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Calls for league style scrum 'shot clock' in union

By Stefan Frost
Leicester Tigers players doing some scrum prepping before kick off /PA

Rugby pundit Matt Williams has implored rugby union’s governing bodies to consider introducing a shot clock at scrum time.


The former Scotland head coach suggested in his weekly column in The Irish Times that scrums take far too long and often end in a reset or a penalty which is subsequently kicked to touch or the posts. All these outcomes stifle attacking play and so Williams believes change should come by taking a leaf out of the rugby league playbook.

“The 50/22 law is an adaption from Rugby League and has breathed new life into the beautiful and almost extinct art of the torpedo punt,” Williams said.

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The lessons learned from league need not stop there. Williams has also cited that a “shot clock” should be introduced at scrum time to limit the amount of time forwards spend faffing around the set piece.

In rugby league there is a 30-second time limit for both packs to a set, ready to engage. There is something to be said about the extra physical excursion needed in a union scrum but nonetheless, Williams is adamant that time-wasting still takes place and can only be stifled with a shot clock.

“Across the globe, in all rugby matches, outrageous amounts of time are lost to long periods of nothing as all 30 players stand about, waiting for the packs to begin to bind for scrums.

“Rugby desperately needs to adopt the 30-second shot clock for the assembly of packs prior to engagement to stop the ocean of deliberate time wasting that has infected modern scrummaging.

“Scrums only exist as a contest to restart play. They place 16 players in a confined area, which opens up space for the attack to exploit,” write Williams. “This was once the best attacking platform in the game but sadly not anymore.”

Williams added that the “high art of scrummaging” used to aid attacking interplay but now he rues how it does precisely the opposite.


“As a consequence of both time wasting and scrum penalties, the participation of backline players in the game has outrageously been significantly reduced.”

Additional changes which Williams has suggested, again originating from rugby league, is empowering TMOs to make decisions and introducing two on-field referees. The former would cut out the lengthy conversation between referee and TMO, which Williams think would create more efficient decision-making, and the latter would enable referees to better patrol the offside line.

“None of those innovations alter any on-field laws while the ball is in play. All would reclaim match time which would benefit the game.”


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