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Former All Blacks scrum coach implores immediate set-piece changes: 'You're putting your opponent at risk here, as well as yourself'

By Ed Carruthers
(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

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From the pre-engagement ‘Mexican stand-off’ to repeated resets, players, coaches and fans alike continue to be frustrated by the sheer volume of minutes killed in the game of rugby due to scrums.


Back in November, Ireland’s Autumn Nations Cup victory over Georgia was populated by a whopping 18 scrums that took almost 25 minutes off the clock – well over a quarter of the fixture.

Although the restart is one of the key elements of rugby, something needs to be done to stop endless scrum sequences from sapping time out of the game.

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Ross Karl is joined by Bryn Hall and James Parsons to look ahead to season 2021 of Super Rugby Aotearoa which kicks off this weekend.
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Ross Karl is joined by Bryn Hall and James Parsons to look ahead to season 2021 of Super Rugby Aotearoa which kicks off this weekend.

For former All Blacks scrum coach, Mike Cron, the solution to the problem is simple and doesn’t require extensive rule changes to fix.

“I agree that the scrum is taking too long,” Cron told RugbyPass. “I think the issue lies in the top 1 per cent of the people playing the game, and that’s in the professional area.”

Having worked as part of the All Blacks set up for 16 years, Cron oversaw preparations for over 210 tests, including two World Cup-winning campaigns in 2011 and 2015.

He was also involved in the World Rugby steering committee that amended the scrum laws to the pre-bind rule back in 2013.


“I think coaches have to understand this is a magnificent area to launch attacks off and score tries from,” he said.

“If you look at tries scored from scrums compared to under the old law, I know in the All Blacks, before that rule changed, we would hardly score tries from the first phase off scrums. There was always a free kick because it was always moving so much. You could never get top-quality ball.”

“And then all of a sudden, when the new law came in, scrums came to be the number one area where we would score tries from – not lineouts or turnovers.”

But it still takes far too long for the ball to get back in play once the referee has called for the restart, and in Cron’s eye’s, the first issue lies with the officials.


“It’s the ref,” he said. “At this top-level, their heartbeat could be up to 200 beats per minute at certain stages, so all of a sudden the ref blows the whistle, makes a mark in the ground and says scrum time.

“No one’s in a rush. You’ve got 16 guys looking at each other, waiting for someone to start the process. They’re all trying to suck the big ones in.”

In Cron’s view, there needs to be a greater onus on referees to end the time-consuming standstills that happen before a scrum.

“In a perfect world, I would say that from when the referee blows his whistle and says ‘Scrum; black ball,’ both packs have 10 seconds to start the process of getting formed up – and ten seconds is not quick.

“In training, quite a lot of the time I’d train four seconds. I’d walk along, make the mark, and say ‘You’ve got four seconds to get yourselves set-up’. So ten seconds is plenty of time. It gives the players time to get a couple of big breaths in.

“You are then reducing the time where we have this Mexican stand-off, as I call it.”

Referees already have a responsibility to penalise any team that fails to get set-up within 30 seconds of the scrum being called but we rarely see the law being enforced. For Cron, referees need to crack down harder on teams who are slow to the mark.

Cron’s second proposal would see referees taking 30 seconds off the clock for every scrum that takes place.

“So you’ve got two minutes to go in a game, and you have a scrum. The opposition, if they were trying to count the clock down, could take forever to get set up,” said the Kiwi.

“Then, say for instance there’s a collapse, the referee stands them up, gives them a talk, and then resets it, there’s your two minutes up.

“Whereas, if at every scrum there’s a maximum of 30 seconds off the clock, so if there’s a collapse, the ref stands them up, talks to them and has another reset; there’s no problem if it takes two minutes as only 30 seconds comes off the stop clock.”

That would stop teams from slowing the clock down and give attacking teams comfort knowing that they’ll still have another minute and a half left to score once the ball is out.

Of course, that wouldn’t necessarily stop players from collapsing the scrum and forcing the achingly familiar chain of resets that frustrates spectators.

Many law changes have been proposed to stop players from collapsing the scrum, including using specialist scrum referees or limiting the number of resets teams can have at the scrum before a free kick or penalty is awarded.

But for Cron, implementing further rule changes would be “just putting the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.”

“I’ve always said this with World Rugby. What we need to do is look at, say, cricket for instance.”

The New Zealander likened the situation to where players with an illegal bowling action are put on notice.

Otherwise known as ‘chuckers’, players who throw the cricket ball rather than bowl with a straight arm, will have their bowling action assessed by an independent committee and will be suspended until they can correct their technique.

The responsibility is then between the player and the coaches to correct their action before they can play again.

And Cron argued rugby should employ a similar off-field watchdog, or scrum judiciary, who can scrutinise all the skullduggery and poor technique that goes on in the scrum.

“They can then get hold of the coach saying, ‘Your player is dangerous, you’ve got to correct it,'” he said. “We need to stop continually trying to change rules. You can’t keep trying to change rules to adapt for people who either have poor technique or have the wrong attitude to it. Let’s fix it before it gets to it.

“I’m all for technical dark arts, no problem with that at all. But there’s no place for dangerous stuff. You’re putting your opponent at risk here, as well as yourself, and there’s no place for that.

“For me, if any collapsed scrum happened at training, all forwards did a ten-metre army crawl on their stomach just using their elbows. There has to be a consequence for collapsed scrums.

“Poor technique or perhaps someone has decided to roll their shoulder in the front row to get out of pressure. Well, sorry, we can’t have that. And if you coach them like there is a consequence at training because there is a consequence in a game.”

“I think all coaches at scrums need to take a little bit of responsibility in the professional era.”

– Ed Carruthers


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