Three-point plan would make scrum a fairer contest

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From Saturday's evidence, the new rugby union laws about scrum, lineout and tackle are all intended to favour the side with the ball by making it more difficult for the other side to regain possession. There is one exception, or apparent exception, to the changes - or to what are still in theory the proposed changes. This is that scrum-halves are to be instructed to put the ball in straight.

From Saturday's evidence, the new rugby union laws about scrum, lineout and tackle are all intended to favour the side with the ball by making it more difficult for the other side to regain possession. There is one exception, or apparent exception, to the changes - or to what are still in theory the proposed changes. This is that scrum-halves are to be instructed to put the ball in straight.

This is distinctly odd. It is no part of the function of referees or, for that matter, of the International Rugby Board to appeal to the better nature of scrum-halves or, indeed, of players occupying any other position on the field. All referees can do (and what the IRB presumably intends them to do) is to be more vigilant in supervising this area of play and to award an indirect penalty for any infringement. But why an indirect penalty? If the board is serious about making scrummages into fair contests for the ball, why not give the sinned-against side the chance of getting three points? After all, it is not especially difficult to put a ball in straight to a scrum. It is not like throwing straight into a lineout.

In this aspect of play the new laws, as far as I can see, make it even easier for the throwing-in side to secure possession - though Wales did not find it at all easy in Cardiff, despite the usual accuracy of Garin Jenkins. And yet Wales had two jumpers on the field continuously. If Craig Quinnell is recalled, they will have only one. For this reason I would play him at No 6.

His brother Scott was the only Welsh forward to distinguish himself, perhaps the only Welsh player. But it is foolish - as Graham Henry, the Welsh coach, recognises - to talk of making extensive changes. The reserve talent is not there, at any rate among the forwards.

The situation among potential Welsh backs is different. Time and again I - and many others - have warned Henry about the lack of pace in the backs he is using. True, the French were able to accomplish what they did, not because they can all run 100 metres in 10 seconds but because they are, most of them, adept at transferring the ball at speed from hand to hand. Even so, it is useful to have some fast men around the place.

The strongest Welsh three-quarter line would probably consist of Wayne Proctor, Allan Bateman, Scott Gibbs and Shane Williams, even though for the first three the clock goes tick-tock, whereas the last is still very young. But if Bateman and Gibbs are injured, as they seem to be for most of the time these days, why not give Neil Boobyer and Leigh Davies a chance - or consider Gareth Thomas and Dafydd James at centre, the position which they used to occupy and to which they have now reverted with, respectively, Cardiff and Llanelli? I expected France to beat Wales and England to beat Ireland. But in neither case did I think the victory would be so easy or its margin so large. England's was the easier win, if for no other reason than that Wales held France to a six-point deficit in the first half, while at Twickenham it was obvious after 10 minutes that England were going to run away with the game.

My sympathies were with David Rees and Dan Luger, watching from the stand. Luger will presumably be brought back into the side once he is fit, even though Ben Cohen had a Boys' Own Paper match. But Rees' future is more problematical. I still think Mike Catt's best position would be at outside rather than inside centre, despite the quality of his own performance as well in the latter position.

People have been impressed by Austin Healey's habit of popping up all over the place. They are right to be impressed. But in rugby terms there is nothing new about it. The Swansea half-backs before the First World War alternated their positions. In the Oxford University side of the 1950s Mike Smith and Onllwyn Brace did the same.

I do not suppose for a moment that Clive Woodward, the England coach, will follow this suggestion: but Healey and Matt Dawson both have the requisite qualities to become a pair alternating between scrum-half and outside-half. In these increasingly rigid days, that would certainly confuse most oppositions - though it might not be enough to beat the French.

I expected their victory over Wales. But I did not expect Italy to beat Scotland. Who did? It is results of this kind which make the Six Nations' Championship the most interesting rugby competition in the world, though it may not always be the most accomplished. I was lucky to get France at 9-4. By Sunday they had moved to 5-4 on. The match against England in Paris will almost certainly decide whether I win my bet.

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