Board's intransigence blocks reform of discredited scrum rules

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The Independent Online

The International Rugby Board, which aspires to mediocrity on a good day, has cast its dismal shadow over tomorrow's start of the Premiership season by sticking to its guns on the issue of uncontested scrums and forcing those who support a positive change to the regulations - Twickenham officials and leading referees, as well as the top-flight clubs - to back down. Thanks to this latest instance of the IRB playing a blinder, the paying public will continue to find themselves short-changed by the discredited law as it currently stands.

After a successful trial in France last year - a step senior IRB officials have admitted they knew nothing about, even though it lasted an entire season - the Premiership clubs opted to introduce a mechanism under which a team responsible for causing uncontested scrums would, with one or two exceptions, forfeit a player and carry on a man short. This, they felt, would discourage the calculated and widespread abuse of a system set up purely for safety reasons.

By common consent, the sight of players feigning injury, and teams pretending they have run out of legitimate scrummaging personnel, has been a cancer in the game for several seasons. Yet despite Rugby Football Union support for the Premiership initiative - Paul Murphy, the chairman of the RFU's governance committee, described it as "a good and positive change" - the IRB has defiantly withheld its blessing.

The issue will be discussed in November instead, thereby ensuring that uncontested scrums are with us for another year. Yesterday, Premier Rugby described the decision as "extremely disappointing and frustrating".

On a happier note, the Premiership clubs have agreed to abandon their appeal against a High Court decision allowing the RFU to stage an extra autumn international, against the All Blacks on 5 November, in marking the completion of Twickenham's new south stand. After one of the more conciliatory rounds of discussions between the two sides in recent years, agreement was also reached on 16 mid-season training days for the England squad.

Mathew Tait, very much a member of that squad after starting both Tests in Australia during the summer, will today undergo minor surgery on a damaged knee cartilage and is unlikely to play for Newcastle until the middle of next month. The centre suffered the injury during kicking practice.

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