Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Kirwan calls for action on scrum mess

Argentine ref stood down after game that left angry Blues coach demanding changes.

Cheetahs' centre Johann Sadie (left) and Blues back Frank Halai contest a high ball during their controversial match. Photo / Getty Images
Cheetahs' centre Johann Sadie (left) and Blues back Frank Halai contest a high ball during their controversial match. Photo / Getty Images

Sir John Kirwan wants referees to have less say in scrums, calling the set piece a "lottery" which could be easily fixed with one simple change.

Having watched his side scrap to a 40-30 victory over the Cheetahs at Eden Park on Saturday - a match which featured several puzzling decisions from Argentine referee Francisco Pastrana - the Blues coach is the latest high-profile figure to call for another look at scrums. Herald columnist and former All Blacks halfback Justin Marshall has called them a blight on the game.

Pastrana's odd rulings started from the first scrum of the match when halfback Sarel Pretorius was allowed to put the ball under hooker Adriaan Strauss' feet. Rather than the Blues being awarded a free-kick, the Cheetahs won a kickable penalty.

It is understood that Pastrana has been stood down as a result of his performance and will not officiate at the Crusaders v Hurricanes match in Christchurch on Friday.

More Super Rugby stories:
Hickey nails starting position
Slick Smith in-form fullback by a mile
Chiefs must amend mindset

The Blues were the beneficiaries of several controversial decisions themselves, most notably when George Moala's try was awarded when it appeared to be a double movement, and when Cheetahs flanker Boom Prinsloo was sinbinned. The Moala try was the most contentious, Pastrana over-ruling his TMO.

Kirwan said referees weren't to blame for his side's up-and-down form this season, but he was keen to put scrums on the agenda because they were taking away from how the game should be played.

Last year was the first in which scrums were altered to fold in, rather than collide, to prevent collapses. This year, referees give a silent signal to the halfback putting the ball in, after complaints that an audible command gave too much advantage to the opposing pack.

But Kirwan said even that was too much. "The biggest problem with the game is that we're letting the ref decide when the ball goes in. That's what needs to change and if we change that then the game changes."

Kirwan said that before the season started, the New Zealand coaches asked Sanzar to allow halfbacks to put the ball in without the ref's command but that had gone unheeded.

Scrums now have become so contested it is almost a disadvantage to be awarded one. Even allowing for the referee's silent command, the opposition pack has an automatic one-man advantage because their hooker is not striking for the ball.

A cue and put-in by a halfback could swing the advantage back and allow backlines to once more launch attacks off what would be a much more stable platform.

"Our forwards need to know when the ball is coming in, and if the opposition is good enough they can try to push us off it," Kirwan said.

"There's too much technical stuff for the ref to decide. It's a difficult thing to referee but we can't launch from scrums any more."

While Kirwan said there was much to work on before this Saturday's home match against the Highlanders, a bonus-point victory after travelling back from South Africa was extremely valuable.

The Blues' next four games

- APNZ

Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 28 Aug 2014 11:52:47 Processing Time: 410ms