Rugby must revisit the scrum amid current guessing game

Rugby

Issues with rugby in South Africa have raised their head in Super Rugby in recent weeks with the refereeing inconsistent towards local teams.

We don’t want to have to go through the whole situation of neutral referees being involved again. This is 2019 and this is professional rugby. It is not the dark days of the 1950s and 1960s where there was a bit of corruption going on and referees getting away with blue murder.

We shouldn’t even have to have this conversation. But it looks so damningly obvious, given what we have seen over the last few weeks.

Steve Hansen came out with one key word “consistency”; it resonates so appropriately for the situation that has developed.

If, as players, you get consistency you’re happy. If they’re consistently bad calls that’s okay too, so long as the other side are getting the same bad calls, at least it will even out in the end.

But if it’s so stacked to one side you may as well pack up and go home rather than sit and watch; no fan wants to watch a referee who is going to blow his whistle for one team and not the other.

We are back to where we were 10 years ago with the amount of guessing that is going on at the scrum; that was when we first started getting referees involved with what was actually going on at scrum time. It’s a blight on the game and we really need that consistency.

What is happening among the referees is too often focused on what is occurring in the front-row. The assistant referees, or the TMO, need to be able to look at other areas of the scrum to know why some things are happening. It is clear when the No. 8 isn’t pushing that the scrum is pulling back and trying to milk a penalty; if the referee can’t see that then his assistants should be seeing it.

It is not an exact science. And I know from coaching front-rows, even at practice, that I could only ever see 10 percent of what was happening.

The players who are involved in the scrum feel the other 90 percent and they have to talk to the players around them about what is happening. You may be blinded by what is happening elsewhere, but you can feel pressure, you can feel weight and you know what is going on.

The easiest way to coach at scrum time is for the players to give each other feedback and talk about what feels comfortable and what is uncomfortable.

As a coach, I consider myself something of an expert at scrum time. But I repeat, I can only see 10 percent. So how can we expect referees to get it right when they have never played Test matches or Super Rugby?

It’s too much responsibility for one guy with a whistle. It will ruin the game in the sense that that is not what the fans come to see.

It’s a point of restarting and giving the team that’s getting the put-in a slight advantage because they’ve earned the ball back. We need to revisit why the scrum is there.

To get a penalty, and to milk penalties from it…yes, guilty. As a prop, especially in England, we even had a call for it, so teams will do that. But it needs to be looked at and again it comes back to that word: Consistency.

As for some of the action last weekend, it was looking like a case of “here we go again” for some fans.

The Hurricanes were on the board early against the Jaguares while the start of the Blues-Chiefs game was like something out of a Disney comic book with Goofy involved. After all the early attacking Mitch Karpik scored a try for the Chiefs against the run of play and I’m sure the Blues fans were going: “Oh my God, here we go again.”

However, the Blues showed some real character to not only bounce back but also play some good rugby.

You look at the game and there is always a turning point somewhere. They call it the bounce effect where you hit the ground and bounce straight back down again. But at some point when you’ve gone to rock bottom then start coming back, you learn to nail the key moments along the way.

Breaking the cycle of losing against New Zealand teams, like the Blues have done twice this year, could be a really big turning point for the franchise. And there’s no bigger game coming up for them than t when they go down to Christchurch to play the Crusaders this weekend.

They have absolutely nothing to lose, they’ve got the monkey off their back and they go down with a little bit of confidence and feeling good about themselves. It will have huge interest. The Crusaders are red-hot favourites but the Blues have been talking about wanting to regain their competitiveness. But it doesn’t happen from the flashy stuff they produce, it comes off the back of hard work. It comes brick by brick and you have to build that foundation.

You would have to say from some of their games this year that they have been starting to put some bricks in place. But they are going to have to go down to Christchurch and give it everything if they are to make any impression on the leaders who have had plenty of other distractions this week.

That Jaguares side could beat any team in the competition on their day. They are a dogged team who just get stuck in. They are very physical and you could see that by the way they threw themselves into their tackles, their driving maul and all the rest of it. They are a side you know you are going to have to work hard at when you come up against them.

They complement that with some flair among their backs. Argentine rugby is on the rise. They’ve got some fantastic players in there starting with Agustin Creevy at hooker and working all the way back.

I think, out of all the decisions made by SANZAAR in Super Rugby in recent years, the involvement of the Jaguares would have to be the best.

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