Two-point turn: NRL threatens to crack down on abuse of new scrum rule

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A rule change, endorsed by coaches to promote more attack from scrums, was so blatantly
abused by them in the pre-season that NRL head of football Graham Annesley has threatened to re-
introduce goal kicks from scrums.

Annesley sent a notice to all club bosses and head coaches on Friday noting that in trial matches coaches were encouraging the defence to breach at scrums greater than ever in order to
negate the attacking options a new rule has created.

Scrums are under the microscope before a ball has been fed into one this season.Credit:Getty Images

While it would be a radical step to change a rule mid-season, Annesley warned coaches that if
differential penalties, or sin binning, did not stop the practice, he would ask the ARL Commission to
restore full penalties from scrums and, therefore, allow kicks for goal.

Only half the NRL’s head coaches attended their annual meeting late last year where the issue of
zero attack from scrums was addressed but all 16 must have seen Annesley’s directive coming.
Those who attended the meeting admitted attack from scrums had stalled and agreed with a
proposal to set scrums in three positions on the field: 20 metres infield, the centre of the field and
where the breach occurred.

Because all NRL coaches prepare teams in terms of left and right attack, it suits them to set scrums in the middle of the field.

Therefore, during the pre-season matches, about 90 per cent of scrums were moved to the centre
of the field where attacking options in the modern game are greatest.

However, the coaches who attended the annual meeting clearly did not admit the main reason
attack from scrums had died – back-rowers break too quickly and the non-feeding halfback does not
remain immediately at the base of the scrum. Referees were not penalising these breaches.

So, when pre-season scrums were allowed to be set in the favourite position to attack, coaches
instructed the defence to counter by breaking even faster than previously.

Aware that the non-offending team can’t kick at goal, coaches told the defence to breach, cognisant
that the only advantage the attack could enjoy was to advance downfield the length of a penalty
kick. Furthermore, the attack was no longer in its favourite mid-field position.

However, a defending team, leading by two points, with only a minute left on the clock and on its
own line, will be less inclined to breach if the attack is allowed to kick a goal and send a game to
golden point.

Hence Annesley’s threat to restore a 40-year-old rule after only two weeks’ practice of another rule
whose makers knew it was doomed from the start.

Annesley’s missive said: “During pre-season trial matches it has become clear that some clubs
appear to have made a conscious decision to breach existing laws of the game in an attempt to
negate the intention of the new rule regarding the lateral position of scrums.

“This new rule is an innovation from the Competition Committee, endorsed by the meeting of head
coaches, designed to promote more uncertainty and open play directly from scrums.

“While it is not common practice to amend rules once the competition has commenced, should
the current measures available prove insufficient disincentive in the opening rounds of the
competition, the NRL may have no option but to take a recommendation to the Commission
seeking approval to change differential penalties awarded for this offence to full penalties,
thereby allowing teams to kick for goal should they elect to do so.”

The rule allowing three new positions from scrums was introduced in secrecy by the ARLC.
Had there been open debate around the problem of zero attack from scrums, the NRL would not
have been forced into this embarrassing counter move.

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