Steve Diamond: Boring scrums are to rugby what King Herod was to babysitting

Sale director of rugby Steve Diamond has set out the changes he would make to “boring” scrums to ensure the sport catches the imagination of the watching public.

The Sharks take on Gallagher Premiership leaders Exeter on Friday at the AJ Bell Stadium eager to impress after a poor display at Harlequins last week.

A 16-10 defeat was not the start Sale wanted to make on rugby’s resumption and the contest resembled a pre-season game on occasions, while the ball was only in play for a limited amount of time.

On the sport’s return and with plenty watching on TV due to fans not being allowed into stadiums, Diamond knows entertainment needs to be at the forefront of the action.

He said: “People want to see the ball in play, the ball in Chris Ashton’s hands, or Denny Solomona’s hands or Manu Tuilagi’s hands, that’s what they want to see.

“They want to see skill at high pace and they want to see collisions, end of story. They don’t want to see line-outs, they don’t want to see Morris dancers. They don’t want to see it. Get it in, get it out, and off we go.”

Sale gave away eight penalties during the opening 20 minutes of Friday’s match at Harlequins and there was 29 overall in the contest.

It contributed to the stop-start nature of the match and the former Sharks hooker believes a change to scrums could help.

Diamond added: “There’s no other sport in the world where you have something like a scrum, so either we take it out of the game, which takes all the odd-shaped people out the game, or you’ve got 15 seconds to get your set-up sorted and you get on it.

Steve Diamond contested numerous scrums during his 11-year playing career with Sale Sharks
Steve Diamond contested numerous scrums during his 11-year playing career with Sale Sharks

“There’s far too much time setting scrums up, the scrum hitting shoulder to shoulder and the ball coming out. It must be five times the length of time in setups (than before). How many clean scrums do we see? Not many.”

After watching old footage, the 52-year-old feels speeding up the process would result in a better game of rugby and has sympathy for the officials.

“I’d put a time constraint on it,” Diamond said. “This waiting period, the referee’s telling you: the cadence will be slow tonight. It beggars belief. It is not the referee’s fault, it is a directive from above.

“It is the King Herod of entertainment in sport. What King Herod was to babysitting, scrums are to entertainment in rugby – it is absolutely boring! I am not the first person to say it and I am a hooker.”

Diamond will be well aware Sale will have to improve in that area if they are to secure success against Exeter.

Round 1️⃣4️⃣ is done and dusted and here's how it stands 🙌

Things remain tight all the way down the table as @WaspsRugby climb the pack into the top 4 with an impressive win this afternoon 💪

How do you see the season finishing? 🤔

— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) August 16, 2020

He praised the consistency Rob Baxter gets out of his players in the build-up to the fixture, but is sure his group can rise to the occasion.

“Exeter have probably done enough already to guarantee themselves a home semi (in the play-offs),” Diamond insisted.

“What we have got to do is put in one of our performances we can do, and we can pull out of the bag, and challenge Exeter. We need to win the game to stay in contention.”

No fans will be present at AJ Bell Stadium to watch two of the league’s title rivals go head-to-head, but Diamond was able to provide an update on when they could return in a pilot trial – albeit not before September.

He added: “We have been approached by the union and PRL about doing the trial. We are willing to do that and the stadium are willing to.”