The future of the scrum

The scrum and its future is a recurring debate in the game, though one which hasn’t resulted in moves for major changes.

Scrum

Photo credit: Gerard Barrau

Scrums are boring.

Scrums don’t work.

Scrums could work.

The debate

For several reasons, including the heritage of the game, the opportunity for variety in play and the reality of tactics, two opinions are heard often. One to retain the scrum, perhaps with a call for the ball to be put in straight in the hope it restores a contest, and the other to replace the scrum with a handover.

While other successors to the scrum are sometimes suggested, none have gained traction in the imagination. I don’t think that tweaking the existing scrum is where the answer lies either. Not only are players in a modern rugby league scrum safer, but our sport has a tradition of putting the action where the audience can see it.

The aim

In fact, I think our usually uncontested scrums can carry on just as they are, while the laws around them are changed to encourage more entertaining play once the ball comes out.

We want to see attacking plays from scrums, not just a hit-up by the first receiver. So why not adjust the offside laws to help the team with the ball?

The suggestion

Allow players outside of the scrum to stand just behind the scrum’s rearmost foot. This will reduce the benefit gained from a hit-up, but could lead to breaks elsewhere with rehearsed attacking moves and reduced reaction time for defenders . If trialled, this change may be found to be enough but rugby league defences are good. So, just in case, ban sweepers.

To be clear: a player from the non-feeding team could be found offside by being too far away from the scrum or for being too close.

The non-feeding team’s backs could be required to remain inside their “scrum area”, a 5 metre strip of field measured from the back of the scrum, until the ball was out. Defenders would have to make decisions quickly, as attacking moves unfolded.

This rule accepts that the team with the feed will nearly always win possession. But should a team win against the head, perhaps they should be rewarded with a zero tackle to compensate them for their “scrum area” disadvantage on the initial tackle.

Possession is sacred in rugby league. Is this enough encouragement to risk it?

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