Austin Healey Column
Let's get a grip on scrums
November 24, 2010
Saracens' Jackson Wray was among the young guns to catch Austin Healey's eye during the latest Premiership action © Getty Images
As much as this season's Premiership has been like a breath of fresh air there are a number of issues that continue to aggravate me.
Where to start? The scrum. The major problem with scrums is that it is like giving a nine-year-old kid the responsibility of looking after the biscuit tin. For props and hookers, this is all they have got in their lives. They don't have to think about anything else, it's the one area of the game where they can win or lose and therefore they think that the world completely revolves around this aspect of the game - but it doesn't. It is a vital part but at the minute it is taking so long to get the ball in at the majority of scrums it is killing the game as spectacle.
Now, before you start accusing me, I'm not just pointing the finger at the referees again. Refs and coaches always talk about having a fair contest but in a contest somebody has to lose. The problem is that because of the mentality of props none of them ever want to go backwards and none will ever accept they are beaten. Therefore if one of them is getting beat they will collapse the scrum.
They've tried to tighten up on the binding issue but the players are getting round this and Phil Vickery said as much on ESPN at the weekend. He showed how he would go in at every scrum and break the law in terms of the bind because if he doesn't his opposite number is going to get the upper hand. I completely agree with props, forwards and coaches that scrums are a major part of the game but I disagree that it is the be all or end all because if that is the case then Australia would have never have won a rugby match in the last 25 years.
My argument is this: Let's find a way of resolving it to make sure the ball comes in and then comes out, and if it doesn't let's stop the clock when a scrum is awarded and start it again when it comes out into play. How does that sound?
There are too many people who are taking the laws to the nth degree. For example, if a kick is sent downfield into the in-goal area and the defending player happens to be 6ft 6in he can field the ball at the same time as keeping one foot in touch and get a scrum back. That law just has to change because we should be rewarding a good kick in that situation.
Then there's the matter of the match clock. I don't think players should know when the game is going to end because instead of having a cliff-hanger at the end of a match where sides do not know how long there is to go, and how long they need to keep playing for, they can just kill the game off. Now I don't know if the big countdown clocks at rugby grounds are devised so people can beat the rush home but I do know that when a team is able to just ruck the life out of a game it makes for dull rugby.
I'm all for developing the game in terms of entertainment and I think it should be exciting as humanly possible. I've got no other motive and have nothing against forwards - let's just make it entertaining. No one wants to see a scrum collapse and at the same time it is dangerous.
I've been getting a fair bit of flak of late from forwards who think I am trying to take that area of the game away from them, which in turn would make them less valuable. That's complete and utter rubbish. It's not about that and scrums are not about them - that's what they need to remember.
So what about the latest Premiership action? A lot of young players impressed me this past weekend and it's worth remembering we wouldn't have seen them if it were not for the autumn internationals and a few injuries. Saracens' Owen Farrell had a great game against Bath and looks like an exciting prospect but I think Gavin Henson will be arriving soon and he will no doubt fill the No.10 shirt. For some reason keeps getting through on Strictly so they will have to wait a little while yet - he must have his own call centre in Japan voting for him constantly because the boy can't dance.
Saracens' No.8 Jackson Wray was also good and is another young talent worth keeping an eye on. He got around the field and put in some big tackles and what I like is that he's light on his feet and dynamic. Then if you look at the other games there were some more notable performances from Wasps' Ben Jacobs and Leicester's Billy Twelvetrees, who is making the most of the opportunity that arose out of an injury to Jeremy Staunton. His goal-kicking is something special - he landed one from 55m and it could have cleared the stand behind the posts.
Referee Wayne Barnes has copped a bit of criticism in the wake of the Tigers' victory over Quins, which I find a little strange as for me he is a great referee and possibly the best in the world right now - although Quins' Danny Care might not think so. This brings me onto the RFU's attempts to curb such Twitter rants. Surely he's entitled to his opinion? Are we no longer entitled to speak our mind in this country? Or have we suddenly moved to North Korea?
Just because he airs his views on Twitter doesn't mean he has brought the game into disrepute. He's got people talking about the game and surely the referees' performance is a valid taking point? And as for Jeff Blackett saying he will have a word with him - please. In the same way you have got to feel sorry for Saracens boss Brendan Venter after he picked up a fine from ERC for his comments last month. I have found him to be a breath of fresh air this season and have appreciated his honesty. Now he is not going to talk to the press because somebody thought he upset a referee. What is the game coming to?
Finally, as mentioned it was great to have Phil as part of our team on ESPN last weekend but I think he needs a little work. I was amazed how well he managed to contain his excitement at the way Wasps were beating London Irish - I don't think his heart-rate went above 55 for the duration of the game.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Austin Healey is Lead Analyst for ESPN Rugby