So the International Rugby Board are looking into what has become of the scrummage. Without wishing to appear too cynical, history suggests that the outcome will be the legal equivalent of a glass of warm water. Maybe they will deem us all naughty boys and instruct our invigilators to bring back the cane. Maybe they will leave it as it is, just for fun. Or maybe they will ask us props to perform some sort of hand jive before impact. After all, the spectacle must go on.
Whatever the suits decide, if the scrum does not change dramaticallythen not enough has been done, because the whole area is a dog show.
Being chubbier and less athletic than most, I have never been a fan of statistics. But I was shown one last week which I found to be quite staggering: since the start of the Aviva Premiership season, just 56 per cent of scrums have resulted in the ball being passed or picked from the back and the game continuing. All the others have ended in a free-kick or penalty. I doubt if the likes of Fran Cotton and Gareth Chilcott can bear to watch.
It is not the referees who are to blame. I cannot remember playing in or watching a game where the referee got every decision right, but this is because they are being given far too many things to look for. Are the two front rows head on head? Are they at the same height? Is anyone engaging early? What are the scrumming angles of the four props and two hookers? Are all four props' binds in precisely the right place? Is the put-in straight? Are the locks stepping one way or the other in order to whip the thing around? Are all six back-row players joined to the scrum correctly, with their shoulders? The list goes on. It makes all our lives impossible.
As a player, things are stacked against you. For instance, the team with the put-in has a massive advantage, with what is often called the "hit and go" scrum. They whack in and, instead of providing a steady, stable scrum, they charge forward and instruct their scrum-half to pop the ball in, for them to walk over. Get it right and this is seemingly undetectable. At this point the opposition are often knackered – they cannot push before the ball comes in because, under strict instruction, the attacking scrum-half will not put the ball in and the defending side will be penalised for an early shove. And, invariably, as the defending scrum moves backwards the back row turn into meerkats, their heads popping up, leaving their portly pals to do all the work. Often, especially against the good teams, all you can do is wait until it's your put in and seek vengeance via the same technique. Survival of the fittest, etc.
Another popular theme is binding. And this is where I get all touchy. You see, I have extremely short arms. I got them from my mother. This means that, even leaning casually against a team-mate in the lunch room, I cannot reach the section of jersey covering the right hip of my opposing tighthead. Some props have longer arms and more flexible shoulders, so this range comes easily.
The thing is, though, it makes no bloody difference whatsoever. As long as I don't bind on his collar and I don't burrow in at 45 degrees and use his navel as purchase, the position of my left hand affects nothing. Imagine the level of force travelling through a top-class scrum. Now imagine my little hand. Exactly, as long as it finds somewhere to rest along the right side of my opponent, it should be left alone.
The tighthead's bind, well, that's another matter. Put simply, if he binds on my arm and pulls it in or down, I cannot do much about it. Put your right arm out and bend it to 90 degrees. Imagine now how much stronger you would be at pulling that in towards your body than you would be at lifting it up towards the sky and you'll see why this technique makes life impossible for a loosehead. So all a ref needs to do is make sure the loosehead isn't choking anyone and that his arm is not being massaged by a big, hairy mitt.
There are many opinions on how we might fix the scrum. I have two, both drastic. We should either be left alone to sort it out ourselves, with a "Don't feed the animals" sign hung around the hooker's neck, or the "hit" should be taken away. We can probably discount the first option, as it will only end up in a dozen mass brawls every week and as fun as that sounds, the mums wouldn't like it.
The removal of the hit would not necessarily be popular in the front-row community. We are, generally, excessively macho and like behaving like mountain goats in search of a rut. But the result would mean a steady scrum, which, to an extent, would be correctable. If the referee thought a bind was in the wrong place he could demand that it be altered before the ball came in. (Once that ball was in, of course, it would be a full metal jacket contest.) This would also turn the scrum back into a contest of strength. This would be beneficial not just because it's like it used to be, but because it would be so exhausting. Exhausted forwards leave holes for centres and wingers.
I don't know who is looking into this, nor do I know how good their eyesight is. But I do really hope there are a few gnarled, angry-looking men with scarred faces and horrible ears in the room. They might need a few extra biscuits, but their wisdom will prove invaluable.Reuse content