The semi-final match in the World Cup brought up an interesting anomaly in the rules of rugby. I don’t mean the abomination that was the red card. (Clarification, as far as I could see Rolland made the correct decision in sending Warburton off under the rules he is required to follow: It is the rules themselves that I believe are an abomination—I stick by my rant from last year on this.)
The interesting anomaly was the way that it could have been to Wales advantage to have had a prop injured off the field, so much so that the Welsh coach, Warren Gatland, admitted after the game that he had considering having a prop fake an injury. The basis for this is as follows. In a policy introduced a few years ago to deal with a spate of extremely serious scrum injuries, particularly in games played at lower levels, the IRB introduced a rule that both teams must have a full complement of two specialist props and a specialist hooker in order to have a contested scrum. Teams go into matches with one reserve prop and one reserve hooker. Accordingly, if two props or two hookers get injured out of the game in the course of a match, the game has to resort to “golden oldies” scrums in which neither team is allowed to push. This is a very good for a team that is being pushed back in scrums.
Now if faking were simply a black-and-white matter, one might just rely on teams having a sense of good sportsmanship and aversion to scandal (but see “bloodgate”), but injuries exist along a continuum and it is a judgement call as to whether an injury is serious enough to require coming off the field. The current rules allowing substitutions for any reason, not just because of injury were introduced after the South African coach admitted faking injuries simply to get fresh legs on the field.
So my suggestion is to similarly change the rules to eliminate any advantage to arise from having a front-row player injured: Allow any team to request non-contested scrums at any point in a game, either because they have run out of specialist front-row players, or simply because they are being too heavily beaten by the superior scrummaging of the opposition. Then, to reinstate the advantage that the team with the dominant scrum would have, allow the team that had not requested non-contested scrums to place one fewer players in the scrum. Currently the rules require teams to place at least seven players in the scrum, so I am proposing either increasing this to eight for the team requesting non-contested scrums, or reducing it to six for the other team.