Lions 1930 controversy

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Lions 1930 controversy

Post  OB on Mon Jul 20, 2009 1:28 pm

In the article on the British Lions controversy in 1930 it says:
“On his return to the British Isles he [Baxter] set about using his influence to instigate changes to the scrummage, off side and hooking laws which were all amended by the International Board in 1932 effectively ending the rover system.”

That is indeed what many of the books say, or imply, but I was puzzled to note that in 1949 Law 15 (c) said:
“It is illegal for more than three players to form either front row of the scrummage before the ball has been put in.”

That clearly does not make a 2-man front row illegal. It is supported by a note in Royds’ History of the Laws:
“Up to now New Zealand always adopted a wedge-shaped scrummage with two men in the front row, consequently the law had to be, ‘ It is illegal for more than three players to from either front row.’ Having learnt that New Zealand had now resorted to three players in the front row it was proposed that number be made compulsory.
“The International Board considered it was not advisable at that time of year to make any changes in the Laws of the game”

It is much the same story with offside at the scrum: in 1949 the offside line still ran through the ball, just as it did when the laws were re-written in 1926.

I believe the main complaint about the New Zealand scrummaging was not the fact of the two-man front row, but offside interference by the rover, who would stay in his initial position so as to interfere with defenders trying to get to the scrum half.

There was a real problem throughout the 20s and 30s with getting the ball fairly into the scrum. In 1931 the law said:
“The ball is not fairly in a scrummage until it has been put in straight, has touched the ground between opposing players, and has passed both feet of a player of each team.” Later the law was further changed so that the second player in the front row had to use his far foot – but that still does not make the 2-3-2 formation illegal or unusable.

I am left with the problem: what exactly were the law changes that stopped the 2-3-2 formation? Or was it, as some suggest, the success that South Africa had with 3-4-1 that persuaded New Zealand to change?

OB

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RE: Lions 1930 controversy

Post  AdrianHunter on Tue Jul 21, 2009 10:04 pm

OB,

You make an interesting point, and have obviously looked deeper into the evolving laws of the game than I have.

I wish that I had a cogent answer to this, but unfortunately I dont.

When I was writing the 1930 Lions piece I did lean heavily on the already published views of this, as credited in the article, and to be honest did not find much dissent for the line that I followed. Perhaps the actual law changes themselves have been generally overlooked.

The impression that I got was that the controversy lay with the rover system itself rather than the actual scrum formation utilised.

This said I was recently doing some research and stumbled across an article that implied Wales and Ireland were using a similar system in 1911, so it was hardly a new phenomenon in British Rugby, although it may have fallen from grace in the meanwhile.

This being the case it may be seen as a North v South power struggle with essentially the RFU trying to hold on to its ascendancy over the rugby world rather than anything to do with the laws as they stood, and what they meant on the pitch itself.

Should you come to any conclusions about this I for one would be very interested to see them.

Adrian
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Re: Lions 1930 controversy

Post  OB on Thu Oct 22, 2009 12:00 pm

I have now had another opportunity to look into this question.

The RFU minute books for the time also include the IB minutes, and there was an exchange in 1932 when the RFU proposed “there shall always be three players in the front row, as New Zealand had adopted that formation”. The IB decided that “it was not advisable at this time of the year to make any alteration to the laws of the game.”

One book (Chester & McMillans’ Centenary – 100 years of All Black Rugby) does suggest that it was not a direct law change to numbers in the front row but an indirect consequence of changes to the hooking and offside laws. As I wrote earlier, the offside law for a scrum did not change. The hooking law did, requiring the ball to be player first by the fourth foot – but that is no bar since the two players have four feet. The book also says that in 1932 the NZRFU decided to adopt the three-man front row and abandon the rover.

I am satisfied that there were no law changes to outlaw 2-3-2 (subject to anything anybody else can find). I decided to look further. Why did New Zealand change?

Ron Palenski (All Blacks v Lions) wrote:
“The wing-forward's days were probably numbered anyway because for all the success the position had brought New Zealand rugby, there were also New Zealand critics, most notably referees.”

Here is Mark Nicholas, the New Zealand captain on their 1928 tour of South Africa, writing in Difford’s History of South African Rugby Football:
“In spite of the fact that we had been consistently beaten for possession from set scrums by every other country, we had clung slavishly to our scrum formation. For six years we had been slowly but surely sacrificing the very heart and foundation of the game.”

With three against two, South Africa had the permanent advantage of the loose head, The hooking law at that time said the ball had to pass both feet of the nearest player on a side before the next man could hook it. In the first Test of 1928, South Africa dominated the scrums, so for the second, New Zealand devised a counter: after the scrum had packed down, their rover would pack down so as to give then the loose head every time. By the end of the match South Africa had devised a counter: once the rover had packed down, the scrum half would throw the ball to the flanker on the far side for him to put it in.

I have not been able to look at any contemporary New Zealand accounts, but this tale supports the idea that the two-man front row was not good enough against a good three-man one. Despite what the books say, it would appear the IB actually kept the door open for 2-3-2 long after the New Zealanders had given it up.

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RE: 1930 Lions Controversy

Post  AdrianHunter on Thu Oct 22, 2009 10:08 pm

OB,

Many thanks for this, it is an interesting read and changes what I have up to now accepted as the general view of these events.

Please feel free to cobble something together and submit it to the main website as a dissenting view on the article that is already there - I am always looking for articles for Tight Five!

(Reminder to all - you must be a member to put articles on the website Exclamation )

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