Ireland legend at odds with South Africa over World Rugby’s controversial law proposal

Colin Newboult
Ireland and Springboks scrummaging during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Ireland and Springboks scrummaging during the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Former Ireland hooker Keith Wood has backed World Rugby’s law proposal which will potentially depower the scrum.

A number of ideas have been suggested which will be voted on in May by the World Rugby council.

That includes stopping teams from taking the option of a scrum when a free-kick has been awarded at that set-piece.

Critics say that it will reduce the impact of the scrum with South Africans unsurprisingly angry, given that it is one of their primary weapons.

World Rugby’s reasoning

The idea is to help speed up the game but it has generally received a negative response. However, Wood believes that it is a positive step and thinks the governing body’s idea would benefit the game.

“I like the fact that the scrum is going to take less time,” he said on Off The Ball.

“It needs to be much faster. Having a scrum which lasts four or five minutes is a joke. I would never have been in favour of saying, ‘you can’t take another scrum’ because if you’re better than that team and you’re able to push them back, why shouldn’t you go for another one and get a penalty?

“But then it goes into the idea that the basis of the scrum shouldn’t be for a penalty, the basis of a scrum should be to win it and move the ball away. That’s ultimately what it should be.

“Maybe it comes to the fact that if you are beating the other guy and it goes down as a penalty then it becomes a free-kick and off you go.

“I don’t like games where scrums are held for three minutes until somebody collapses under pressure and that’s the deciding nature of the game – it just seems to be a little bit wrong.”

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Few deny that scrums need to be sped up and some have looked back to yesteryear as to how quickly the set-piece was set up.

But Wood insisted that scrums were “very dangerous” back then, while the pressure exerted on the players’ bodies in the front-row nowadays is immense.

“It’s funny, a lot of the people I know look back with rose-tinted glasses and say the scrum was better,” he said.

“They weren’t, the scrums were a shambles, they were also very dangerous. They’re a different type of danger now but the pressure is fairly extraordinary.

“There’s a huge difficulty to strike with the pressure that’s there at the moment and, because the guys are a lot bigger, they’re further away from the ground, so it is a little bit more difficult.”

Reducing replacements

Wood has also reiterated his desire to see the number of substitutions allowed during a game reduced.

Although it has not been proposed by World Rugby ahead of the vote in May, the Ireland legend would like to see it considered going forward.

“Capping the subs is a big thing for me. I really think we should be down to four or five subs. You might have eight or nine on the bench but you can only put on four or five,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if there’s another injury and a team goes down (to 14), that’s just an element of luck.

“(Referee) Mathieu Raynal, who’s retiring this year, came out and said that’s something we would be very keen on, and I would agree with that.”

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