The Sale director of rugby, Steve Diamond, has called on the authorities to get rid of lengthy delays caused by scrums, which he believes are blighting the modern game, saying their entertainment value to rugby is “what King Herod was to babysitting”.
Diamond claimed Premiership clubs’ duty to entertain has been enhanced by the absence of crowds and he hit out at the amount of time wasted by preparing for and resetting scrums. One of the temporary law changes introduced by World Rugby in May was to eliminate reset scrums – a measure designed to reduce the risk of infection from Covid-19 rather than to speed up play – but the Premiership immediately rejected it.
The first weekend of the Premiership’s restart included a number of stop-start contests – including Sale’s disappointing defeat by Harlequins – not helped by the increase in penalties as players grappled with the new interpretations of the breakdown laws. Diamond, however, feels that a time limit of 15 seconds to set for a scrum – and an immediate free-kick if it is not clean – would improve the game as a spectacle at a time when supporter engagement has never been more important.
“I’d put a time constraint on it. It beggars belief. It is not the referee’s fault, it is a directive from above,” said Diamond, whose third-place side host the leaders, Exeter, on Friday. “It is the King Herod of entertainment in sport. What King Herod was to babysitting, scrums are to entertainment in rugby – it is absolutely boring.
“For me there are far more important things in the game – get the lineouts quickly, get the scrums quickly, the bits that have no interest, really, to a lot of people. People want to see the ball in play, people want to see the ball in Chris Ashton’s hands or Denny Solomona’s hands or Manu Tuilagi’s hands. They want to see skill at high pace and they want to see collisions, end of story.
“If you look at a lot of games over the weekend, the scrum timings of the setup are enormous. It’s minutes. It’s crazy. I got some footage from 1975, 1980, 1985, 1990 and measured the scrums. They were three times quicker than they are now. That’s ridiculous. Where [the authorities] need to spend their attention is sorting that area out – all the resets, not in the right position. [Award a ] free-kick it and give it to the other team.
“There’s no other sport in the world where you have something like a scrum, so either we take it out the game, which takes all the odd-shaped people out the game, or you’ve got 15 seconds to get your setup sorted and you get on it. How many clean scrums do we see? Not many.”
Diamond described the brewing controversy surrounding his South African players’ refusal to take a knee in support of Black Lives Matter before the Harlequins defeat as a “storm in a teacup”. Eight of the 11 Sale starters who remained standing were South African and the country’s sports minister, Nathi Mthethwa, has asked the union to explain its position.
Diamond said: “Four of our players took the knee and that is their entitlement and the rest didn’t,” he said. “We all wore the Rugby Against Racism T-shirts, which we thought was important. I don’t think it is too much to worry about.”