Tank Lanning

Scrum penalties killing rugby

2015-03-19 10:09
Sport24 columnist Tank Lanning (File)
Imagine a flyhalf being penalised by a referee for missing touch! Or how about a wing or centre being yellow carded for coming off his defensive line and missing a tackle?

Oh jeez, what has the fat man been smoking this week, I hear you ask. That would be bloody preposterous, I hear you say.

Preposterous, abominable, ludicrous ... Call it what you will, and you would be right. Yet every single week we see the former, and at least once a month we see the latter.

In fact, in the Crusaders v Lions game, we saw both happen at the same time! Poor old Julian Redelinghuys was popped like the proverbial champagne cork by a rampaging Wyatt Crockett, and instead of being left alone to hide in a team huddle while pondering every tighthead prop’s worst nightmare, referee Nick Briant yellow carded him and penalised the Lions!

Penalised and yellow carded for having a poor scrum? How is that different to carding a centre for missing a tackle or penalising a flyhalf for missing touch?

Preposterous indeed ...

Throw in the fact that every single tighthead prop on Earth would rather scrum naked (think about where the lock would have to bind) than suffer the embarrassment of being popped, and I can guarantee you that it was not done intentionally. Yet still the penalty and yellow card.

If anything, especially given the joy that all loosehead props take from popping their opposite number, it should probably have been Crockett who was pinged for scrumming up. Not that I believe that to be the correct call either, though.

Just think about the simple physics. Two 350kg front rows come together at the shoulder, with their hips at 90 degree angles. Behind them are a 220kg lock pairing whose post match beers from the front row depend on them not going backwards, ever. On either side of the front row is a 100kg flank who won’t get lifted in the lineout unless he makes an effort in the scrum. And as a backstop, you have another 110kg Duane Vermeulen-type freak who has dug his heels in.

Where exactly do you expect a prop to go if one of them gets the angle of the hit just slightly wrong? Or if you are simply not strong enough or good enough to handle superior opposition? You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to see that it has to be either up or down.

Deciding which of the six people making up that front row battle (yes, hookers do influence it as well) caused the scrum to go up or down, given that it is accidental in most cases, borders on the impossible. So if forced to make a call, one has to guess.

Yet because it is happening a little too often for the IRB’s liking, referees are being pushed to eradicate it via the use of the whistle. Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight!

So they empower the referees with some serious firepower like a penalty and yellow card, and allow them to employ said firepower based on guesswork.

Result influencing decisions based on one man’s interpretation of what might have been completely accidental? Being punished for having a bad day at the office? It’s no wonder scrum coaches round the world are encouraging sneaky tricks to try and milk the penalty.

Like the breakdown, the scrum is a proper problem area in the game right now. But one gets the feeling that the powers that be are treating the symptoms of a disease instead of looking to cure the cause.

Tank is a former Western Province tighthead prop who now heads up Tankman Media, and sprouts forth on all things rugby on the Front Row Grunt.

Disclaimer: Sport24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on Sport24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Sport24.

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