Dean Richards calls for crackdown on loose-heads' 'dangerous' drives

'It's becoming a serious issue,' says Newcastle director

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The Independent Online

Dean Richards has plenty on his plate as rugby director at Newcastle, who have not won a Premiership match in 11 months. They are likely to see their 18-match losing streak extended when they run into the reigning champions Northampton at Kingston Park this weekend, but Richards’ principal concern is one of player safety.

The celebrated England  No 8 of yesteryear fears modern-day scrummaging is a threat to life and limb because referees are not controlling the activities of loose-head props nearly strictly enough.

“It seems the loose-head can do what he wants and it is having a material effect on the game,” said Richards, who was angered by the officiating during his side’s opening-day reverse at Leicester and was none too pleased by Andrew Small’s approach to the set piece in the home defeat by London Irish on Sunday.

“More and more, we’re seeing loose-head props coming round the corner on engagement and driving upwards, which is putting opposing tight-head props in a dangerous position. As rugby directors we’ll have to take this up with the refereeing department, because it’s becoming a serious matter.”

Since the abolition of the “big hit” engagement in favour of new scrum protocols at the start of last season – primarily for reasons of health and safety, ironically enough – the set piece has improved: as a rule, crowds are now seeing genuine contests of strength and technique between the rival front rows and fewer collapses. The fact that loose-head props are having far more influence as a result of the changes has been welcomed by scrum connoisseurs up and down the country. But it is also true to say that certain high-profile No 1s have been getting away with murder by packing at an angle and  driving inwards on the opposition put-in.

 

Richards was planning to raise the issue this week with Tony Spreadbury, who manages England’s professional referees on behalf of the Rugby Football Union. As Northampton are likely to travel to Tyneside with the highly effective England loose-head Alex Corbisiero, it will be fascinating to see how the scrummaging conflict unfolds on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Premiership clubs are expected to agree new salary cap arrangements tomorrow, with the emphasis on fighting French chequebook domination by doubling to two the number of “marquee” players that can be signed over and above the agreed £5.5m financial limit set for next season.

A number of big-name foreigners are likely to be on the market following the 2015 World Cup and those pushing the new system say it will help them close the gap on their free-spending rivals across the Channel, while ensuring that England-qualified players are kept on the payroll.

One of England’s long-term injury concerns, the Exeter wing Jack Nowell, was due to begin his comeback from knee surgery last night by playing in a second-string fixture against London Welsh. Nowell won his first five caps in last season’s Six Nations but has been incapacitated since mid-spring.

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