Crouch, Touch, Read Stage Directions 14 February 2013

Watching each game of the Six Nations this year, I keep getting drawn back to one particular feature: the scrum; more precisely, the refereeing of the scrum.

A few years ago (2007- I checked), the laws of rugby union were changed to make the scrum safer: refs now had to ensure that the two front rows were within touching distance of each other before they, after a pause, came together. Which is fine; what I’ve never understood is how the refs had to go about refereeing this. What they had to do was give a series of instructions:

“Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage”

Now, I had no problem with the first two parts: “crouch” gets the packs down into position, and “touch” makes sure they are close enough to touch each other, which makes the “engage” step safer. The bit I never understood was the “pause”… Now, this wasn’t a pause, this was the referee saying the word “pause”. Given that the refs always delivered each instruction with a gap in between, you ended up with

“Crouch” pause “Touch” pause “Pause” pause “Engage”

which seemed to me to have two main effects:

  1. Make the ref sound like a sitcom character who has to read from a script and ends up reading the stage directions in with the dialogue
  2. Slow the scrum down far more than was necessary, resulting in lots of collapsed scrums.

All better now

So, back to this year’s Six Nations… well, the law has been changed again (it’s in a trial stage at the moment, I believe) to make the instructions

“Crouch, Touch, Set”

Ah, that’s better.

No more pantomime, and scrums that aren’t held up so long before they come together that they collapse before the ball even arrives.