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Peter Bills is a rugby writer and commentator

Peter Bills: Scrums should be a true contest for possession

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The intricacies of the actual scrummage you can debate and discuss until Doomsday. Photo / Getty Images
The intricacies of the actual scrummage you can debate and discuss until Doomsday. Photo / Getty Images

You might think that a star player - say Daniel Carter - would make the most of the headlines at this year's Rugby World Cup. But I fear you would be wrong.

I suspect that one single aspect of the game is likely to dominate the forthcoming World Cup: the scrum.

Find me a game in the modern world which is not disfigured by a series of collapsed scrums. In Super 15, Heineken Cup, French Top 14, Magners League, Aviva Premiership or any other rugby competition anywhere in the world, this ludicrous scenario is enacted time and time again. It has become the No 1 stain on the game.

The intricacies of the actual scrummage you can debate and discuss until Doomsday. But what astonishes me most about all this is that yet another completely different issue has attached to the scrum, and it's arguably the most important element of all.

When you boil it down, the scrum comes down to some fairly simple, straightforward issues.

Eight men on each side push and heave against each other and the ball is put in the middle for them to contest.

Correct? No, completely wrong. When did you last see the ball fed correctly and fairly into the very middle of the scrummage? I, like a great many other people, am sick and tired of seeing the ball fed into the second row or even back row of the scrum by the halfback of the team with the put-in.

Worse still, this cheating seems to have become unofficially sanctioned by the game's authorities. If it hadn't, how is it that scrum halves around the world continue to stuff the ball in among their own forwards' feet with impunity?

Hardly one referee in 10 bothers even to watch the feed, still less penalise the wily halfback who has fed it as straight as a shepherd's crook. They're too busy watching those other monkeys, the front row boys, twisting, pulling, not binding, boring or whatever as they go about their own business. The two combined have made the scrum a cheats' charter.

Trying to decipher what the props and hookers are up to has become the sole concern of referees at scrum time. Thus, the halfbacks have carte blanche to put the ball in at ludicrous angles to their own team's advantage.

What the hell is the point of going through all the ridiculous shenanigans of the entire scrum process if, in reality, it is no contest whatsoever? Those who run and administer the game continually say this is a game for all shapes and sizes, and the one place where that is truest is in the scrum.

Sure, but what does any scrum matter if it is not a fair contest for the ball? I cannot see the point of going through this convoluted process of the scrum, with continual re-sets, if it isn't even a proper contest in the first place.

Cecil Pedlow, the Irish and British Lions centre of the 1950s, came up with the best retort to the procedure laid down by the IRB. "Crouch, touch, pause, engage ... but that's what I do with my wife every night," he said with a mischievous grin.

With all due respect to those in authority, this nonsense, this absurdity that is the scrummage in the modern game, fully deserves such ridicule. It is a joke and a sick one at that. Leave aside the depressingly frequent collapses; the omnipresent crooked feeds render the whole thing worthless. Rugby would be a better game without this blight. And if the only reason for it is to have what is laughingly called "a contest" for the ball at the scrum, then let's be honest and accept that this aspiration has failed completely.

Unless the referees who will handle the World Cup matches refocus their attention and start penalising halfbacks for their illegal feeds, there is no point having scrums.

The choice is in the IRB's hands - do something about it or just abandon the whole farce that is the scrum. The game doesn't need this phase of play if it is never legal or refereed.

- NZ Herald

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