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Revitalizing Rugby: Pundits Demand Scrum Reform for Dominance and Spectacle

BY Philip Bendon  ·  Tuesday Nov 14, 2023

In the intricate dance between physicality and spectacle that defines rugby, the scrum holds a unique position. Recently, voices within the rugby punditry have raised a collective call for scrum improvement to amplify its role in rewarding dominance and elevating the game’s spectacle.

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RTE Sports commentator Daire O’Brien sparked an interesting debate with Ireland and Lions icon Donal Lenihan about the role of the scrum in the modern game.

Speaking after Leinster’s dominant win over the Dragons in round four of the United Rugby Championship. Lenihan spoke both of that contest and also drew attention to the World Cup, where the scrum’s functionality faced intense scrutiny. The surge in penalties associated with scrummaging prompted a reevaluation of its purpose. Lenihan emphasised that the scrum, designed as an attacking weapon with 16 players converging in one area of the field, seems to have lost some of its luster.

“Just one thing, I mean, rugby has been pretty good, Donal, at balancing the integrity of the physical contest with the game as a spectacle. But the scrum was still a problem here, yeah.” O’Brien said.

“It is, look, and I think we can go back to the World Cup. There was a lot of comment about the scrum and its function during the World Cup, very much because of the number of penalties that were coming as a result of it.

“The scrum is supposed to be an opportunity, 16 players in one part of the field, as an attacking weapon,” Lenihan responded.

Joining the discussion, recently retired Ulster stalwart Darren Cave highlighted its failure to deliver completed sequences. In a recent game featuring seven scrums, not a single one reached fruition. Instead, the match witnessed four penalties, and three free kicks, a scenario that does little justice to the spectacle rugby aims to provide.

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Referencing a scrum from the URC fixture, Cave said, “But we’re here now, this is the third scrum of the game. There were seven scrums in the match, none of them were complete, four penalties, and that’s extraordinary, isn’t it? Three free kicks, no completed scrums, no completed scrum.”

The core issue lies in the time-consuming nature of scrum setups and the frequent need for resets. Lenihan rightly pointed out the elongated process of setting the scrum, a mechanical ballet that consumes valuable game time. This inefficiency has contributed to a decline in the scrum’s effectiveness as a strategic and entertaining aspect of the sport.

While player safety concerns have influenced changes to the scrum engagement process over the years, there is a growing consensus that the current state of affairs is hindering the game rather than enhancing it. The initial purpose of the scrum, as a means of restarting the game and creating space for backs, appears compromised.

“I mean, look, one of the reasons it’s taking so long is a player safety issue. The engagement process has changed on three or four times over neck injuries.

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“Initially, you’re trying to take, you know, seven or eight years ago, the scrum was all about the hit.

“So, you were kind of three yards back, and it was all about who could have the ferocious hit. You took that collision out of it from that point.” Lenihan said.

Lenihan a former secondrow in his day, felt the scrum has become over complicated, “But now, I have a theory. I think a scrum coach, he’s on over 100k a year, he’s got to make the scrum look rocket science.

“It just takes too long for the actual scrum to be set up in the first place, but the outcome, the reason for it having 16 players and it’s, let’s be honest, the scrum is what differentiates us from rugby league.

“Sixteen players in one area of the field. It gives the fast fellas like this fella the opportunity. You, me, there with more space. But it’s not even getting the ball never gets to the number 10’s hand.”

Cave drew attention to the fact that, even when scrums are legally bound, the ball often fails to reach the hands of the number 10, disrupting the fluidity of play. In essence, the scrum is losing its ability to differentiate rugby from other sports, such as rugby league, where 16 players coming together in one area is a defining characteristic.

The call for reform is not just a critique; it’s a plea for a renewed emphasis on the scrum’s original functions. The scrum should be a platform for showcasing the dominance of one team over another, a spectacle that reflects physical strength and strategic prowess.

In conclusion, the voices of rugby pundits echo a shared sentiment – the scrum requires a significant overhaul to reclaim its status as a compelling facet of the game. Addressing the time-consuming setup process, minimising resets, and restoring the scrum’s original purpose as a strategic and entertaining element will not only reward the dominant team but also elevate the overall spectacle of rugby. It’s time for rugby authorities to heed these calls for reform and ensure that the scrum remains a symbol of the sport’s unique and captivating nature.

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