The beauty of Rugby Union is that it is a game which has a position for every body type. Stooping to walk through doors? Get yourself to the second row. Short and squat? It’s the front row for my friend. Small and nimble? Your future may be as the next Peter Stringer.
One of the joys of watching Rugby Union for me is the battle of the forwards. The fierce and shady behavior which can take place in rucks and mauls can be as joyous as the intricate passing and side stepping movements of the ballerinas in the backs. The set pieces like lineouts where a game of bluff and counter bluff plays out, giant men soar to the sky and the platform for possession and territory can be established. One of the biggest struggles for the rule makers of the game is how to solve the issues with the other set piece, the scrum. The life and atmosphere can be quickly sucked out of a game by the continuing failure of teams to complete a scrum to the satisfaction of the officials.
To the casual observer the machinations of the scrum’s front row can be a perplexing as quantum physics. To even a seasoned fan it can be at best guesswork as to who is a fault. Prop forward is one of those positions where technique and experience will always trump brute force.
The latest attempt by the lawmakers to rectify the issues in the scrum is that opposing props must bind fully before engagement and can begin to push only when the ball has been fed into the strike zone between the hookers. There is also direction that the ball must be fed in straight. This of course is a long established rule which has long been ignored by scrum halfs around the world.
The changes have led to less collapsed scrums in pre season games but the real test begins tonight with the start of the RaboDirect Pro12 league. It will trial for a year before a decision is made as to whether or not the changes stick. One hopes that the changes made does not lead to a gradual movement towards uncontested scrums such as those prevalent in Union’s cousins in Rugby League. Lets keep Rugby Union a sport for all sizes and not like Rugby League where every player looks like a marauding backrower.