Many fans are fed up with the time wasted getting the ball in and out of a scrum, so should the game take decisive action? Read this debate from our August 2020 issue

Face-off: Should the match clock be stopped for scrums?

The former Brumbies and Australia prop
“As rugby (and all sports) battle Fortnite, YouTube and Netflix for the attention of future generations, how our game presents as a spectacle is becoming of greater importance. Not only is style of play incredibly important but so too the flow of the game and how it’s managed by the referee.

Any negative play or wasted time must be stamped out immediately for the long-term good of the game. And as much as it pains me to say this as a former front-rower, the scrum battle is the biggest culprit for time-wasting!

We’ve all seen it. A scrum is called and, shock horror, a front-rower goes down hurt and the game can’t continue. It’s usually a tight calf but as he or she bravely battles on, the time wasted allows them and team-mates to have a rest, while ruining the game as a spectacle for the crowd and viewers at home. The same problem occurs at lineouts… Down goes the hooker, unable to get to the sideline, so the game stops.

Faking injuries is one of the biggest blights on the game, and a tactical ploy used by the unfit or by teams protecting a lead. As referee Nigel Owens once said: “This is not soccer!”

Pausing the match clock when a scrum is awarded and restarting it once the ball is at the No 8’s feet is a good solution to teams chewing up time on the clock – but more is needed.

The scrum battle is what makes the sport so great, but it cannot come at the expense of the game as a spectacle. It is time to speed things up!”

Australia v Lions 2013

Tight spot: Ben Alexander pops out of the scrum during the 2013 Australia-Lions series (AFP/Getty)

The 127-cap England stalwart
“I have definitely seen scrums chew up the clock before but I wouldn’t say it’s a regular thing. It comes down to having a decent referee who is educated about the scrum as to whether someone is deliberately dropping it or not.

It is the skill of a good referee to work out what causes an action. Referees should adopt a no-nonsense policy early on in order to eradicate any possibility of time-wasting. I certainly know as a front-row player that if you get penalised early on you toe the line.

It’s also a tough one, assessing the impact of stopped clocks. You assume the ball will be in play longer, so a different type of conditioning would be needed. It’d be tough for front-rows who would have to give everything, every scrum, for however long they take, then play 80 minutes of rugby on top. It could shift the problem and make the game longer.

Face-off: Should the match clock be stopped for scrums? Rocky Clark

Milestone: Rocky Clark after equalling Jason Leonard’s record caps haul of 114, v France in 2016 (Getty)

Focus on educating refs on the dark arts. Take them into club training, or get club coaches on board as ref educators. Help referees understand why one action causes an outcome. Teach them what is being taught in clubland about the dark arts, to know what to look out for.

Some referees look for the perfect ‘picture’ without understanding what might have caused an outcome.

I wouldn’t rule out introducing a specialist set-piece referee but other areas can speed up, not just resets. Ruck times need enforcing and getting to set-pieces could be quicker.”

Face-off: Should the match clock be stopped for scrums?England v Argentina

“Here’s the mark”: Nigel Owens takes charge during England v Argentina at RWC 2019 (AFP/Getty)

What do you think? Email your views to

This debate first appeared in the August 2020 issue of Rugby World.