Rugby is such a great game. Union obviously, not League. I played a fair bit from late primary school til 5th year, when my penchant for McDonald’s finally caught up with me, and my almost non-existent fitness level made me lose interest in playing. Da claims that he was, at one time, a pretty handy flanker. I myself, short and chubby as I was, slid effortlessly between Hooker and Tight Head Prop, trying to develop myself into a Keith Wood/John Hayes hybrid. Scary stuff.
I wasn’t the most mobile, focussing most of my efforts into “the set piece”, honing my throwing skills for the line-out and my scrummaging skills. To this day, I’m still all legs and lower back…and gut. The scrum was my forte. I understood it to be well known that there was none like me in the rest of County Down for stealing a scrum against the head. The old “get the foot on top and let the pack pivot you” tactic worked a treat for years. However, it had one fatal flaw. It largely relied on the opposition Scrum Half giving a straight feed into the scrum. For those who don’t follow the sport, I mean the No. 9 putting the ball into the scrum with very little bias towards his/her own team, allowing for both Hookers to strike for the ball, the very movement which gives the position its name. Thankfully, in my playing days, this rule was often strictly enforced, which meant I could continue getting satisfaction from perfectly timed swipes of the foot and frustrated, snarling opposition.
In recent years, perhaps as part of the “modern” game, I have noticed this rule seemingly being forgotten about more and more, and I’m by no means the only one noticing. But perhaps, as a Hooker myself, I find it more annoying than others. I was watching the 2nd Lions test vs New Zealand there on Saturday, and found myself watching scrum after scrum, waiting for a straight feed by either Scrum Half. Often the ball would land by the feet of their 2nd row, reducing the front row of forwards to little more than an overweight support structure.
I mean, the scrum is such an integral part to the game, that I really think it’s a shame that referees allow its very essence to be eroded so easily. One scrum can change the course of a match, but if they’re uncontested then what’s the point of even having them. Most of the time, the best an opposing pack can hope for is to gain a penalty somehow, which is just not what they should be aiming for.
I realise it’s only a small thing, but it’s part of what I think is the beauty of the game. Scrums have always been a big part of it for me, and the challenge of winning your own scrums and stealing possession in your opponents provided an extra edge to the game. If the trend continues, I fear that the game will end up, little by little, turning into Rugby League, which, as we in the North of England know, is by far the inferior of the codes. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.