If rugby bosses are serious about making the game more attractive for players, spectators and the television audience, they have to do something about the scrums, and fast. It is becoming such a farcical part of the game and what I witnessed over the weekend just reinforced that belief.
There were two matches that were set for blockbuster finishes, but the Highlanders-Force and Waratahs-Brumbies games petered out in a succession of clock-eating reset scrums. They were anti-climactic endings to great contests.
Mind you, if I was the Highlanders coaching staff I would be tearing my team to shreds. With the Force down to 13 men they should have been thinking win, not draw. So heaven knows what they were thinking at the end, showing little urgency and getting sucked into time-consuming scrums.
I've been told the ball is in play anywhere between 40 to 55 minutes, depending on the type of match and conditions. Those missing 25 to 40 minutes must nearly all be taken up with scrums. Lineouts don't take long, kickoffs waste little time and goalkickers are under instruction to speed up this year.
The scrum should be a restart, not a contest. I know the purists will hate that but we've now got to the point where the scrum is eating up too much time and the odds are tilted too far in the defending sides' favour.
If you look at what scrums are awarded for, there are actually very few occasions now when it is for ball taken into contact that can't be recycled safely. So the bulk of the scrums are for errors. It defies logic that the team who made that error should be handed an advantage at scrum time, but with the emphasis taken away from the hit and the halfbacks told when to put the ball in, and where, that is the situation we now have.
The new scrums laws are also impacting negatively on backline play, which I will demonstrate in more depth in Friday's chalkboard column at nzherald.co.nz.
Essentially, the back half of the scrum is now swinging and moving around a lot more. Because of that, and the fact the ball is difficult to hook cleanly, it is taking a long time to get under the No8's feet, compromising a lot of planned moves off the back of the scrum.
It's a mess and a blight on the game now and has been for quite some time. If the game's bosses want to stay stubborn and continue with the law as it is, then for heaven's sake let's at least stop and re-start the clock at scrum time so we get more ball in play.
It's an unholy mess.
Marshall makes mark
The Blues will be searching hard for a few positives they can take out of their trip to South Africa. They need only look to the No15 jersey against the Lions. I was really impressed by Benji Marshall. Everything he did he did really well. Fullback looks like his position.
Marshall scored an excellent try and played an important hand in another.
What impressed me more was his decision-making and his defence. Positionally he was okay, too, which is probably the hardest adjustment he has to make coming from league.
Marshall was one of very few highlights for the Blues, who were again the architects of their own demise, right across the park.
They might have got close on the scoreboard, but they were always chasing the game. The Lions might have relaxed a little bit towards the end and the Blues played some nice desperation rugby, but indiscipline and errors had already sealed their fate. The first 30 minutes was some of the worst rugby I've seen. It was error after turnover after penalty after turnover.
I've mentioned more than once this season that they have the makings of a very good team, but they have an awful lot of work to do to unlock their talent.