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Barnes on scrums

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islander View Drop Down
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    Posted: 04 Jan 2019 at 18:30
Stuart Barnes addresses scrums in The Times today...

Imagine the scenario. November 2, the World Cup final. Last scrum of the game. A world-record TV audience watches on. New Zealand lead Ireland by six points, Ireland are five metres from the Kiwi line. Tadhg Furlong and friends win a penalty.

The referee resets. Ireland surge forward. The scrum suddenly changes direction before breaking up and the referee awards a penalty try. Ireland win the Webb Ellis Cup.

Irishmen and dyed-in-the-wool World Cup fans do not doubt the decision but there are all these new converts to the game. One side has won the ultimate game in their code without having to dot the ball down. It is like signalling for a goal in football because an infringement occurred in the penalty area.

We all know that the degree of probability has to be high to award a penalty try, but imagine it: a World Cup final is won, yet the game is deprived of a winning moment. The would-be converts scratch their heads and return to their preferred sports, where goals must be scored. To union acolytes the scrum penalty try may be an arcane thing of beauty; to those new to the sport, it is ridiculous. In a World Cup year, rugby is on alert.

It is the four-yearly showpiece that enables World Rugby to wax lyrical about the vast audiences and its many new players, inspired by the global greats. The Ancient Tribe, those born before the 1980s — and perhaps French and Georgian fans — enjoy the timeless complexity of an aspect of the game at which most of us, referees included, guess while the millennials (and Australians) demand an easier form of entertainment.

Union is still finding itself as a professional sport. The governing body puts itself in the younger audience’s camp with its assertion of player safety at the scrum without quite letting its importance go. League uses scrums to restart a game, union (in theory) as a weapon in itself or to create space for the backs.

The theory is fantastic. Theoretically, place me with the Ancients. But practice is different. A scrum should take a maximum of 30 seconds to engage. But after “crouch, bind, set”, the reality is . . . you have lost interest. If I have recorded the rugby on a Sunday afternoon, I may flick to the football. The ball can swing end to end before I return to the rugby, only to see the front row standing and then slipping or collapsing, depending on the surface.

The game has a problem. Sixteen blokes are pushing, pulling, whipping and wheeling, dropping or lifting and there are few with a clue as to who is guilty. When I made the leap from fly half to broadcaster, I worked hard on scrums. All I had previously cared about was receiving possession; as to the “how”, I left that up to mates such as Gareth Chilcott. The arts are dark in that front row but arts there are, subtle too for such big men. So subtle that it was pointless for a former No 10 to pretend. Retired forwards commentate with the same lack of conviction today as I did then.

Referees? They will come up with an explanation but little is obvious in their decision. Throughout history, props being forced into the air by opponents was evidence of weakness. Now it is proof of nefarious goings-on by the opposition. These decisions can lead to territory or points with no one sure of its veracity.

You don’t get dubious penalties in rugby league scrums because they are scrums only in name. You don’t get forwards and backs, you get 13 rugby players. The millennial camp thinks this is a good idea; the Ancients hark back to a game for all sizes. Union was, for a long time, a game primarily for the pleasure of players. That changed when professionalism brought money and marketing into the glare of the spotlights.

Back to that hypothetical penalty try. Imagine not being a rugby follower and seeing the tournament won with one subjective blast of the whistle. It is bad enough that TMO decisions strip supporters of the immediate ecstasy of celebration but to think that we have a sport that can be won without scoring a winning try . . . it could be set back a decade in its development if that scenario were to unfold.

The Ancients are not obsessed with audiences, the millennials are confused by the cult of the scrum. One way or another, rugby’s ancient epicentre represents the battle for union’s soul in 2019.

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Rabbie Burns View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Rabbie Burns Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Jan 2019 at 19:02
God heaven forbid we follow soccer as a beacon of light for clear desisions where players fall over blades of grass ifthe wind is in the wrong direction or someone runs past. It would be interesting to know how many penalty tries have been awarded at the World Cup or in the top flight of leagues in respective nations to understand if the comments have any meaningful merit
So many Christians not enough Lions
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote No 7 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Jan 2019 at 18:46
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The most annoying scrum penalty in my opinion is when the referee blows his whistle when a team is shunted back at a rate and the ball is available to be played !. The team should be made to use the ball as opposed to getting a penalty in my opinion.

Being on the receiving end of an opposition with a dominant scrum is tough enough without having penalties and ultimately yellow cards being given out . 

Edited by No 7 - 09 Jan 2019 at 18:47
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Raider999 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 09 Jan 2019 at 20:28
I quite agree, watching one of the Champions Cup matches before Christmas the commentator was heard to say

'it isn't a penalty to be pushed backwards'

Unfortunately most referees don't take that view.

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