This week’s blog is inspired by a tweet I saw this morning from Nigel Melville, the former England scrum half who is now the Director of Professional Rugby and the RFU.
It read: “If you could change just one law of the game what would it be?”
It is an interesting question, isn’t it? I am sure we could all come up with dozens of law alterations, yet when posed with the question, the only answer that I felt strongly about is that I would rather see the laws be policed correctly as they are.
After all, until such time as that happens, we have no way of knowing what needs changing. Take the scrum, for instance, there have been a number of law tweaks over the last five to ten years, yet the simple solution of just enforcing the laws that exist has somehow never even been tried. It might not be a bad plan to police those laws first, therefore giving us an actual indication of what needs changing as a result of that. Or maybe I am not enough of an ‘out of the box’ thinker.
There are a number of laws that simply are not enforced though, and some for no good reason. For instance at the lineout, the hooker is often standing on, or even over, the touchline when he throws in. There is no real advantage to this, so why not just enforce the law, stand behind the line or get penalised.
There is also the offside line, particularly staying behind the back foot of the ruck. At almost every level of the game players repeatedly step beyond the back foot and yet repeatedly it goes utterly unpunished. Why? We are constantly trying to find ways of tweaking laws to give the attacking side room to play, well how about just applying the current one and keeping the opposition onside? Right away we have a yard of extra space to the attacking side for free.
The other law that is repeatedly unpoliced, or at least poorly policed, is the way players clear out at rucks. At almost every ruck you will see players diving off their feet to clear out, and not using their arms but using shoulders. Technically at a ruck you are supposed to bind and drive an opponent away, not run, dive, and smash. For a sport that is trying so desperately to reduce the scale of collisions and to protect against brain injuries, one would think that this might be an area to police as the law dictates. Frankly, the ruck can be downright dangerous at times and under the laws as they are, it should not be, or at least not at the current scale. As an aside, ‘grab and twist’, i.e. a crocodile roll, is also not ‘bind and drive’.
Then we come to the scrum. The area of the game that has had more tweaks that any other and that they still cannot get right. I will not sit here and try to pretend to be a scrummaging expert, but there are some obvious areas where the law as it stands at the scrum has not been policed yet everything around it seems to have been adapted.
The two that are most obvious are that the feed must be straight, and that the teams should not push until the ball is in. How referees seem to be so oblivious to every fan calling for a straight feed is beyond me, yet they seem to have no desire to enforce it. It would solve so many problem. A straight feed means both sides fancy their chances of having a go at the ball, hookers hook (so the ball actually hits the 8 faster), props therefore ‘prop’ them, depowering the scrum more and giving us fewer collapses.
As for not pushing until the ball is in, the game appears to be actively encouraging the early shove. With a scrum call of ‘crouch, bind, set’ we are encouraging an early shove. Why do we need the set? ‘Crouch and bind’ should suffice, once bound you are bound, and you cannot push until the ball is in, calling set is effectively saying: ‘tense up and start getting the squeeze on’. Bonkers.
There are other minor offences that are also not policed, for instance hurdling the tackle. Jonny May is a serial offender, and there was a famous one from the ITM Cup a few weeks ago that was doing the social media rounds. They seem to be seen now as fan thrillers, not penalisable offences. Well, they are offences, so let’s enforce them. Sure, it can look spectacular, but the reason the law is there is because hurdling the tackle increases the chance of a knee or a boot or a stud connecting with the head and face, at force.
I believe we are trying to decrease that particular risk, where possible.
If this sounds like a big downer on the game, it is not supposed to be at all. This is the game I love, and for the most part it is managed and refereed remarkably well. For goodness sake though, let’s at least try to play to the laws of the game as they are before we start worrying about what needs to be changed.