'Ref's don't collapse scrums, players do'
Rowly Williams,
December 27, 2011
Referee Alain Rolland lectures Quins' team manager Graeme Bowerbank, Toulouse v Harlequins, Heineken Cup, Le Stadium, Toulouse, France, December 18, 2011
Alain Rolland was criticised by former England hooker Brian Moore for his refereeing of Toulouse against Harlequins in the Heineken Cup this month © Getty Images

This month saw some more fantastic action in the Heineken and Amlin Challenge Cups. But with it came the customary flurry of comments and criticisms about the performances of the referees, and no I don't remember seeing one which said 'well played the referee'.

One coach even went so far as to describe the scrum situation in his match as 'Carnage'. Now I've seen the Collins English dictionary definition of the word and its medieval origins point to 'blood-shed, murder, massacre, butchery, slaughter', so it's always good to see a bit of perspective during a post-match interview! Another coach said, "I don't know where we are going in the scrums. Maybe we would be better off without them".

Comments coming into therefzone from referees at all levels paint a slightly different picture (as you might expect). For example, during the pre-match front-row briefings there is always an agreement and a nodding of heads when referees talk about 'square and stationary, legal binding, not dropping etc'. But as soon as the teams take to the pitch and pack-down for the first scrum it's as if conversation or agreement ever took place.

As one referee wrote sarcastically, "Yep I always ask them to bind on the arm not the body, turn in at the first opportunity and drop the scrum when I'm on the other side". Another suggested, "Call me cynical but I bet you can count on one hand how many dropped scrum occur at their training sessions". One comment even stated, "Turn back the clock. Do away with the front-row pre-match briefings, it's a waste of time, they have no intention of carrying out what they said they would anyway".

Now it's clear that all is not well with the scrum. We all want the scrum to be a competitive and integral part of the game, but we must also accept that there will be some problems. Packs (especially the front rows) will always be trying to get an edge and dominate the other. Tactically one team will be trying to achieve a particular angle, so it's always a battle of wills and physical dominance.

Another batch of comments suggests that further down the rugby playing world the scrum isn't necessarily an issue. The odd one might collapse and there'll be a penalty or two, but largely it does exactly what it says on the tin. It's a means to restart the game. So it can work, and as Elite referee manager at the Rugby Football Union Ed Morrison points out, "Referees don't collapse scrums, players do".

So why at the top end does it continue to cause so many problems? Brian Moore, the ex-England hooker, makes the point that no current top flight referees have ever been front row specialists. Good point well made, but is the inference there that only such an 'expert' would be aware of the subtleties and nuances of what goes on? Surely this logic only applies if the players are being non-compliant and not fulfilling their pre-match agreement. Even a non, ex-front row referee can manage square and steady scrums. Ah, have we now hit upon something? Non-Compliance by the players perhaps?

Does that have a bearing on why the scrums are 'a mess'. Now, of course put-ins should be policed better and back-row binding does get pushed to the limit, but in the grand scheme of things neither of these two issues cause a scrum to collapse.

So whilst there are indeed some valid points about refereeing consistencies or actually inconsistencies, coaches and players might well look inward at times and ask themselves, 'Are we doing everything we can to help the process of the scrum succeed' and 'Is everything we do in compliance with the laws and or the referees instructions'?

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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