The scrum – policing the impossible

Craig Joubert had a poor game on Saturday, but one has to feel for the refs who are tasked with policing dumb laws that ask players to do the physically impossible says Tank Lanning in his column.

The second worst type of rule in the world has to be one that is unenforceable – like making the legal driving blood alcohol content limit 0.02, but then not having enough police to enforce it …

And the worst type of rule has to be a one that tries to enforce something physically impossible, like making it illegal for you to drive anything but a Formula 1 car on any road …

Well, in rugby, we have both. In fact, in just scrumming we have both!

I know Craig Joubert to be a fantastic fellow, and a highly unlikely cheat, but in perhaps trying too hard not to be biased toward the home side, his calls in Saturday’s Bulls vs Brumbies Super Rugby semi-final seemed instead to favour the visitors, with George Smith seemingly allowed to get away with a few side entries, a forward pass or two going unnoticed, and plenty illegal binding in the scrum going unpunished.

With regard to the latter, though … I revert to those nutcracker scrum laws referred to above.

At the risk of the HR manager ordering in the strait jacket for you, please do me a huge favour and ask the person next to you if you can scrum down against them. Yep, cheek to cheek, feet back, and your spine as straight as possible …

Now, take your right hand, keeping your right arm outside your buddies left arm, and try and grab the side of their shirt or blouse … Tricky hey?

Now think about doing that to a 128 kg tree trunk disguised as a man, with arms as think as your leg, traps that go directly from his head to the edge of his shoulder, dressed in an indestructible shirt that clings to the body like peanut butter sticks to the top of your mouth!

Impossible? You said it!

Yet that is what the knuckle heads at the IRB expect the tighthead prop to do at every scrum. The law states that the tighthead prop must bind not on the loosehead prop’s arm, but his jersey. The sanction? A full arm penalty!

So we have a law that asks players to do the impossible, and because referees cannot be on both sides of the scrum at the same time, we have a law that cannot be policed.

And we call soccer a sport for hooligans! At least they know how to keep their sport simple.

So what we had on Saturday was exactly the same thing that happened in the Australia vs Lions series. There was plenty talk about the Bulls scrumming woes in the build up to the game, much like there was plenty talk about the Lions’ scrumming prowess in the build up to that series. And instead of judging the scrums on their merit at Loftus, Joubert penalised the perceived weaker scrum.

In the process, allowing Brumbies tighthead prop, Ben Alexander, to get away with some dreadfully illegal binding. Sure the same thing was happening on Werner Kruger’s side (given that it is impossible to bind as per the laws), but his opposite number was not incurring full arm penalties for what Dean Greyling was being pinged for. Greyling, for once, actually opted in instead of sliding down the tighthehad prop’s side, and scrummed quite well.

Joubert’s crime on Saturday – around the scrum, that is – was inconsistency. The IRB are guilty of far worse when it comes to this intensely physical matchup between two entities weighing close to a ton!


  1. How about getting the nearest assistant referee / linesman to come on to the field at scrum time to police the other side of the scrum where the referee cannot see?

    1. I like that Christie. Also think we should allow the TMO to butt in if he spots something obvious …

  2. Daar is geweldig baie kritiek teen skeidsregters, maar dit is verkeerd. Die probleem lê nie by die skeidsregters nie, maar by die reëls. Die reëls is nie rigied genoeg nie en dit laat uiteenlopende vertolkings deur die skeidsregters toe.

    Voorbeeld: ‘n Skeidsregter moet kyk na die rigting van ‘n aangeëer se hande om te bepaal of dit ‘n vorentoe aangee is. Waarom só tegnies wees? ‘n Bal is vorentoe of nie vorentoe nie… Nou moet die skeidsregter konsentreer op ‘n klein “areatjie” terwyl daar ander areas is waar oortredings kan plaasvind.

    Voorbeeld: ‘n Skrumskakel mag nie ‘n bal skeef in ‘n skrum ingooi nie… ‘n Skeidsregter het geen beheer daa

    1. Agreed Hannes. We have actually made this game too damn complex for our own good. Scrums of the 80’s took 10 seconds to complete! Admittedly, the conditioning of the players has made the collisions much more intense, hence the policing for safety reasons, but still too many rules that are unenforceable

  3. Errors are made from even the best of referees and Joubert is no exception.
    What surprises me is that in almost every game I’ve watched, at scrums the scrum-half constantly delivers the ball under his hookers feet, or worst still, under the feet of the second row. And he is not penalized. Has this law changed? Hookers are penalized at line-outs for not throwing ball in straight.

Comments are closed.