The new engagement protocol meant that, following the crouch-bind-set command, the ball could only be put in when the referee said so. Literally.
“Yes nine,” was the instruction when the man in charge was satisfied the scrum was stable. Or as stable as it is going to get with 250-stones-plus of prime beef going head to head.
The Tig was not alone in thinking the verbal instruction was a mistake, going against the first principle of any sport in that it benefited the defensive side more than the attackers. Not only were the attacking pack on 15 legs as the hooker raised a foot to get a strike, but now the opposition also knew exactly when their rivals would be scrummaging one leg short.
Austin Healey repeated a comment doing the rounds on social media that the “Yes nine” command was to be scrapped because of the confusion it raised among German scrum-halves, which raised a snigger. But as an ex-nine he knows this is one time when the referee should be seen and not heard.
In Healey’s day of course the likes of the Leicester Lip and close rival Matt Dawson wouldn’t have allowed the official to get a word in anyway.
No scrum-half could ever be accused of lacking self worth. They are central to so much on the field of play, in the thick of the forwards and providing a platform for the backs, and usually telling everyone around them exactly what they want or expect.
Perhaps a scrum-half chaired the meeting at the IRB which decided the protocol should be amended to dispense with the verbal command. Bet he told them straight too.
A signal, a tap, a nod from the ref, a put-in, a call from the opposition flanker who can see the ball, a synchronised push, a wrestle, a proper contest in the defining feature of our great game. That’s all we want to see, and hear.