Lee Stensness: Halfback distance should be kept at scrum time

By Lee Stensness

Recently the IRB assembled a high powered think-tank at Stellenbosch University in South Africa to attempt to streamline and simplify the rules of rugby, which is excellent news given that the complexity of the rules and the interpretation thereof is the major issue facing rugby at the moment.

Somehow my invitation to this think-tank did not arrive. However, I have a couple of suggestions regarding rules that could help them improve. Unfortunately my suggestions do not relate to the contentious tackle-ball area which is the key problem but I believe they would help tidy up the game.

My first suggestion is not a new one but currently only applies to age-group rugby in New Zealand, that being the halfback of the team without the ball not being allowed past the tunnel of the scrum. Currently, in senior rugby, the opposition halfback can follow the ball all the way to the back of the scrum and pressure the No 8 and halfback of the team with the ball. The question I ask is what does this add to the game? And my answer is, nothing.

In fact, allowing this to happen just disrupts the game, making it more difficult to play and brings in another barrier to flowing rugby. Sure it might be argued that with a stable scrum and skilful No 8s and halfbacks it is not a problem but what is the point of allowing it?

And why should the halfback be allowed to follow the ball when everyone else must stay where they are? Having spent last season watching and coaching age-group rugby, I certainly didn't miss that rule. In fact, without it, the scrum area is a lot cleaner and the players can get on with playing the game the way it should be, plus it gives the referees less to worry about at scrum time.

The case for my second suggestion was highlighted in last week's Chiefs-Crusaders match when Rico Gear knocked the ball on in the Chiefs in-goal area. The result, as per the rules, was a five metre scrum to the Chiefs.

I believe that with a knock-on when the ball goes dead or when the defending team then forces the ball, that advantage would be a 22m drop out for the defending team. To have a five-metre scrum for the defending team suits the attacking team as it keeps the pressure on. If, by any other means, the attacking team puts the ball dead or into the in-goal and the defending team forces it, the defending team gets to relieve the pressure but the knock-on is different. This has never made sense to me.


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