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ESPN SCRUM / ESPNscrum Columnist
Craig Dowd
Craig Dowd | Columnist Index
Craig Dowd played 60 Tests for New Zealand between 1993 and 2000, including in two World Cups, and he was part of the All Blacks team that won their first series in South Africa in 1996. He played for the Blues and Auckland in New Zealand domestic rugby, and for Wasps in England from 2001 to 2005. In 2009, he coached North Harbour in the ITM Cup. More recently has been a SKY Television comments man.
Craig Dowd
Scrum penalties 'predetermined' - Craig Dowd
Craig Dowd
March 25, 2014
Craig Dowd believes that scrum penalties now are awarded as a "predetermined action" © Getty Images
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Something has got to be done about scrums in rugby. They have become a complete lottery.

When you get experienced international-quality props staring at the referee and thinking, quite clearly from their facial expressions, "you have got to be kidding", there has to be an issue underlying their discontent. Just going to the formation of a scrum these days, no-one knows what is going to happen because the referee is looking for a penalty.

The biggest issue I have now is that when you commit a penalty, it is usually a predetermined action by the referee. Take that to a court of law, it is like murder in the first degree, which is predetermined, versus manslaughter, which is not.

You don't go into a scrum trying to have a predetermined outcome to either collapse it, or stand it up, or blatantly break the laws. There's no benefit; it is just a scrum, it is not going to go anywhere.

For referees to be looking for a penalty, it is just ruining the game. Look at how there was all the emphasis about putting the ball in straight to scrums. They are very haphazard in how they rule that now. You wouldn't know; some referees do and some don't.

 
The referees need to give some governance back to the players to scrum. Let them go out and scrum.
 

I think the International Rugby Board (IRB) needs to have some serious thought about the outcome they want out of scrums. It's a re-start, and the IRB needs to look at why a penalty from what is simply a stationary object, that is not going to move any more than a couple of metres either way, has the potential to determine the outcome of a game of rugby via penalty goals.

We are now almost at a crisis point with scrums, where fans are thinking, "What is the point?". It is ridiculous.

The problem starts at the top. And it is the same way all new laws are introduced. They are filtering down through the game, and the referees are being told what to look for.

I feel sorry for referees in some regards: if they don't look for what they are told to watch, they lose their status; but some of them do go well over the top and don't interpret properly what they have been told to seek, and they lose their future appointments.

The referees need to give some governance back to the players to scrum. Let them go out and scrum. If it collapses on one side, let the other side walk over them. If one team stands up, push them backwards. You can't push standing up.

So the players will stop doing it after a while, when they realise the implications of either collapsing or standing up the set-piece: let's go back to what it used to be, and have a real old ding-dong battle at scrimmaging; and while that is going on let's get the ball out and play.

There's too much governance, and too much regulation, around what has to happen at scrum time. As long as the safety issues are addressed - and I think that has been done with the closeness of the front rows in the set phase - then I think we are talking about big boys who are big enough and ugly enough to put a scrum down and not have a serious accident.

In fact, contrary to belief, there are not that many serious accidents at scrum time any more. The days of having a metre-and-a-half gap where you fly in and hit hard have gone. There were some broken necks that had everything to do with the engagement, but that has changed.

 
The TMO is there to call the correct shot, and that is it. They need to get on with it.
 

In relation to the calls from television match officials, I think a lot of it is due to the language they are using, which is creating confusion. I know they are aware the public are listening, but the public can see what has happened. It is as if they think they are in a courtroom and pussy-footing around making sure they use the right terms.

Just call a spade a spade. I think if the TMO said there was a double movement, or a knock-on in the lead-up, we, as viewers, would be pleased to hear that. We're not mugs, and neither are they, but they are using some special language to communicate with each other and we can see through that.

The TMO is there to call the correct shot, and that is it. They need to get on with it.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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