Anyone watching the Seattle/Utah match might’ve had a moment of confusion. As did the captains. And the referee.
Late in the second half, a Seattle front row player received a yellow card. At that point, Seattle was out of healthy and available props. By rule, a team must have three front row players on the field for the scrum. To meet the requirement, Seattle returned their starting hooker to the field. As such, their front row was comprised of two hookers and one prop.
By rule, Seattle was not able to contest the scrum without two trained props and one trained hooker. The referee ordered that another Seattle player leave the field to drop the team to 13 men.
Thus, confusion ensued.
Seawolves’ captain Reikert Hattingh argued extensively with the referee as to why his team had one yellow carded player but was being forced down to 13 men. While it took a conference of the officials, the call was correct.
The issue refers to Law 3: Team of Laws of the Game. The following are relevant to the situation that unfolded:
- Law 3.8 indicates that a squad size of 23 ‘must be able to replace at the time of first asking’ a loose-head prop, a hooker, and a tight-head prop
- Law 3.13: Scrums will become uncontested if either team cannot field a suitably trained from row of if the referee so orders
- Law 3.15: Uncontested scrums as a result of a sending off, temporary suspension or injury must be played with eight players per side
- Law 3.16: When a front row player leaves the playing area, whether through injury or temporary or permanent suspension, the referee enquires at that time whether the team can continue with contested scrums. If the referee is informed that the team will not be able to contest the scrum, then the referee orders uncontested scums. If the player returns or another front-row player comes on, then contested scrums may continue.
- Law 3.19: If a front-row player is temporarily suspended, and the team cannot continue with contested scrums with players already on the field, then the team nominates another player to leave the playing area to enable an available front-row player to come on. The nominated player may not return until the period of suspension ends, or to act as a replacement.
Understandably, that leaves plenty of confusion. Enough confusion that the RFU requested clarification. Referring to Clarification 1 2018, paragraph 5 of the Rugby Committee’s response reads:
The following is correct:
- If a front row player is suspended ((and the other specialist prop(s) are injured/carded)) and uncontested scrums are ordered the following must occur;
- The suspended player leaves the field as a result of foul play; and
- At the next scrum a further player leaves the field when uncontested scrums are called; The uncontested scrums are an additional contravention of a law and requires a visible consequence to the team responsible for the uncontested scrums. and
- A third player might have to leave the field to allow front row player to come on. In this instance the team would be left with 13 player (8 forwards and 5 backs at scrummage)
What the clarification is saying is that the uncontested scrum, unlike a contested scrum, does not provide an adequate advantage to the non-offending team. The team (in this case Seattle) is being punished first for the yellow card (player sent off for 10 minutes) and then for being unable to contest the scrum (losing an additional man, as well as temporarily replacing one player with a front row player).
Does the forcing of a 5v7 in the back line for an uncontested scrum create too much disadvantage? Its far to argue so. That doesn’t mean there’s a better option currently available. It does create some interesting tactical opportunities. More of that when its not half past midnight.