SYDNEY, April 4 The lost art of scrummaging is making something of a comeback in Australasian rugby league this season and not everybody is happy about it.
The 13-man code has long eschewed the complexities of scrummaging favoured by the rival union code and used it instead as a brief and uncontested method of restarting the game.
Referees in the National Rugby League (NRL) have, however, started the new season by insisting players are bound properly in the six-man scrums and have re-set them where necessary.
Although not nearly as time-consuming as the re-sets in union, cat calls greeted the initiative at a game between New Zealand Warriors and Cronulla Sharks at the weekend.
"One thing that our game has got over rugby (union) is that there isn't a lot of time on scrums," Warriors coach Ivan Cleary told reporters after the match.
"Now it's becoming that there is a lot of time on scrums. I don't really see that being that important."
Cleary said players were not used to binding properly and it was not something practised.
"You have to be fair to players," he added. "In the heat of battle, they head to a scrum and they're all blowing like steam trains and then get told that, instead of grabbing around someone's shoulders or something, it has to be around their back.
"You might spend some time on the scrum plays or defending scrums, but the scrum itself just hasn't been there," Cleary added.
"The guys are buying into it and they are trying to do it, and I thought that was the idea. They wanted it to look like a scrum. Well I think it looks like a scrum."
The referees, who have also clamped down on offside at the kickoff and using the correct mark after tackles, are not trying to reintroduce contested scrums as much as ensure forwards are kept in the set piece for longer.
The rule is intended to allow more space on the field for the backs to attack.
"We're not changing the rules, we are simply making a season-long commitment to enforce some of the fundamental principles in our game that will ensure a cleaner, fairer play-the-ball and give both the attacking and defensive teams a reward for their efforts," Bill Harrigan, one of two referees' coaches in the NRL, said at the start of the season. (Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; editing by Peter Rutherford) (For the sports blog Left Field go to: blogs.reuters.com/sport))
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