The Scrum needs change – Brian Moore – a true great hooker

Rugby union’s referees left exposed by findings of IRB examination of
the modern scrum.
This column has consistently, many would say pathologically,
complained about rugby’s modern scrum and the way in which the
hooker’s role has been unilaterally altered by the failure of elite
referees to properly apply its laws.

By Brian Moore

7:00AM BST 22 Oct 2012

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This has never been, as some have claimed, because of personal affront
that players of my ilk have been almost completely marginalised; it is
far wider and at its very foundation is the issue safety. Hooker is
the most dangerous position on a rugby field and I have visited too
many catastrophically injured hookers since retirement.

Three years ago I posited the prospect of the Rugby Football Union and
International Rugby Board being sued for damages for personal injury
because of their failure to act over dangers in scrum which were well
known and for which there were solutions. My basic premise was that as
a result of the then new ‘crouch, touch, pause, engage’ sequence and
the condoned ignoring of other laws, the scrum had become a contest of
brute power where the primary aim of both packs was to win the ‘hit’.

The word hit is not in the law book but is now freely quoted and
accepted by referees who allow front rows to engage with as much force
as possible and immediately thereafter drive forward as quickly as
possible. Not only do they condone this dangerous practice, they have
actually invented a new penalty offence, one not in the law book, of
‘not taking the hit’, which actually means penalising one pack for not
pushing with enough illegally-early force to counterbalance the other
pack’s illegal shove.

Elite referees, including Paddy O’Brien, the then IRB refereeing
supremo, didn’t accept the point saying they had too many more
important things to worry about to apply the laws as written and that
most people were not that concerned anyway. They might now have to
reconsider that stance, because recently the IRB published a report on
the most detailed examination ever of the scrum, undertaken over three
years in South Africa and at Bath University. It isn’t revolutionary
in the sense that it contains startling results, indeed it mostly
confirmed many things already known by experienced practitioners. The
point it that for the first time these things cannot be dismissed as
anecdotal or personal, they come from tests carried out at six levels
of rugby from international to school.

The conclusions to the report expressly support my above contention
that “modern scrumming involves a high initial impact or ‘hit’ on
engagement, followed by sustained pushing forces throughout the scrum”
— contrary to the law stating pushing should only begin when the ball
leaves the scum-half’s hands.
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Chief amongst a number of recommendations is the removal of the
artificially created “hit” by, at least at amateur level, front rows
engaging passively. This would most easily be achieved by the addition
of the second and back rows quickly thereafter.

I also claimed that impact scrummaging was giving rise to the risk of
chronic back injury and early retirement and permanent longer term
spinal damage. The empirical conclusion of the report is that the
scrum is now “ … a situation which has the potential to produce the
repetitive sub-critical injuries that in theory could lead to chronic
pain and early degenerative changes to the cervical and lumbar spine”.

I also recently criticised the IRB’s failure to address the well-known
fact that modern jerseys, designed to prevent gripping in tackles, are
dangerous when props are supposed to bind on them in scrums. The
report asks for clothing modifications.

The IRB, particularly its refereeing department, is now in an entirely
new legal position. Previously courts had to decide between the
opinions of opposing expert witness, of which I am one, based on their
personal experience and knowledge. Now they have concrete research and
recommendations from rugby’s global governing body to assist their
decision. The IRB, RFU and other Unions can no longer defend cases by
claiming a contrary view is just one expert’s opinion. If they do not
take all reasonably practical steps to follow their own safety
recommendations they will have no defence, legally or morally.

The hitherto silent majority and I, as a no-so-silent Jonah wailing in
the wilderness, are tired of farcical, dangerous and illegal scrums.
We are now supported by the IRB’s report recommending they “Bring back
the ‘scrum'”, which is backed by a direction for correct Law
interpretation and enforcement by the referees.

No more excuses; we’re not talking about trifles. Elite referees are
not amateurs, giving up their spare time, they are decently paid
employees who can and should be sacked if they do not get in line.
Brett Gosper as the IRB’s CEO and Joel Jutge, as referee supremo now
have the impartial evidence to implement the necessary changes.