Last week I took umbrage with the fact that props are getting penalised for simply having a poor scrum, likening it to a flyhalf being penalised for dropping the ball.
We saw it again in the Crusaders schooling of the Cheetahs where Coenie Oosthuizen found himself in exactly the same position as Julian Redelinghuys the week before. Smashed by the Crusaders up front, Coenie was forced into taking snapshots of the crowd while on the shoulders of Wyatt Crockett. And like Redelinghuys seven days earlier, out came the yellow card. For what? Guaranteed that he did not do in on purpose - you find me a prop who tries to get popped and I will show you a back who does not fiddle with his hair when seeing himself on the big screen. So in effect, they were carded for being poor.
This game is in a mess!
But as a few people pointed out last week, it's easy to shout that from the rooftop, but much harder to do so while offering solutions. So I thought I would tread the more difficult path this week...
Up front, though, let's understand the reason for the scrum being what it is today - player safety. Without the ref controlling the timing, angle, distance and height of the hit, props were prone to smashing their heads into the opposition's shoulders and legs and thus breaking their necks. Something definitely had to be done.
But as players have got bigger and stronger, and as packs have got more technically proficient, together with the laws of physics determining that which cannot go backward or forward must go up or down, so the scrum has become a horror show of resets. A sad guessing game within a game that allows teams to milk both penalties and yellow cards from referees unfairly asked to sort the mess out themselves.
So what do we do?
Option one is to remove the scrum completely and restart the game with a free kick, penalty or lineout. How sad would that be?
Option two would be to take the flanks and/or No 8 out of the scrum, thus generating less force. But that would clog up the space on either side of the scrum, so you would likely lose those two or three players completely, and that is rugby league. Yuck!
Option three is to take away the hit completely and go back to olden day scrums that saw sides fold into each other and just start scrumming, giving the responsibility back to the players. But that would likely evolve into what prompted us to bring in the hit sequence in the first place.
Option four is to have the front rowers fold in first, then add the locks and loose forwards before allowing the scrum to start. A little granny-like, but it might be worth trying.
Option five is to simply reset the scrum every time it is not completed, not allowing free kicks, penalties or cards. It might be messy to start with, but as players and coaches realise that there is nothing to be gained from scrum skulduggery, and as the boos from spectators getting tired of the resets rang out, so I think the process would settle.
We need to keep the scrum in the game. Apart from allowing all shapes and sizes to partake, it keeps 16 of the 30 players together on a small section of the field, allowing the other 14 to play in lots of space. But it must remain a fair contest, with the dominant pack influencing the game via tightheads, left and right shoulders and pushover tries.
Bring back the straight feed, though. Not only does it make it a fair contest, but also forces hookers to strike, meaning packs need to scrum a little higher, thus reducing the chances of a collapse.
Keep the ban on scrumming up as it can be dangerous (but know that a loosehead getting under a tighthead who is then popped because of the pressure from the locks behind him is not scrumming up, it is a loosehead doing his job), but allow scrumming in. Why is that such a crime?
Let’s allow props to put their hands on the ground to prevent the scrum from collapsing. How can that be dangerous? And why worry about where props bind? Let them bind anywhere on the opposition prop that is comfortable for them.
So my suggestion is option five with the above few tweaks. The scrum is dead. Long live the scrum.
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.
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