will be a straight feed and there will be a proper competition for it rather than anymore collapses. The team awarded the scrum get to hook the ball first, after that the other hooker can hook for it if its still within reach.

  • Comment number 16.

    As the name suggests I'm a grizzled ex-hooker and can tell you that I now hate watching scrums. The answer is multifactorial.

    1. Front 5 should engage first then the back row to reduce the force of the hit to something manageable.

    2. The touch judge MUST come on to the pitch to police the blind side bind.

    3. The put in MUST be down the middle and the hookers must strike for the ball.

    Unless all these criteria are met then the scrum will continue to be a debacle. It was a part of the game I enjoyed and at times was good at, oh the joy off one against the head!!

    Lets face it the scrum is important and dangerous so unless we can get our house in order why sould we expect people to pay to watch ugly short fat blokes wrestle in the mud.

    Now that this rant is out of my system I'm off to the recorded European games from the weekend and shout at the ref , I'm starting to sound like Brian Moore at the scrums!

  • Comment number 17.

    One problem is that modern shirts are difficult to grab hold of and they are usually short sleeved. This makes it far more difficult for props to grip hold of their opposite numbers shirt and bind. This leads to some of the collapsing. Solution:old fashioned shirts with sleeves.

    BTW, the feed must be straight. This would make hookers hook again and to an extent depower the hit. You might even get smaller hookers again rather than third props.

  • Comment number 18.

    There IS a problem at least everyone is agreed on that. Getting ex front rows to advise referees and teach them how that world really operates is a sound idea ; Probyn, Moore and "The Bear" sound ideal.Using the touch judge to referee the opposite side of the scrum is simple and might make some players think twice before taking it down. The "touch, pause ,engage" is clearly a contributory factor; it only serves as a countdown to the "hit".I think refs could improve things by simply making it quicker; less time for the scrums to build up a head of steam. But it should be done away with. I agree with comments on tight modern shirts ; how do you grab them ? Perhaps front rows could be excused them. Although my propping days were 30yrs ago and only at school 2nd XV level I found that having your opponent binding to your shirt gave him leverage to pull you down (although you could at least be sure where his fist was)and bracing my own free arm against my knee worked as a strut to keep the scrum up.
    Scrum halves are also part of the problem ; the longer the put in is delayed the more likelihood of pushing, collapsing and jiggery-pokery occurring. They also have some sort of geometrical blindness which allows them to believe that putting the ball in at 45 degrees to the scrum is in fact perpendicular. I've long maintained that the laws of the game and their enforcement should allow a side to win the ball legally in any situation otherwise they have little choice but to transgress. If there was some chance of taking the ball against the head then there is more likelihood of the scrum settling cleanly.
    As other contributors have said scrums are a huge part of the union game , and it is for this reason they need to be sorted out before they are removed as boring.

  • Comment number 19.

    Are we not in danger of trying to re-invent the wheel here?
    How were scrums conducted in your day John? It’s never been the prettiest part of the game, but tactically imperative. England have always had massive packs and have won so many games on their powerful scrumaging alone, (Semi-final in 2007 against Aus), is one particular game that I remember that the Eng scrum outclassed and devastated the Aussie's into submission.
    The scrum is a powerful tool, however you are completely correct John, and it is having a negative impact upon our game. It’s become farcical in some respects and to a certain extent uncontrollable. Some refs just don’t understand the simple mechanics of the scrum let alone the black arts that comes along with the front rows.
    The game has evidently changed since the pro era and players have become much bigger and more powerful over the years. However if you go back and watch games on ESPN from the 70's and 80's as I frequently do, the scrums weren't exactly pretty but they were certainly effective. We need to go back to basics, where the setup of the scrum, initial contact and shove was conducted in a matter of seconds rather than minutes!! This should not be a difficult issue to sort in an educated game, however I feel that the powers that be are in danger of over complicating the game to an extent that we are finding ourselves switching away from a sport that used to be loved for its high tempo and seamless fluidity.

  • Comment number 20.

    I don't know what people are complaining about - He's absolutely right. As a front row player, I spend half my time in Scrums, because time and again they fall over - Most of the time its nobody's fault. Referee's no longer police anything about scrums beyond the engage, even when they go down(Straight put-ins are a thing of the past - JUST like in rugby league), because they just want the ball out of the situation.

    Yes, referees don't always know what's going on - but even if they did the scrums would still go down. What's actually happening is the referees just give an arbitrary penalty to get away from the scrum.

    The correlation between the imposition of these new sanctions of "crouch, touch, pause..........engage" and the rise of the amazing collapsible scrum is indisputable. Its like the starter gun in a sprint except there's 5 guys shoving you from behind and you hit a brick wall after 1 yard. It's no wonder so many go down. It often takes two or three days for your back muscles to recover after a Saturday and that's ridiculous.

    Yes, we want the game to be for all shapes and sizes, and that's exactly what this situation prohibits. Now, only HUGE will do.

    The amount of work that is being done in gyms to get the upper hand in the impact is ludicrous and has turned the whole game into the arm wrestle that we see today.

    The IRB have made things more dangerous, not less, by over-policing in the interest of avoiding culpability. The impact part of scrums didn't even exist until they brought in these overly prescriptive rules.

    To people who say Union wouldn't be union without it - Union was Union before we had all this rubbish.


    Referee says "Srummage down" - Front rows bind and go down and everyone else latches on afterwards.

    Problem solved - now we all can get on with the game we love.

  • Comment number 21.

    jb 1974 - we kind of agree - we have to take the hit out of it

    Segnes, I know what you are saying, but I am trying to look for a solution that keeps the scrum as a competition but stops it ending up in lots and lots of collapses

    Adam - your mates Zeus and Buddha must be rich lads

    Ulster_Fryer - thanks. I think the game panders to props, who probably love it......

    Old Prop - thanks, it's the hit....

    Occitania Lev - yup, but it's too easy for front rows to manipulate the situation

    abzrugby - yup

    Malva, neat idea, have to sort the hit first as it's then that it all falls down

    Whingeing pom. I agree with you, but I think the basis of the whole argument is to make the thing so simple that collapses dont happen

    Silver hooker - I think Brian Moore is good and knows what he is talking about

    More in a wee while....

  • Comment number 22.

    I agree with you John and your solution. The law states that there is to be no pushing before the ball is fed in. Your solution would make any "pre put in" shove obvious. Critics saying that we would end up with rugby league scrums are missing the point, any "hits" prior to put in are illegal if they incorporate a push. Let's get back to getting the game restarted without the long delays prevalent at the moment. Here's another thought. How about going back to a 3 -2 -3 scrum formation? That would give the half backs another yard of space to work in.
    Going back to rugby league, I may be wrong but their scrum laws used to be pretty much the same as Union but the influence of the Aussie game has seen those laws ignored and scrums are now a farce with the ball being thrown in to the loose head's feet.
    I don't think that John's suggestions would stop Union scrums being less competitive only more quickly carried out

  • Comment number 23.

    Scrums are definately an issue; takes far too long; watched the documentary on Scotland's grand slam win - how different it was then; get an international group front row players to decide how the scrums should operate and then educate the referees; also I think linesman are generally too passive becoming "flag holders" they need to provide the ref with info too.. when will the IRB do something to improve things?

  • Comment number 24.

    Agree totally with JB. The man is a genius, well he is when compared to most of the pundit half wits who toe the party line. Need to keep rugby simple guys - Also agree with not playing in deepest winter - shock horror ! Let's play when weather is more favourable for a handling game. Hope it won't take union too much time to catch up with league in this regard.

  • Comment number 25.

    Didn't think my comment mentioned depowering scrums, simply that the hit seems to be the point at which the most issues arise, both sides are welcome to push all they like WHEN the ball is put in (straight).

  • Comment number 26.

    This problem has occurred because the set scrum is no longer a contest for possession of the ball, but rather has declined into a contest for penalty points, as a result of referees turning a blind eye to the scrum half NOT putting the ball in straight, instead allowing the scrum half to feed the ball to his second row. The opposing team uses this situation to manipulate referees into awarding penalties.

    If rugby referees would simply follow the rule book and insist on teams putting the ball down the centre of the scrum tunnel, much of this nonsense would be eliminated, as the hookers would be focussed on hooking the ball.

    Further, the idea of having the front five of each team to pack down first, then the respective back rows would go a long way to stopping the head-butting crashes that go on currently. When the back rows pack down, the ball is then put into play, straight down the middle of the tunnel.

  • Comment number 27.

    The problem is that nowadays because of 'professionalism' players cheat and instead of playing the game hard and fair, they try to get every advantage or every trick to get the opposition penalised. With the reliance on kickers now there is a huge school of thought who actually spend time thinking of ways to get your opponents penalised whereas before it was all about how to outfox your opposition. It is only at the top level this happens because this is where the pressure is highest obviously, you go to your local club game and do most of the scrums stay up? Yes!! I always played 2nd row or back row and if our props pulled the scrum down you knew he was in trouble and he would be embarassed to have to do so as playing prop was one of the toughest positions played by the toughest players in the team and there is no way they would want to lose face by taking a scrum down....the way to fix the scrums is for the props to become men again and try to outprop their opponent rather than cheat his way through the game.

  • Comment number 28.

    It is so easy to blame the referees for the problems around the scrum but lets be honest, as long as there have been front rows, referees haven't had a clue about what was going on. So why would this be any different now? Sending both hookers to the sin bin does not work, we all saw that last weekend.
    The problem is twofold : on one hand it is the front row binding. No matter what level you look at, front row binding has become a joke and they are all too loose. You can tell by the way they form up what's going to happen next. On the other hand it is this stupid 4 count, it either goes too fast or way too slow. And there is no consistency. How can you expect front rows to do their job properly?
    Hopefully the IRB come to their senses and change some of these rules before too many players go through their entire career without ever having had a proper scrum.

  • Comment number 29.

    Hey John
    Interesting one this week especially as i am a back and although I have been watching and playing rugby for a long time I still do not understand what is going wrong at scrum time. It is the only thing that I fail to fully understand and it is, as you said, becoming very tedious to watch.
    The other day i read an article about an idea to put binding strips on the side of the props shirts so that the opposite prop can bind on to that instead of trying to bind on to his shirt that i presume must be casuing some problems. What do you think of this?

  • Comment number 30.

    Cringe, more rubbish.

    "If there is one collapsed scrum either up or down then there should be an official warning. And then on the second collapse both sets of front rows should be put in the sin bin.

    If there is an infringement when both front rows are off then, sorry, but it's a free-kick. Lineouts, I am sure we can come to an arrangement."

    Oh dear.

  • Comment number 31.

    John, I agree with most of the sentiments on here. Props must be encouraged to scrum straight and to keep heads above waists and I like the idea of a touch judge on one side and the referee on the other side to police this. I certainly think they should try getting front rows to bind first. Of course they will wrestle and twist each other as they always have but if the "hit" is removed then the instant collapse is less likely.

    Modern rugby shirts do not help the situation, especially at top level, because there is far less to bind on to than there was before. I think that is one of the reasons why we see more binding slipping and props binding on each others arms.

    You are right when you say that something must be done and let us hope that the authorities are listening. The scrum clock idea is certainly putting pressure in the right direction.

  • Comment number 32.

    Ref's are awful and should learn how to ref the scrums but I also agree with John's appraoch.

    As others have pointed out previously, back in the amatuer days of the game they merely formed the scrum and then once the ball was struck by the hooker started to push - go back and watch, it is incredibly self-disciplined and scrums only collapsed when players genuinely slip. Scrums were more competitive, stable and enjoyable during this period (this comes from a 26-year old) and the matter needs to be addressed.

    Now hookers don't strike the ball - they push over it so neither are actually competing (this also allows for squint feeds). As well as the change to engagement how about making it compulsory for the hooker to compete for the ball - the name of the position alone would make that a feasible suggestion!

    The worry is the battle of the hit culture is now filtering down to the amatuer/school/junior club games and more collapsed scrums are creeping into the game, undoubtably leading to more serious injuries. Also amatuers and school kids aren't taught how to fall in a controlled manner like the pro's who know how to avoid injury.

    Funnily enough you never see scrums in 7's collapse either?!

  • Comment number 33.

    1, One of the touch line judges watching the other side from the referee,

    2, Two collapses in a row sees a penalty try awarded.

    3, If the hooker does not strike on his side's scrum put in, twice in a row
    a penalty below the posts is awarded.

    4, Who knows front rows in a few years maybe lighter/faster/more skilful?

    And had you down as a Quo fan for years!!! Mirror image of many friends and my older brothers!!!

  • Comment number 34.

    Good blog topic John and I agree with your principal suggestion that the scrum should pack down in row order. It's not about 'the hit', it's about an opportunity for both sides to compete for the ball.
    I'm not in the camp that says it's all the referee's fault - they have a tough job trying to control sometimes deliberately errant players. They should however, use the linesman to help out at scrums.
    The CTPE palaver has not produced the desired result. It should be: 'crouch (one sec), touch (one sec), pause (two secs), engage. The one and only pause in the sequence comes after the word 'pause'. There's nothing like stating the obvious ... but why isn't it obvious to the refs who inject pauses after every word? What does the law say? I'm sure I've watched CTPE taking 8+ secs! ... and, the ball is ALWAYS crooked these days.
    I agree with several posters about the 'old days'; view some of the videos on the BBC website and you'll see scrums happening with no fuss and bother at all.
    As contributor @32 said, there is a real danger of this 'hit' mentality getting into all levels of the game and causing significant injury. Do you know John if the IRB is actually doing something about this issue?

  • Comment number 35.

    A whole range of points being made. Crowd numbers are down which is doubtlessly due to there being less disposable cash around at the moment...not technically a recession but the two years after a recession during which everyone is more careful with money! But there has never been so much rugby! The international calendar is now so packed that players are always shattered and the scarcity value that made you go the extra mile for a ticket to the big game has all but gone. International rugby is like buses now...don't worry if you miss one because another will be along in a minute!

    As for scrums, what you're proposing is exactly how it used to be done i.e. the scrums form up, pack down, take the strain but don't push seriously until the ball is in. The current system of crouching and touching etc before coming together in a bone shattering thud was introduced at the insistence of New Zealand, who presumably had a strong scrum that year, hence the Law change. It's the ultimate piece of dumb, macho theatre for the meathead portion of the rugby audience...loads of grunting and thrusting and wrestling for the cameras. But now it's a total lottery, riddled with gamesmanship, made worse by the fact that the defending side won't even see the ball let alone have a chance to strike for it. The advent of slippery shirts has made binding much harder and there is less "friction to hold the front rows together. The result is reset after reset after reset.

    The endgame here will be the end of the setpiece scrum and I seriously suspect that this might actually be the plan of the boys and girls in marketing...get the scrum bit out of the way and leave more space for the "fancy-dans" to run around in! Game more accessible = more fair-weather punters = more advertising space to sell. Maybe at pinch they would consider keeping a League type "lean against each other" scrum-substitute just as a vehicle for restarting the game, but nothing more

    The solution is fairly simple and, as such, stands no chance of being tried. 1) Players to wear cotton shirts that provide grip and binding (no way...shirt manufacturers want cheaper synthetics to make more margin in the replica shirt business) 2) Form up the scrum before pushing (no way!...less theatrical grunt and less errr...superior physicality) 3) Insist on straight feeds (no way...the IRB just don't seem to want this despite it being central to the Laws).

    Once the meaningful scrum has been consigned to history and forwards are their simply for boshing and re-cycling what next. My money is on rolling substitutes followed by the game being played over four quarters!

    PS: I'd pay good money not to see Status Quo!

  • Comment number 36.

    Ref overload is the half of it, too much to watch with only two eyes.

    2 Set piece assistants that just monitor the front rows at the scrum and the jumpers* at the line out and then bugger off out the way, the ref just makes sure the put ins are straight and can watch for off side thereafter easily.

    Binding loops sewn into the kit, as mentioned above, is a good idea.

    A team weight limit would be radical but it would offer a way out of juggernaut crash ball rugby played by cloned gym monkeys.

    *I hate lifting, with sufficient over watch this sanctioned "cheating" can be taken back out of the line out and individual jumping will decide the out come.

  • Comment number 37.

    Poor attendance isn't down to scrums - it is down to recession plus ticket prices. The unions are making tons of cash, yes? Under 12s free, under 16s a tenner and adults a lot cheaper than they are forking out now, or some sort of price package should be introduced. That should bring in enough cash. Believe me JB, Status Quo do not need 'the money'. The reason why they don't get audiences is because they are dated. Young people don't watch Quo and older people are too old to go and watch Quo. Quo are too old to be doing Quo now, too. And they're cr4p!

  • Comment number 38.

    Dear John,

    Dont know what you proposin here

    Do we want league style restarsts where players are bound in the scrum then released quickly

    again and again

    or union where props go

    down down down deeper and down

    or do we want regimented discipline as if

    we are in the army now

    or not have a game for skinny second rows who look like matchstick men

    but I guess you as ever will get

    Whatever you want

  • Comment number 39.

    On a serious note (not 3 chords)

    Scrums are a huge part of what made union a game that every boy in the school could play.

    Wee fat strong boys getting pushed by slightly less fat taller lads who in turn are assisted by normal sized guys who win ball to give to the smallest guy in class who throws it to the best looking kid who will kick or pass it to faster and less good looking boys who will probably drop it anyway.

    I hated the huge English packs of the eighties who would rumble on and on and win games time after time against possibly more skillfull but weaker opponnents

    however this was in the laws of the game and we seem to want to change this advantage without changing the reason it works.

    John I have said it before but refs are dealing with dishonest players who are held up as heroes Williams, Smith, McCaw, Back
    All great (cheats) players

    and the pundits will praise them to the sky whilst caning the refs

    as in football every player who fouls or cons the ref or runs lazily or lies with outstretched arms or blocks a run is a cheat

    rugby has gone down the road of winning at all costs as being more important than the playing and enjoying

    Finally I was stuck at Forfar for 5 hours on the a90 on the Sunday after the Samoa game but could swear I got the whiff of Lobster Thermadore and Tennants lager from a passing train


  • Comment number 40.

    Great choice of topic again John.

    Here's my solution, please bear in mind its coming from a back-rower..

    do away with crouch-touch-hold-engage
    introduce "crouch-bind-engage"
    front rows must bind, but not shove at the "bind" call. At the call "engage" the packs can shove and the scrum half has a count of 2 to put the ball in. And it must be straight. The refs can then concentrate on cracking down on the crooked feed into the scrum.
    Also I agree with a point someone else made, we cant expect good binding with the second skin jerseys used nowadays, so lets introduce a standard for front row jerseys that allows binding (I dont think we need to go as far as handles).
    Lastly, harsher punishment for cheats. Allow citing for professional cheating at the scrum and make the penalties stiff.
    so there you go, job done.

  • Comment number 41.

    Firstly the ref's have just started cracking down on the scrum this season and these things can take a bit of time to work through - we should give it a chance.
    Secondly our power scrums are the price we pay for a lot of the other wonderful things that happen on the rugby field - they provide a base for so much of what goes on subsequently - change that and you've got a whole new game - and not a better one.
    I councel a little patience off field and a little effort on it - we will get there.

  • Comment number 42.

    John, a friend of mine who was at the Samoa Scotland game and is an Aberdonian said he had never been so cold in his adult life. Now if that's coming from a local then the spectators were indeed heroic. Moreover they had to sit through 80 minutes of simply awful rugby. Had it been me I would have headed to The Grill at half time.

  • Comment number 43.

    Core problem - dont push before the ball is in i.e. NO HIT! Watch the 97 Lions videos.

    Helpful ideas - stop the CTPE rubbish. It just builds anticipation (and force) for the (illegal) hit. Honestly, whoever introduced this and then worsened it this season has to have played fly-half with no discernible exposure to any form of forward engagement.

    - It would help, as trivial as it sounds, to have areas of the shirt that allowed for binding. Finger grip is vital in ensuring stability in a scrum. Thats just common sense.

    That is all that is required to improve the situation. There will still be tight heads trying to collapse loose heads and loose heads pretending to have collapsed, and loose heads pushing up to try and give the TH flying lessons, but the incidence of collapses would reduce significantly.

  • Comment number 44.

    Well John - I think we have it sorted here! Everyone agrees that we need scrums in RU and dont want the pretend scrums of RL hence, in no order of importance:
    - Bigger jerseys/handles on jerseys for props/hookers
    - Do away with the hit at the scrum - some combination of getting scrums to pack down prior to push
    - No pushing until the ball is put in
    - Straight feeds from the scrum half
    - Make sure everyone to stay bound for duration of scrum
    - Harsher penalties for collapsing the scrum
    - Touch judges to come onto pitch for scrums to watch blind side
    - Expert ex props/hookers present to advise refs during games
    - More training for the refs on scrummaging
    - Harsher penalties for repeat offenders at the scrum
    - Less subs used to bring on fresh front rows players
    That should sort it!
    I also strongly believe we need to stop playing rugby during the winter - the state of the pitches does not help scrums, attractive rugby or encourage attendances! My son has not played a school game since the middle of November and is unlikely to have another match until end of January - if he is lucky! Then the 15 -a-side game draws to a close in March! Given they only started in late august/early Sept it is neither a long nor cohesive season Not exactly going to keep him and his mates interested in playing the sport is it!
    The depression is hurting but dont think SRU/clubs can do much more re prices - £180 for Edinburgh Season ticket (inc parking) is pretty good value! £30 for me and son for All Black game was good value. However the awful customer care, dire marketing and negligible community engagement can be radically improved!

  • Comment number 45.

    Straight feeds would be a start. If we have a competition for the ball that's winnable by good hooking and therefore a good front row platform that might help - at the moment you're more likely to win a penalty than win the ball from the opposition.

    Get rid of the CPTE system and bind up row by row - it used to work, what was wrong with it in the first place? Then you start with a decent scrum platform, which enables the above hooking and scrummaging contest to start.

    Props shirts should have some sort of mandatory gripping area that enables a decent bind (prop handles!)! You could ban skin-tight shirts en masse but doubt that'll happen!

    And as to the empty seats issue - it's an obvious cause - too many matches played at too high ticket prices. It's not worth paying £90 to see England this week as they're playing again next week, and the next, ad infinitum. Matches need to be a special occasion to warrant the high prices.

  • Comment number 46.

    The beauty of Rugby Union is that any body shape what so ever can take part, whilst we have seen more athletic physiques in the professional game in recent times, any depowering of the scrum would remove men like simon shaw and replace him with someone like tom croft moving into the second row. Simon Shaw is great for the game as i think is indisputable his offloads and everything else make him a great spectacle.

    As a second row myself there are those that appreciate scrums and mauls and the dirtier sides of the game. Italy would lose parity in the 6 nations and go backwards in their progress. The scrum is a vital ingredient to first class rugby. Any changes to our great game in order to appease a fickle audience would be a detriment. If people cannot understand the laws of the scrum and appreciate forward play perhaps they should watch 7s or rugby league...

  • Comment number 47.

    John I’m with you on the method of engagement – I’ve long held the view that they should pack down in stages.

    The most serious problem we have with scrums is the pointlessness of them – caused by stunningly incompetent referees who will not demand that the ball is put in straight, thus reducing them to a no contest. Currently both front rows know there is not a hope in hell of a take against the head so they just knock the hell out of each other.

    The next problem is the scrum-halves prating about instead of putting the ball into the scrum. Again, come on refs, its easily solved.

    The next problem is the blind side. Even refs, however brilliant, cannot see both sides of the scrum at the same time. Linesmen (who are qualified refs) need to referee the blindside.

    The final problem is the refs understanding of what is going on. One only has to listen to Brian Moore in commentary (and he’s a qualified ref by the way) to know how hopelessly out of depth some (not all) of them are. Surely it is not beyond the wit of the authorities to get the top refs into sessions with the likes of Brian Moore so that the necessary knowledge can be imparted.

    I fear yellow cards won’t work. Teams with the weaker scrum will aim for a non-scrum or non-contested scrum scenario – in other words they’ll manipulate the system.

    Every thing must be done to maintain aggressive scrums in Union. We simply can’t go to the League scenario where the scrum is, frankly, quaint.

  • Comment number 48.

    PS: Like DJB (#45) point about skin tight shirts and the need for a proper gripping 'handle' for props.

  • Comment number 49.

    I still play front row and hate the long pauses between the 'crouch, touch....' etc. It's hard to hold together for long periods. The timing needs to be consistent and fairly quick, both front rows need to engage at the same time and to do this you need a very consistent ref re timings

    I think the bigger problems are illegal binding and not driving straight, at the moment the refs are just over reffing the scrums - the packs have learnt this and can now play the ref to their advantage

    I play in a league with a lot of inexperienced players (i'm a veteran myself who still enjoys a run out!) and when we get an inexperienced pack in opposition the rules change. The scrum is still fully contested but the engage is done very close together - basically with heads touching, there is no initial hit on the engage. Front rows just touch and engage (often binding before the engage) this way you are always bound before the push and there is no big hit involved. Once the ball is in all niceties are over - it's push time. No need to separate first and second row engagement, the whole pack forms and then touch, bind, slow engage

    You can still have proper scrummaging - I don't want to see it go away, but we need to stop over reffing the scrums and start penalising players who don't bind properly

  • Comment number 50.

    May be I be so bold as to suggest the changes don't have to be so extreme.

    If the Referee's can just be expected to rule on the obvious and not try to be quite so clever all the time.

    My main issue is the feeding of the ball, make the feed straight again and lets see a return to the art of hooking. Once the hooker is taken out of the engage the props won't be as stable and their job will change. They will have to hold there hooker steady and there will be less turning in.
    Also it won't all be about the 'engage' and there will be a return to the 'art' of scrummaging.

  • Comment number 51.

    Ex prop played for Jed, living in Toronto, yes one of Bill Johnstons former pupils John, not the same one you spoke with at the Toronto Scottish dinner tho.

    Watch quite a bit of Premiership and Heineken Cup rugby on trusty Setanta, one question what about the Northamptons of this world whose scrum is actually entertaining to watch as are their front row, who are all fantastic, they really use their scrum as a dominant force and score points from it.

    I agree however that these guys are the exception and that parity in the scrum is such that one scrum rarley dominates another like they do.

  • Comment number 52.

    For those of you lambasting the rugby league scrum, please don't think that it intended to be a competition for the ball.

    It is merely a restart mechanism that takes twelve forwards out of the game allowing the backs to attack.

    With the intention of scoring a try. If anybody needs any help in working out what one of them is, I'll be pleased to try to help.

    Seriously, union needs to decide if it is going to be a game for players (and ex-players) or a game for fans.

  • Comment number 53.

    Scrums aren't killing the game its the refs and the IRB....I've said it before and I will keep saying it to anyone who listens to fanscene and SCRUM v.... Crouch , pause , engage. If a front row doesn't crouch then its a free kick against - NO RESET. If a side doesn't engage its and free kick - NO RESET. If a prop is not bind on the back - PENALTY, NO RESET. Refs shouldn't reset. A re-set scrum is basically saying - have another no other area of the game - knock on etc do you get another chance... If refs stop looking for all the silly stuff and ping the simple stuff players will soon get the idea and then the fans will get the benifit.

  • Comment number 54.

    If anyone saw E Murray v G Jenkins last year in Cardiff you knwo what good scrummagign looks like. Both props knew what they were doign and it didn't collapse once....

  • Comment number 55.

    Speaking of Euan Murray, I just read he has left Northampton!

    So what's next for this fine player? John? I'm sure you must have an opinion on this one?
    Whilst it might be good for Glasgow or Edinburgh to have him play for them, it may not be the best thing for International rugby? Or for his career in fact...
    Where do you think he will end up?
    Sean Lamont (also former Northampton player) has apparently tried to persuade him about his Welsh dream down at the Scarlets, but what is truly best for Murray and his career?

  • Comment number 56.

    John, like the idea and it is one I have bored everyone I know with for several seasons. Perhaps to speed things it could be simplified to :
    1. Referee engages both packs.
    2. When steady he shouts ball in.
    3. This is the signal to the scrum half to feed the ball and for the packs to push. Incorrect feed or collapse immediate free kick .

  • Comment number 57.

    Helloooo - chilly wasteland in Glasgow

    ravenhill warrior - I agree entirely
    Lewis Husbands - I have spoken to Euan twice. He is telling me nothing, absolutely nothing....I think a French club might come in for him

    Al Heath - it does take two props who aren't cheating

    Cleveland junior - it is entirely possible to scrummage without collapsing

    Jedforest - yup

    Barking_prop - the key, to me, is still the hit. It's when the hit goes wrong that they all collapse

    Off to trudge to another venue through the ice....slip, slip, slip.

    Have a great weekend


  • Comment number 58.

    It's not the scrums that are killing the game but the ref's, because they haven't a clue about scrums.

  • Comment number 59.


    The problem with this is that well matched packs will have an equal chance of winning the ball, or a superior pack will nearly always win the ball. But the scrum must surely give some advantage to the team putting in, and this can only be achieved if the feeding SH controls the put in. Your solution would make the scrum closer to RL than ever.

    "If the scrum collapses – free kick" ... to whom? The gnarled issue here is the difficulty referees have identifying the culprits.

    There does seem to be a concensus on this thread that current CPTE is part of the problem and not part of the solution. It seems to me that anticipation is a big issue. Front rows try to anticipate when the referee will say "engage" and can fall foul when the referee introduces a long or variable pause. A problem compounded when every referee seems to interpret the sequence differently. The word "pause" should represent the pause not introduce one. An IRC guidance note to referees could easily establish international consistency here.

  • Comment number 60.

    Lets go back to the "old days", with non of this "crouch, touch, pause & engage" rubbish.

    Both sets of forwards engage as one entity in one go, non of this pussy footing around, with a gap between packs. Staring at each other for up to 30 secs, this just causes problems on the engage.

    Same with the linouts, all this rubbish about having a gap. With many lineouts taking to long as the ref marches up and down the gap. Picking holes in players being slightly out of line. Back to the good old days, with the opposing players in contact with each other and competing for the ball.

    Commercialism & television are turning RU into RL but with 15 players, something i don't want to see.

    Consistant refereeing would be a bonus as well.

  • Comment number 61.

    I've read a lot about how to fix scrum time...There are really two options with a space in between: Depower them, or keep them as they are and referee them properly. There's nothing to say either would work, but i would prefer to try and referee them properly. The problem with referee's is they know who they are going to penalise before a game. They need to be wary of props doing all sorts: not driving straight, boreing in on the hooker, pulling the opposition down, incorrect binds, and they should be looking for all of this. They are in the mindset of "the props are going to cheat, im going to catch them out" and they try to trick the front rows with the engagement sequence, with varied times. This is wrong, they need to look for mistakes and solve them, rather than create them. They should be trying to fix the problems and stop them happening again. Also, carding props who bring down the scrum doesn't help. Why would bringing on the second (usually not as good) prop, help keep the scrum up? they need to be thinking about what would help the scrum, and if its a last resort, then it should be used, but only as a last result. I have also heard that if you feed the ball straight, both set of packs will have to work for the hook, and there focus will leave trying to destabilise the other.

  • Comment number 62.

    I may be in an unusual position because I watch both rugby league and rugby union. League went through this sort of angst a century ago. Union is looking to speed up its game to make it more attractive to spectators and, as a result, has 'borrowed' many of league's laws and tactics. Some would say union now looks like league played badly. It's an inevitable as night following day that union will - eventually - cut the number of scrums to a bare minimum, abandon the line-out and reduce the teams to 13-a-side. And so effectively become league. The contest for possession in rugby of either code is unedifying and, for spectators, unspeakably tedious. League realised this a long, long time ago. Only now is union waking up to that fact. What John is proposing is the further league-ification of union. Some might say that's not a bad thing.

    In the live union games I have watch in the last two seasons, it has become noticeable how much longer scrums are taking to reach a conclusion. What's the point? They are rarely won against the feed, in the same way line-outs are rarely won against the throw.

  • Comment number 63.

    As a prop, referee and coach including scrummaging (albeit at an amateur level). I'd like to respond to some of the points raised. in particular anyone familiar with the coaching material on scrumming (Cron et al) I'd hope would agree with me

    1. Within the current rules a powerful engagement IS important prior to the introduction of the ball. Speed to engagement establishes superior body position to the opposition and hence the eventual outcome of the contest. This is why refs are trying to insist no-one 'jumps the gun' although i don't believe long pauses necessarily help.

    2. Pre-binding of the props is already used at under age level. Whilst it solves one issue it creates an opportunity to cheat by pushing or pulling your opponent during engagement

    3. Whilst impressive, England's exploits in Dunedin prove the point about scrum physics that the back row actually contribute little force in the scrum and a 2-stage engagement won't really depower the engagement

    4. The scrum is refereed poorly even at the highest level. Referees make lazy judgements about which prop is 'stronger' and should the scrum collapse the 'weaker' is penalised. If you don't believe this is true I've been on referee courses where this was heavily inferred. An example would of this would be the recent Lions test in SA. Vickery was beaten in the first 2 scrums by the beast. Ref decides he's the 'weaker'. The 'beast' then proceeds to blatantly swing his backside out and bore in, result: penalty to SA. At the the time I was praying for Geech to take him off after 10 mins, not because by that time he was doing anything wrong, but because the ref had made up his mind and only a substitution could rectify the situation

    More has to be done to expose poor refereeing at the scrum. Please don't let the scrum die. For some boys (and girls) of a certain build, to rugby's credit, this is the only realistic opportunity to participate in competitive team sport.


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