Justin Marshall 's Opinion

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall's Chalkboard: How scrums are hurting rugby

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Under the new rules the front rows fold in, the packs push for a lot longer and the defending scrum gets an advantage. Photo / Getty Images
Under the new rules the front rows fold in, the packs push for a lot longer and the defending scrum gets an advantage. Photo / Getty Images

I said in my last column that scrums are becoming a blight on the game and here is why.

The problem is three-fold. 1, They are taking up far too much time; 2, They are blunting the attacking capabilities of backlines, and; 3, They are taking away from what used to be a key part of a No8's play.

1. The Waratahs v Brumbies and Highlanders v Force matches in the last round just fizzled out thanks to the time wasted on scrums at the end. This issue has been bubbling away this season but for me it has really come to a head. It's the only thing that eats up the clock. Referees stop the clock for substitutions, and lineouts are generally taken quickly in order to catch the opposition by surprise; the clock is stopped for injuries or play continues, but scrums are the big time wasters - and the new interpretations of the laws have made it worse.

Read more of Justin Marshall's Chalkboard columns:
The Stormers' out-to-in defence
Early heat on Crusaders
The Crusaders' vertical formation

2. Before the latest measures were made (brought in, ironically, to attempt to stop scrums collapsing and therefore speed up the game), there was a hit, the hooker hooked the ball, and the ball was cleared. Now, the front rows fold in, the packs push for a lot longer and the defending scrum gets an advantage because it can manipulate the set piece wherever it wants.

I don't think you should have the advantage when you have made a mistake and conceded a scrum, but that's what teams have. Because of this passive start to the scrum, if you don't get a tighthead, you can still manipulate the opposition. In my diagram I have shown a good, square scrum, and a scrum which has the No8 and halfback shifted towards the touchline by the opposition. This is the ideal for a defending team because it promotes their openside flanker and halfback. It is harder for an attacking No8 and halfback to clear the ball. It enables the defending flanker and halfback and the rest of the defending backs to come from the outside in and shut off the outside opportunity to attack.

In my diagram I've shown an area that the attacking team is confined to.

This has taken away from the scrum attack, which leaves only the lineout as a decent set piece to attack from.

3. This manipulating of scrums by the opposition, and the fact the ball is in scrums for longer, has effectively taken away from a No8's game. When there was a quick hit and hook, a good, dynamic No8 used to be able to get off the back of the scrum and make a big impact - getting in behind the opposition's backline and putting his team on the front foot. But now that he doesn't have that stable launching pad, he can't have the same impact. More often than not he has to quickly feed it to the halfback or the No9 scrambles away with it.

As I've said, it's a clock-draining curse on the game. After all, it's a restart of play after an opposition error of some sort. If the new rules are working so well then why are we no longer seeing push-over tries? For me, it's simple - fix it or stop and restart the clock at scrums.


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- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

Read more by Justin Marshall

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