Thursday, 7 November 2013
The Scrum - a question.
Even with a beefed up front row I expect England to come under some pressure from the Pumas' 'bajada' at Twickenham on Saturday.
Here's a question, however - could someone please explain why referees always feel the need to penalise a retreating scrum?
You've just been propelled backwards at a rate of knots, the opposition no 8 has the ball nicely under control, the whistle blows and, having extracted your head from your arse, you look up to find that the referee has rubbed salt in the wound by awarding a penalty against you.
It happened on several occasions last week with the Australians penalised with the ball still at Billy Vunipola's feet, and is now a staple part of every professional rugby match I watch. The ball is put in, the scrum is driven (not necessarily in that order) and the back-peddling scrum penalised.
For most offences referees will allow the game to continue for an eternity while they wait for an advantage to occur but never, it seems, at scrum time. With one pack splintered and in disarray you would have thought, wouldn't you, that the other pack might at least be given the opportunity to use the possession they have worked so hard for?
The problem with such an argument is that, for many teams, the scrum is no longer a means of gaining possession of the ball - it is simply a way of generating a penalty.
The consequence of this approach, which appears to be aided and abetted by compliant refereeing, is that the game becomes somewhat skewed. The team with the stronger scrum can take risks, knowing that a dropped pass will result in a scrum and, in all likelihood, a penalty, whilst the team with the weaker scrum simply can't afford to make a mistake and has very little chance of establishing any kind of foothold in the game.
I'm not sure what the answer is. Not punishing offending players could (and probably would) create a cheat's charter. At its essence, however, the scrum is supposed to be about restarting the game and, whilst I do believe that it should be a contest, I'm not sure that losing such a contest should automatically incur a penalty - after all, if you are losing the scrum contest the initiative is in the hands of your opponents and you are already firmly on the back foot.
Might punishing offences at the scrum with a free kick be the answer?
Answers on the back of a postcard...