BBC BLOGS - Ben Dirs
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
« Previous | Main | Next »

Tackling the scrum

Post categories:

Ben Dirs | 17:01 UK time, Sunday, 30 January 2011

Last Tuesday, the International Rugby Board (IRB) summoned the coaches of all the Six Nations sides to a forum to discuss the state of the scrum, that once proud edifice that too often nowadays resembles a steaming heap of rubble.

The scrum, at the highest level at least, is nothing short of a bad joke: currently, 60% of all scrums collapse in top-level internationals and 40% of scrums have to be reset. In addition, the average time to complete a scrum is just under a minute, which adds up to an awful lot of watching 16 huge men in a pile on the floor.

England coach Martin Johnson called last year's Six Nations match between England and Scotland at Murrayfield "a game of rugby trying to break out between scrums". And when BBC pundit Brian Moore, a former hooker who won 64 international caps, is so often moved to admit he hasn't got a clue what's going on at scrum-time, you know you've got a problem.

IRB referee manager Paddy O'Brien declared Tuesday's meeting to have been "extremely constructive and highly productive", and to expect a crackdown on illegal front-row binding and incorrect body positions in the upcoming Six Nations.

I thought about asking Moore for his opinions, but reckoned he might get too angry. However, BBC Sport has listened to plenty of big men that matter, and their concerns and conclusions are laid out below.

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT THE SCRUM BE FIXED?

Keith Wood (BBC pundit, former Ireland and Lions hooker): The scrum is not killing the game but it is a pain in the neck - and it would kill the game if nothing was done about it. The scrum is magic, one of the cornerstones of rugby union.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

BBC pundit Brian Moore is frustrated by last season's Calcutta Cup scrum chaos (UK users only)


If you got rid of scrummaging, you could then have generic rugby players, a bit like rugby league. But by having big, tall forwards and nuggety front rows like we have in rugby union, who can do all that hard work that needs to be done but maybe aren't as agile around the field, you create mis-matches, because it isn't like against like all the time.

Ed Morrison (the Rugby Football Union's head of elite referee development): If we ever lose the scrum we'll lose the game. It's an opportunity to push your opponents back legally and it's an opportunity to gain possession of the ball legally and we need to get back to that mindset.

The best recent example of positive scrummaging was the Leicester-Northampton Premiership game, when the scrums were magnificent, they made the game. It was a classic example of how good the scrum can be when it's played, coached and refereed positively.

The international game has a massive responsibility to ensure that when people sit down and watch they're seeing a contest in the scrum and not a mess. It's a problem, it has to be rectified and it has to start at the highest level.

WHY ARE THERE SO MANY COLLAPSES AND RESETS?

Kingsley Jones (former Wales flanker, current head coach at Sale): The scrum is now won and lost on the engagement. Coaches are coaching front-rows to win the race across the gap on the call to 'engage' and introduce the ball immediately. We've got big players who, if they lose the 'hit', look to the safety of the ground. We're not coaching that, but props want to look after themselves.

Australia v England, Sydney, June 2010

The familiar sight of a scrum collapsing during Australia v England last June

When someone loses the race, they go down and the scrum is reset. The next scrum, they don't want to lose the race, so they go early, which results in a free-kick because they jumped the call. Or if I'm an attacking scrum-half, my team hit and lose the engagement, I might say, "I can't put it in ref", because if I put the ball in and my team are going backwards, my coach will tell me what's what after the game.

Phil Vickery (former England and Lions prop): It varies so much, but basically if you've got two gangs of people pushing each other there are two ways it can go - it can either go up, where you're forcing each other up in the air, or it can go down, because as a front-row forward you don't want to go back - that's personal pride. So invariably it goes down.

KW: The main problem is the 'pause' phase [of the 'crouch-touch-pause-engage' sequence] because it's counter-intuitive, it goes against what you're about to do - it isn't about pausing, it's about going at 100mph, exploding into the 'hit'.

Graham Rowntree (former England and Lions prop, current England scrum coach): I know why the 'pause' stage was brought in, it settles everything. Before you had 'crouch-touch-engage', sometimes very quickly, and you had teams rolling into each other and there were too many forces and too much weight involved and you were getting injuries.

But there are timing issues. The whole sequence - 'crouch-touch-pause-engage' - can be delivered by different referees at different speeds, especially if both front rows have not followed through the sequence in time.

And while that's happening you've got some front rows who are bent and over-balanced and you can physically see them shaking because they're holding up all that weight. And when they meet each other and somebody is off-balance, or the ground conditions aren't very good, that scrum will go down.

DOES IT COME DOWN TO CHEATING?

KW: There absolutely is deliberate collapsing at the moment, there is plenty, because if you don't get into a good position at the start - if you're waiting and holding up the guys behind you and you don't get a good step on - you might as well collapse it, and that's especially the case with the bigger tight-head props.

But I can tell you that every forward pack wants to be as good as it can be, and if an individual doesn't get it right, he won't get picked. If your eight guys can scrum well you provide a great opportunity for your back-line - if it's messy, you don't. That's why your scrum is sacrosanct, it's a great launching pad.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.

Kingsley Jones and Jonathan Davies put the scrum to rights on Scrum V (UK users only)

GR: We have a job as players to be as good as we can, to stay in a good position, to push, and I'm not convinced all players do that. I get nothing out of collapsed scrums. These comments suggesting us coaches are underhand and want to keep it in-house are wide of the mark. I'm very open, my philosophy of scrummaging is quite simple - I want a pushing contest, there's no earth-shattering detail to it.

I sit in a room with Johnno [Martin Johnson] and he looks at me, furrowed brow, and says: "Graham, what's going on?" I hate seeing collapsed scrums, it embarrasses me. So we're not all trying to cheat, because by us trying to cheat we're only slowing the game down.

ARE REFEREES TO BLAME?

EM: There's no question that when we were asked to slow down the cadence [of the engagement sequence] and add the 'pause' it took time for referees to adjust to that process. But the real difficulty for the referee is when the scrum engages and it collapses immediately, the referee has to decide in a split second who's responsible.

What really pleased me about the IRB statement was the term "collective responsibility" in terms of reducing the number of collapsed and reset scrums. The responsibility absolutely should be shared by referees, coaches and players - all too often in the past total responsibility when things went wrong was shouldered by referees.

Ben Kay (former England and Lions lock): The referees need to be better at giving straight penalties, because as soon as penalties start being given in kickable range, as long as the coaches know what the referees are going on about, it will get rid of a lot of the problems and settle things down.

GR: I feel sorry for refs, and I don't say that very often. They've got a lot to look at, the intricacies of the scrum, and make decisions in a split second. As coaches we've got to give players the tools to take the referee out of the equation.

KW: I do feel sorry for referees and I never did when I played. Life is pretty hard for them, they're hamstrung when it comes to scrummaging because it's very technical.

But there are an awful lot of errors happening and different referees have their own way of refereeing, and I know the IRB are striving for more consistency. All the guys are looking for is consistency - if a referee refs a scrum in a particular fashion, he's always going to ref it in that fashion, that is comforting to a player.

ARE REFEREES WELL-ENOUGH EDUCATED?

EM: There's more education in the refereeing of front rows than there's ever been. As an elite group of referees we use Graham Rowntree, who has been magnificent over the last couple of years - that's the kind of education we need.

GR: Refs can't be educated too much, because unless you've played there, you don't really have an understanding of what's going on. I sit down with the RFU's elite referees as much as possible, and often they're very open and admit they don't know what's going on.

So it's about telling them what's going on, to reward the best possible position and shape in the scrum. And I'm urging our guys to be proactive, so when the referee sees a collapsed scrum, he sees we're trying to push and the opposition aren't. I don't envy the ref's job, and we've got to make it easy for them.

BK: I would make every referee after each game go and sit down with someone like Phil Vickery or Graham Rowntree and go through the video of every scrum - they could tell the referee what the props are trying to do.

PV: I was capped by England in 1998 and finished in 2010 and I have never been asked my opinion on scrum rules, engagement set-ups or how I think referees or new laws could help the scrum.

I'm not saying I know it all, I certainly don't, but do you think it would help to ask guys who are on the front line and could really give a good insight into what happens in the scrum? I find that sad.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO FIX IT?

KJ: The solution is simple. The laws are contradictory at the moment - Law 20.1 states that the scrum must be square and stationary in line with the touchline and over the mark before the ball can be introduced. Law 20.5 then states the ball must be introduced immediately on the front rows' engagement or when the referee instructs the scrum-half to do so.

So just put a line through the first part of Law 20.5 - the part where it says the ball must be introduced immediately on the front rows' engagement - because it's causing confusion for everyone.

Do that and we will have, like we used to have, a pushing contest and a striking contest once the scrum is stable over the mark. The referee can now manage to look at who's square, who's binding, who's on-side or off-side and whether the ball is introduced correctly.

KW: The 'hit' has been an important part of the game for the last 20-30 years, and if you get rid of it you get rid of one element of pure confrontation.

But the pressure in the front row of an international scrum is one-and-a-half to two tons, and you're telling these guys to 'pause' before the contact. Unless that pause is exactly the same every time you're just making it harder to get it right, because you're holding back all that weight. If you took the pause stage out of it, it would be fine.

GR: There are always ways as a player you can fight to keep the scrum up - our guys are fighting to keep their chests up and keep a really good shape, because we want the ball in and out to the backs, or maybe we want the ball at the back of the scrum because we want to push the opposition pack around.

It's about those massive packs, all eight of them, starting in a good position and staying in a good position for as long as possible, it's as simple as that. If they're all doing a good job, they're all trying to be proactive, then the calling sequence shouldn't matter.

EM: Good coaches coach good technique. If you get well-organised, well-coached teams who play the game in the manner it was designed to be played, the scrum can be a wonderful spectacle.

That's where we want to get to, to where everyone wants to scrum in that positive manner. As a referee, we can't determine that, only the players can.

It will be interesting to see, in light of this Six Nations coaches meeting, how the first weekend of the Six Nations pans out. Will everybody go out to scrummage positively? Or will the weaker teams try all the tricks of the trade to ensure the opposing scrum isn't dominating? We shall see.

IRB scrum statistics for Six Nations 2009 and 2010:

Average scrums per match - 16; average collapsed per match - 9; average resets per match - 6; average penalties/free-kicks per match - 5.2

The 2009 Six Nations had the highest reset rate with 47 per 100 scrums, the 2010 Six Nations had the highest collapse rate with 67 per 100 scrums. November 2009 had the lowest number of resets with 29 per 100 scrums and June 2009 had the lowest number of collapses with 47 per 100 scrums.

As well as my blogs, you can follow me when I'm out and about - or on the sofa - at http://twitter.com/bendirs1 

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    So, an average of 16 minutes is wasted at scrum time due to re-sets. I thought it was more! My heart now sinks when it's scrum time as it is SO predictably dull. It takes ages to set, then there is at least one collapse, followed by another, followed then by the inevitable free kick or penalty, which seem to be awarded in rotation.
    I don't know the answer, but straight put-ins with props being made to wear shirts that actually support a bind may help.

    I'm afraid it's up to players to realise their collective responsibility and keep the game flowing.

  • Comment number 2.

    I recently watched (yet again) the 1973 game between the Barbarians and All Blacks, and was struck by how smoothly the scrums operated. Instead of the 'hit' that Keith Wood advocates, the front rows just immediately bound with each other - no pushing at this stage - and the rest of the scrum formed up behind both front rows. No scrums collapsed, and the whole scrum process was fast and efficient. What is so sacred about the two packs colliding? Why not revert to the approach that worked well for years? Certainly, the current approach is a complete mess.

  • Comment number 3.

    The two main problems are the 'hit' and the new shirts that were brought in a few years ago. If we went back to having shirts that a prop can actually grab onto, then more props would bind legally. I do empathise with these guys who have to grab a skin tight shirt under those circumstances at the first attempt. Regarding the hit, while it is important and in an ideal world I would like to keep it, the increasing professionalism of the game is leading to more collapsed scrums when the hit is not won with teams deliberately pulling it down which is bad for everyone. Therefore the second change should be to change the engage sequence to crouch, (forget touch - what a waste of time) engage, then pause. Maybe the sides should only be allowed to push on the referees whistle once they are safely engaged.

    Whatever happens, it needs to be sorted out because it is ruining the game but to get rid of them completely or as a contest would be to finish off the game for good.

  • Comment number 4.

    Its funny how there is so much focus on time spent at scrums?
    My personal annoyance is conversions/penalties.
    1 minute is allowed from time ball is set on the tee.
    But that gives the kicker time to drink water, throw grass in the air,pose like a ballerina etc.
    So in a game with 10 penalties= 10 minutes!
    This should b changed to 1 minute from time penalty is awarded or
    30 secs from ball on tee or stop the clock until kick is made.
    And as for kicking for touch from penalties?
    Is the place where the penalty is given the place where they start their run up or where they are supposed to kick from?
    And for the kicks at goal where they try to cheat a foot or 2?
    Give a scrum to the opposition!

  • Comment number 5.

    I think 1 of the biggest problems is the length of time for the pause sequence.This varies massively between refs, especially the French refs who take an eternity.If the players know it is crouch touch pause(for 1 or 2 seconds)then engage it would help. sometimes it can vary between half a second and 4 or 5 seconds. the players cant get consistency if it changes from match to match

  • Comment number 6.

    My beef is the front rows being told to 'pause' when they are already pausing after the touch. It's counter-intuitive. I would suggest 'crouch, touch and pause, engage'. I would also like the refs to award the dominant scrum more penalties. Sides like australia who clearly can't scrummage get away with murder.

  • Comment number 7.

    I would love it if Kingsley Jones solution to the problem was taken on board, and introduced into the game.

    As a coach I have noticed a tendency for teams with weaker scrums to try to win the initial engagement then take the scrum down. for me, this is one of the ultimate confidence trick, because the referee almost always sides with the team that is going forward.

  • Comment number 8.

    The tendency for journalists to obsess about the time taken for scrums is tedious and too often overstated. Scrums are the very core identity of our game, so if they take a bit of time - tough, get over it.

    For the most part - scrums are actually over refereed. The scrum is a contest - so the players have to be allowed to compete! Some referees whistle for microscopic shortcomings and then do nothing when the ball is blatantly and illegally fed straight through the loose heads legs - utterly farcical.

    There seems to have been the most nonsensical instruction (probably dreamed up by someone who has never put their head into a scrum!)given to referees to hold packs longer on the 'pause' command - as a sanction for early engagement. This merely serves to frustrate, alienate and infuriate the players and exacerbate the problem that it's supposed to solve - ludicrous.

    The word 'pause' should be removed immediately, it's a superfluous waste of time. The commands should be crouch, touch, engage, BIND!. The command engage is given as soon as the props are seen to touch. I have lobbyed the IRB about this and suggest they pilot it - which of course they've ignored. The command bind instructs the props to comply with the essential need to bind - which will lessen the instances of collapses.

    Lastly - in order for the scrum to return to being a proper contest for the ball and not a foregone conclusion - the straight feed has to be enforced. Straight put in means hookers have to strike the ball - striking hookers (largely extinct these days) produce faster ball, which is the essential life blood of attacking rugby!

  • Comment number 9.

    Lord Ogmore hits the nail on the head - a passive "engagement" and then no push until the ball is put in. This gives the front rows time to get set for the physical confrontation of the push rather than having to "win" the explosive rutting contest that currently starts on the "e" of "engage."
    In reality, what currently happens is... "Crouch, touch, pause, SMASH!!!" and the massive impact disrupts the whole engagement more often than not.
    The physical contest should start when the ball is put in - straight! (yes, our Brian is correct.)
    Out of interest, when did the laws change to allow pushing before the ball is put in?

  • Comment number 10.

    lets go back to the way the scrum used to be. Striaght in and let the front row sort it out. I have not yet seen a ref who knows what the hell is going on. Also do not allow the southern Hemisphire teams have any say. The way it is now I think the scrum is very dangerous

  • Comment number 11.

    "Letting the front row sort it out" (#10) with the increased size and strength if players compared to the 1970s is a recipe for more neck injuries. The game needs to avoid this and club insurances in particular would make the it impossible to run the game.

    Its not about jerseys. I was a loose-head, and can't think of the number of time I was told binding was on the body, not on the shirt.

    Get rid of the pause, penalise early pushing promptly, make a crooked feed a full penalty and referee it correctly, and use the yellow card for repeat offfences (boring in, collapsing). This does require referee education but that's not difficult - there are enough retired props around most clubs.

  • Comment number 12.

    "Its funny how there is so much focus on time spent at scrums?
    My personal annoyance is conversions/penalties.
    1 minute is allowed from time ball is set on the tee.
    So in a game with 10 penalties= 10 minutes!"

    exactly. this combined with the scrums (and lineouts) means there's huge amounts of the game where nothing is actually happening, at least a quarter normaly more. it's bugged me for ages. why don't they just stop the clock until the ball is at least fed, if not when it comes out after a successful scrum. the timing's not done on the field anyway so its not like it would detract from the refs duties. same for conversions, penalties (and maybe lineouts). stop the clock while until the ball is back in play.

  • Comment number 13.

    i don't know if this is realistic, but if there's such a huge problem when scrums are being lost on the engage, then don't just take out the pause, take out the engage too. have it like the start of a tug-of-war ie, let front rows take the strain or bind up, then on the referees mark, begin the shove.

    realistic? unpopular maybe, but it's got to be better than what's going on now...

  • Comment number 14.

    sensical - Graham Rowntree looked at me like I was mad when I mentioned that maybe these skin-tight shirts might be part of the problem!

    Andy - Have to say I disagree - well, in part anyway. The scrum is part of the core identity of the game, but it was always meant to be a quick way of restarting the game - the packs formed, ball went in, hookers struck, ball came out, bingo, and everyone knew what was what. Now we have a situation when 20% of internationals are taken up with scrums, collapsed scrums and reset scrums. That's not great viewing for the paying customer, especially when they don't have the foggiest what's going on from their position up in the stand.

    Achnacarry10 - This was a point made to me by Keith Wood, who pointed out that 'back in the day' scrums were a lot 'baggier' if you like, which made striking against the head and allowing front-rows to "sort things out" viable. Scrums now are simply so huge and so locked in, Wood reckoned this simply isn't viable any more, safety-wise.

    RainyDayDreamAway - Austin Healey had this idea, stop the clock while they muck about with the scrum, although not sure it would work - throw in conversions, penalties and all the other fannying about that goes on and every international would last a couple of hours!

  • Comment number 15.

    I like Kingsley Jones's suggestion, but as somebody who's never played in a scrum, there is one basic point I don't understand: if the scrum needs to be, square, stationary and over the mark before the ball is introduced, then what is the point of getting a big hit?

  • Comment number 16.

    @biglaw #15 I think you have hit the nail on the head, Kingsley has contradicted himself much as he accuses the laws of the game. "Back in the day" the scrums engaged slowly and in a more controlled manner, there was no big hit and given the rules on putting the ball in the big hit is a nonsense and should be outlawed. Setting a scrum without a big hit makes it far easier to avoid the instant collapses and pop ups that we see and still allows the better scrum to take an advantage. With the increased size, speed and strength of players I would have thought that it would have been safer too.

  • Comment number 17.

    Really good article, I agree with Kingsley Jones, Lord Ogmore and FFSelkirk, the "hit" is the problem for me. Get back to a pushing and striking contest. The referees should not put pressure on scrum halves to get the ball in when the opposition is moving forward. It seems to me it is rare for hookers to actually strike for the ball these days. I'd be interested to know what Keith Woods and Brian Moore think of that. I spent 5 years of university rugby playing as a scrum half behind a retreating pack, but the ball was always struck back quickly by the hooker's heel on the tap, (to channel 1 if necessary) and was able to be cleared by me or the number 8.

    As important as scrums are to the integrity of rugby union, they have always been and will continue to be a way to restart the game with 16 players out of 30 out of the way. The purpose of a dominant scrum is to provide the best launch for the next phase of play, or the best disruption when defending. I think this message is lost sometimes; examples are England's massive dominance against Australia in the first test in June...but they lost the game. And vice-versa, Australia who manage to win games when their scrum is clearly under pressure. Now, the scrum is seen as a way to win penalties. In your own 22, you try and win a penalty to clear your lines. In the opposition's, it's to try and kick three points, get a penalty try, or get a player sin-binned.

  • Comment number 18.

    For years people have been obsessed with binding and the "hit" as if they were the problem at scrums, when realistically the biggest reason for scrums going down is always, and always will be, body position. Graham Rowntree is dead right in saying that we have to promote positive scrummaging - guys who are clearly trying to keep a scrum up rather than those who are folding. If one guy has his shoulders below his hips, it's probably his fault when it all goes crashing down. Likewise, if a prop doesn't come in square, it's probably his fault when he folds in. I'm glad to see the IRB and Paddy O'Brien making some mention of incorrect body positions, because referees have been on a hiding to nothing with the lack of focus on this in the past, expected to apportion blame based on little more than random guesswork and the pretence that a hand placed on an arm rather than on a body will magically make somebody fall over.

    The point made about the "pause" command and the varying time taken by referees is a good one as well. I can only assume it was dreamed up by somebody who never led a scrum into contact in his life, because any front row forward at any serious level of the game will tell you that those moments before impact are highly challenging in and of themselves. You have huge pressure coming from behind you while you try to maintain good body position low to the ground and concentrate on your opponent. The longer that all goes on, the more likely a front row is to lose control and 'fall' into contact rather than driving into it. As Graham Rowntree mentions, when a prop becomes even a little unbalanced in that time, you will see him shaking and straining to hold his pack back (until you've done it yourself, I know it probably looks like the two packs are standing around passively while they wait for contact. It only looks like that because of the immense strength of the front row players involved to hold things steady. Think of a pack pre-contact as a coiled spring, and you are not a million miles away.), which is only going to lead to unsafe hits and more collapsed scrums.

    In short - we need to penalise players who lose body position over all else, and we should cut the time in the pre-engagement routine down to a minimum and try to make it consistent from all referees.

  • Comment number 19.

    The scrum is what differentiates this marvellous game from all others. The major issues have been covered in this article and I tend to see the two biggest problems as "cheating at the engage" and the inconsistencies with the referees relating to the cadence of the call and their lack of understanding as to what happens in the dark depths of the front row.
    Though I have never played in the front row, I have a son who is playing professionally at tight head and I know have a far greater insight into the arcane arts.
    A scrum will not collapse (subject to the playing surface) if both front rows have good body shape and are square. The biggest issue, partly addressed in the comments is the fact that if one team thinks they have lost the hit they will prefer to reset(read to go ground) than adjust and win the scrum battle. The ability to fight and win a lost engagement is a lost art for most young scrummagers where you need to be technically proficient and have been exposed to the idiosyncrasies of holding up a prop who is trying to twist you are become a mole and bury himself. In addition, the number of props (Australian's are a classic example of this) who set up at an angle to bore in on their opposite number, is huge and yet time and again they get away with it due to, I think, a poor understanding by referees and assistant refs of what happens at scrum time.
    Education of players, coaches and refs to ensure that this key battle during the game follows the laws will stop so many collapsed scrums and illegal binds and angles that we see today.
    Oh yes, very few props should be allowed to wear the "spray on scrape off" jerseys that the backs wear. Not a good look unless you are built like Sheriden or Hayman.

  • Comment number 20.

    But the answer is so simple, it's all about the feed.

    Simply enforce the already existing rules about straight feeds. If the ball is fed straight into the scrum then both sets of forwards have to first and foremost give the hooker a platform for getting the ball. That in turn would de-emphasise the "hit"

  • Comment number 21.

    Yup, absolutely something needs done, and it's good to see that it's being recognised and addressed.

  • Comment number 22.

    Some good points - especially getting rid of the pause. The other very obvious point which would sort out most of the problems is.....PUT THE BALL IN STRAIGHT...! if it went in straight the hooker would not have his feet back with the props prior to the hit - as they do now (which makes it inherently unstable). He would actually have to hook (something none of them ever do anymore coz they dont need to). As a former hooker for many years who still plays the off vets game it breaks my heart what theyve done to the scrum. If you arent going to make it a contest (including actually hooking) then get rid of them. I played a vets game against Jase Leonard and a few old hands last year. We insisted that the ref made the SH put it in straight and guess swhat...no collapsed scrums and a decent battle.

  • Comment number 23.

    Spot on Lord Ogmore. Watch virtually any game from 20 or 30 years ago and they just get on with scrummaging with no intervention from the ref.

    I thought that the "hit" was against the rules anyway:

    20.1 FORMING A SCRUM
    (i) Charging. A front row must not form at a distance from its opponents and rush against them. This is dangerous play.
    Sanction: Penalty kick

    Depends on your interpretation of "distance" I suppose

  • Comment number 24.

    This subject goes round and around!

    The present law is daft! I'm old enough to have played as a hooker and prop in both the old "form up and take the strain" and the "hit" environment. I always prefered the former as it was a straight trial of strength as much as anything else. The "hit" is a paradise for gamesmanship of all sorts, which is probably why it originated in New Zealand.

    Quite why it came about is now lost in time, but it was always a bit full-on compared to the older approach! With the increasing size of players with professionalism and the need of the various RFU's marketing departments to add spice for the uninformed new punter however, the hit has taken on the proportions of a piece of cheesy, dumb, macho theatre. It's all about ferocious impacts, loud grunting and loads of furious wrestling...loads of mock wincing and oooohhhhs from the crowd, most of whom have little idea of how much it all hurts and the long-term damage that these guys are doing to one another. Add in shirts designed to be like a piece of soap and it doesn't take an Einstein to realise what is going on.

    Experience has taught me that intractable problems, where there are loads of vested interests, are usually addressed by an unwavering, root and branch investigation of everything except the obvious truth! Scrums need to be a fair contest of strength and technique, with a straight feed to allow the hookers to battle it out. With the game dominated by TV execs, marketeers and replica kit manufacturers we can look forward to a complex tinkering with the Laws that nobody will understand and refs won't be able to interpret. The idea of trying to get back to basics however will be the very last thing considered!

  • Comment number 25.

    A couple of points.

    1. Why doesn’t the nearside touch judge come over so you have 2 officials watching over each side of the scrum? How often do we see the opposite side of the scrum from the ref go down, causing the ref to switch sides, then the other side starts going down? Bring a touch judge over, then the binding on each side can be watched.

    2. Enforce straight feeds. As people have said, the scrum is currently won and lost on the hit. If straight feeds are enforced, by being able to compete for possession, you are giving the team that has lost the hit an incentive to stay up and compete for the ball. As it is now, possession is all but guaranteed, so it is just about territory, which incentivises collapses.

  • Comment number 26.

    When I was at school (late 70's-mid 80's), which for the most part was in NZ until I was 14, I played loose forward, then to the wing when I got older and faster.

    There was no hit back then, just a form up, bind down, ball in. Then if you won the strike, push them back or get it out wide. I cannot remember any occasion when the scrum went down.

    I don't see any need for the 'hit', it has only been a negative for scrummaging.

  • Comment number 27.

    Ben #14...so what if a game lasts two hours because players are "posing/fannying around" (to quote other bloggers)

    STOP THE CLOCK....it might persuade them to get on with it.

    I saw something a while ago from Opta which said actual game play time was:

    Football : 50 mins
    Rugby League: 55 mins
    Rugby Union: 35 mins.


    Now calculate the £ per minute cost of the 'Twickenham experience'!!

  • Comment number 28.

    @25 Bambam75: defending team have a scrum on their own 5m line. The touch judge comes in to adjudicate at the scrum. Team clears the ball to touch. How does anyone know where it went out?

    The straight feeds point from people is spot on though. Straight feeds, hookers striking for the ball.

  • Comment number 29.

    Having played every scrum position bar hooker I love scrum time.

    I think that what needs to be established is the need or otherwise for the hit. I'm not saying let's ring a ring a roses about it but let's ensure a stable platform before the ball is put in. The shove should only come one once the ball is in.

    On a less contentious matter - what it wrong with linesmen coming onto the field of play to monitor the blindside of each scrum? Even if the ball is kicked straight to touch it's hardly rocket science. How often do scrums collapse on the blindside.

  • Comment number 30.

    No.11 "Its not about jerseys. I was a loose-head, and can't think of the number of time I was told binding was on the body, not on the shirt".

    This comment is not strictly accurate; as a prop surely you were told to bind on the BODY and not the ARM of your opposing number? You have to secure a grip on the shirt otherwise you would be grabbing a handful of his skin! Binding on the arm causes the point of balance to be unfairly pulled sideays which will obviously disrupt a scrum. Binding on the body - by gripping the opponents shirt on the body - is what players are instructed to do and ensures the scrum stays stable.

    I would guess that about 80% of scrums feature props binding on the arm not the body and is a major cause of the current problem. Refree education is key to address this.

    Also I like the idea of a partial removal of the 'hit' stage because, just as the pros in the article state - a scrummage is a pushing contest.

  • Comment number 31.

    The Refs can't have control over what the two packs do at the 'engage@ stage of the sequence but they could be given more control over the put-in. Let's be honest, the reason why the team without the put-in tries hard to get the upperhand at contact is because they know how much feeding goes on, especially at the professional level. If refs put the ball in the advantage would still be with the team awarded the scrum because the ball would be going in on their loosehead side so their hooker would be a head closer to the put in and be more able to react to the put in. This is where the advantage was always intended to be because you're supposed to put the ball in straight. The ref would also be looking into the scrum from where the ball is put in rather than the other side which can obscure their view so they would have a better chance of spotting any 'argy bargy'.

  • Comment number 32.

    There is an alternative - look at the matches where the scrums have been good (such as the Leicester/Northants game mentioned) and see what they were doing in order NOT to collapse every time. Then the referees would know what constituted good play and penalise when this didn't happen. And forget the reset rubbish - bin a prop from either side and have uncontested scrums for 10 minutes. I bet every scrum from then on would be pretty much on the money!

    I think it was John Beattie in his blog who advocated a return to the old ways of packing down one row at a time, and then push when the ball was in. Surely that's the art of scrummaging, using technique and strength against 8 others. But what do I know - when I played rugby I was a weedy scrumhalf and we lost all but 3 matches. In 4 years. Some by 50 or 60 points and this was when it was only 4 points for a try!

  • Comment number 33.

    "Last Tuesday, the International Rugby Board (IRB) summoned the coaches of all the Six Nations sides to a forum to discuss the state of the scrum, that once proud edifice that too often nowadays resembles a steaming heap of rubble."

    Well, my first reaction is "About blinking time!"

    Many of the above posters have made eminently sensible comments and as most of them seem to be fellow front rowers their views are very relevant.
    Watching top level rugby with scrums constantly being re-set is a frustrating experience for all (particularly so for the front row union)and I seem to spend much of my time shouting "helpful" advice to the ref, along the lines of "get it in straight" or "make him bind up" or even "stop guessing ref".
    One particularly insidious recent development that it's taken the refereeing community 2 years to spot is the crooked engage, with the loose head hiding his inside shoulder so the tight head has to drive inwards on the hooker just to get his head in the tiny space that's left. Then all the LH has to do is follow him in and, hey presto, collapsed scrum with the ridiculous sight of a TH lying on the floor, perpendicular to the scrum, sometimes with his flanker still attached! Thankfully Wayne Barnes, refereeing one of the last week's round of European games, actually pinged both sides for doing this before the engage, insisting that they set up straight and square. Result - fewer collapses, though it was funny seeing props coached to set up this way struggling with proper scrummaging. Now all we have to do is wait for the rest of the refereeing community to catch on!

    Anyway, to summarise:
    1. Make the packs form up straight and square.
    2. Abandon the "engage". It's legitimised charging, pure and simple. Crouch, touch, pause, engage might make a few of the crowd get all "unnecessary" but the downside is all the collapses.
    3. No ball before the packs are bound up, square & stationary.
    4. No pushing before the ball comes in.
    4. Police the put-in. Down the middle means down the middle.
    5. Get rid of the skin-tight shirts for props so there's no excuse for not getting a bind. They look ridiculous in them anyway!

    I seriously hope Anglophone's prediction of "fudge by comittee" doesn't come to pass. This is an opportunity to sort out the mess once and for all. My lad plays level 9 rugby in the East Midlands. He's 5'10 and 13 stone and a hooker - plenty big enough you'd think, but he's trying to "bulk-up" in order to survive the enormous pressure on the hooker (at the engage) in adult rugby. When I ask him "Get any against the head today?" he tells me nobody hooks any more - you just drive over the ball or get pushed off it. Insanity.
    You might as well have 3 props in the front row. Hookers are a bit, er, special (add your own epithet here). Brian Moore, Keith Wood, Sean Fitzpatrick - all proper characters that brought something to the game. The last thing we need is another dopey prop lumbering about! lol.

  • Comment number 34.

    As an amateur I was always taught to "pop" your opposite prop by pushing upwards. The penalty should be awarded for popping your opposite, and a reset for collapsing. This puts the onus on the stronger pack to keep the scrum up, especially if they want to win scrum penalties. Collapsing was almost unheard of too - you either went backwards, or up if you were weak!

  • Comment number 35.

    As a fullback I know as much about scrummaging as the next man(who is a winger). But at the elite level where there is the biggest issue, surely we can have a front row expert with the video ref, making calls for the ref. These then relay to the field. It also seems sensible to me as others have said, that there is no hit, the front rows bind together, both packs take the strain, ball in and away we go.

  • Comment number 36.

    I agree that there are many, many reasons for scrums collapsing (difficult to grip shirts; "crouch, touch..." sequence differing in time between refs; underpressure front rows purposely going down; etc etc etc). If the "hit" was to be kept how about the ref getting the packs to crouch and touch then say "1,2,3 bind" or something along those lines - something so that both packs know exactly when they can go for the "hit". The way it is now is no different to an athletics race with the runners waiting for the gun (the time between "on your marks, get set, go" also vary)- milliseconds make a huge difference when going into the scrum. Like Jones said, the scrum is won or lost on engagement. If one front row doesn't react as quickly as the other to the ref saying engage they will be at a disadvantage so will drop. That is less likely to happen if both packs are prepared to engage at the same time.

  • Comment number 37.

    it is easy to solve this problem, downgrade all scrummage penalties to free kicks (except in the red zone,penalty tries accepted of course) and lets get on with the game, refs already have too much influence on the outcome of games as it is, we need to see more ball skills and less officiating

  • Comment number 38.

    "STOP THE CLOCK....it might persuade them to get on with it.
    I saw something a while ago from Opta which said actual game play time was:
    Football : 50 mins
    Rugby League: 55 mins
    Rugby Union: 35 mins."

    Love the comment Cynicalyorkie, and why not when the ball goes out of play as well. At least if you have to endlessly reset scrums and lineouts you are not paying for it with your £80.00 Twickenham ticket.

    On a seperate note I actually think that Union has outgrown the scrum. Look at the other ovalball games that have been professional for a far longer time.

    American Football: Got rid of the scrum entirely
    R.League: Just used to restart the game artificially creating space by tying up 12 players. Not a pretty sight I must admit but nore are 3 collapsed scrums in a row.

    I really think that 16 professionally conditioned athletes can no longer make a pushing scrum work anymore. It might have been ok in the Amateur days but look how the body shape and weights have changed completely even from the 90's.

    I would love for a specialist in "Body mechanics physics" to do some experiments. If it can be proven that it cannot physically work anymore it would save us a lot of time.

  • Comment number 39.

    According to what was said at a recent player/fan forum held after a Premiership match, teams no longer approach scrums with the intention of competing for the ball. Apparently they approach the scrum with the aim of winning a penalty, usually awarded to the team with the feed because the ref can't determine which side is better at conning him/her. The rule makers need to remove the opportunities for conning the ref otherwise we will continue to see reset after reset.

  • Comment number 40.

    What a mess the scrum is. I played in a game (scrum-half and oddly enough for the BBC ) and the scrum was a nightmare. The ref was great , he solved it very effectively in the following manner. After the umpteenth collapse , he got both scrums to stand up and said this. You will go down , then you will pause touch engage and freeze, on the point of the command freeze you will not move at all, adding , only when the ball is in, may you compete ! It took a few scrums to get used to, then it was perfect after that. Not a single collapse during the second half. More importantly, in the bar, both sets of forwards said it was bloody great, and why don't more refs apply this simple rule ?

    pat nagle

  • Comment number 41.

    I played prop during the 70s and 80s and the scrum was what made RU unique as a sport. The one true contest of player v player with relatively little effective refereeing. However, I agree that the scrum has now become farcical and requires attention. My memory of binding as a prop was that the bind HAD to be on the top of the body - not the arms or the underside of the body - this is rarely seen (is it still the law?). Also the loose head didn't have to bind at all but could place their hand on the left knee. Again, I don't know if this is still allowed, but the advantage there was that the referee could clearly see if the opposition tight head was binding on the arm.

    My other memory was that because you were penalised for the front row charging into the scrum (what is now termed the "engage"), there was a short time where the front rows could "sort it out" before the ball was put in and before any pushing was permitted. Collapses of course occurred, but were rare.

    I'd definitely like to see what the effects of introducing a non-competitive engagement (with charging penalised), then the put-in delayed until the referee permitted it on a settled scrum. A non-settled scrum and collapsing after the put-in would be penalised as now. And, sort the binding out.

  • Comment number 42.

    I agree whole heartedly with Andy and KJ. Set the scrum and then let the referee instruct when the ball is to go in. Then he can make sure it's straight instead of looking at binding etc. The contest is the push and the strike not the engagement. Bring back the skill of hooking.

  • Comment number 43.

    If the ref says when the ball is put in he may as well put it in as suggested earlier. Goes to the same point as Andrew Black has just said, make it a push and hook contest, not an engagement one.

  • Comment number 44.

    We appear to be losing sight of what scrums are about. A minor infringement (knock on, forward pass ...) occurs and the two sides are engaged in a contest to decide who has possession. This contest is weighted towards the non-offending side but still requiring skill and strength to capitalise on or overturn this advantage. "in my day" this was exactly what happened because we obeyed the rules (or the referee blew up against us). The rules we obeyed were "no side shall apply a push till the ball is in the scrum" and "the ball shall be delivered straight into the scrum". What has happened to the game is that these rules are disregarded and we must amend things to allow the referee to apply them again.

    However to bring a degree of order to the current situation I have a couple of ideas I'd like to share. First at a scrum many infringements occur on the blind side to the referee why not have the referees assistant from the nearest touch line come onto the field and take station on the opposite side from the referee. He could watch for front row shenanigans and whoever was on the blindside to the scrum half could ensure a straight delivery. Second (and considerable more radical) when setting a scrum have the two front rows form a 7's scrum (3 a side) then, when the referee is satisfied this is set the other 5 from each side can come into the scrum. This would do away with the interminable rhino charge we have today as the 7's scrum would have to be set before the rest join and the rest could not charge in as they would simply lift their own front row into the air or bury them.

  • Comment number 45.

    In summary

    1. passive engage
    2. ensure the feed and scrum is straight
    3. push when the ball is in.
    4. (maybe) stop the clock at the infringement, restart when the ball is out.
    5. penalise "popping" and collapses

  • Comment number 46.

    In this article, Brian Moore correctly points out that the word 'HIT' appears NOWHERE in the law book. It's a good article and addresses a lot of these points. The 'hit' is clearly the problem, since there shouldn't be one. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/8157529/Brian-Moore-Rugby-union-referees-have-a-lot-to-answer-for-as-scrums-develop-into-farce.html

  • Comment number 47.

    Mwbar1 (16), as well as many others - I have to say I do understand the confusion over the hit, the very nature of which makes it almost impossible to have a stationary, stable scrum. The feeling among those I spoke to seemd to be that you simply cannot get rid of the hit because, as Wood pointed out, is it one moment of pure confrontation in modern rugby, a piece of sporting theatre if you like. But I think Kingsley Jones got it right when he said remove the part of the law that says 'the ball must be introduced immediately on the front rows' engagement' - get rid of that, and it removes the incentive to smash into the hit, therefore destabilising the scrum.

    For those who want to get back to a 'pushing and striking contest', the feeling I got was that it wasn't as simple as that. I know Brian Moore believes a straight delivery of the ball will help sort things out because it will concentrate the minds of front rows on winning the ball rather than smashing into the hit and therefore destabilising the scrum. But those I spoke to seemed to think the days of front rows genuinely contesting for the ball are over because of safety reasons - as I said in an earlier post, forwards are so much bigger now, scrums more compact and therefore more dangerous, and while it's realistic to have front rows at a lower level competing for the ball, it isn't at the top end.

  • Comment number 48.

    At 10:32am on 31 Jan 2011, BennyBlanco wrote:
    @25 Bambam75: defending team have a scrum on their own 5m line. The touch judge comes in to adjudicate at the scrum. Team clears the ball to touch. How does anyone know where it went out?
    ________________________________________

    By turning around, watching where the ball goes out an making an educated guess. Being a few yards out on the resulting lineout is a small price to pay for fixing the scrums.

  • Comment number 49.

    By the way, I agree that bringing in the linesman as a second ref at scrum-time seems like a pretty good idea...

  • Comment number 50.

    Very interesting blog, two points come from your experts, the 'pause', and the 'hit'. Firstly the 'pause', how often does the ref pause at the wrong time in the sequence, for example: crouch...touch...pause.engage??
    Surely a better delivery would be: crouch...touch.pause...engage, a more rythmical phrasing, which should be easier to understand and follow.
    Secondly, the 'hit', here we have to decide what the purpose of the scrum is. As a former hooker, the scrum was a pushing contest for possession of the ball,with a slight advantage to the side awarded the put in.The 'hit' as an integral part of the scrummage is a relatively new thing, born from the increasing desire to overpower, not just outplay,your opponent. Rugby is the greatest cocktail of physicality and quick wit,but with the advent of professionalism,the empathsis has been shifted more to extreme levels of muscularity and sheer bulk than ever before. An example of this was the Grand Slam winning French side of last season, probably the worst French side in my memory, playing props in the centre,particularly Bastareud, and lacking any of the flair of past generations,Blanco,Sella,Charvet and Sadourney, to name a few. I digress, remove the 'hit' by having the ref set the front rows first, then complete the scrum and get the ball in... Play on

  • Comment number 51.

    They say that the 'hit' is a moment of confrontation in rugby, and cannot be removed, but at the expense of a game that flows from one period of open play to another?

    The scrum should not take more than a minute or so to complete, depending on how far the forwards need to lumber... The hit is leaving the game stagnant for long periods, and can destroy any momentum a side can develop.

    Set the scrum, get the ball in, and get it out again or push them back for territory, but get the game started again as soon as you can.

    It's not a point I have contemplated much before, but since reading this I see how much it has affected the game.

  • Comment number 52.

    I think we can do without this piece of "sporting theatre" (the "hit"). It's ruining the game. Absolutely ruining it. I'll wager that most folks would much prefer to see the game restarted quickly so that "proper" rugby can recommence. And the fact that penalties are so often the result is: a) irritating in the seeming inevitability of it; b) a sure sign that the scrum itself isn't working. Rugby is a macho sport - we're looking for more than "two-hand-touch" - but the current engage phase is overdoing it. If binding is so critical (and the basis for so many penalties at scrum time) then why make it so difficult to accomplish and police?

  • Comment number 53.

    I agree with some of the other comments that what is wrong with the old style of the front rows packing down prior to any pushing taking place. Get rid of the hit, and perhaps design some shirts for the props with coloured panels on them showing where the bind should be. If a prop does not place his hand on the coloured panel of his opponent, it would lead to a free kick.

  • Comment number 54.

    @Mwbar1 - thanks for your answer.

    @Ben Dirs - Whether or not the hit is 'sporting theatre', I'd like to know whether 'winning the hit' is legal under the current rules? Law 20.1 says that 'a team must not shove the scrum away from the mark before the ball is thrown in'. Surely, winning the hit means you do precisely this, no? Everyone agrees that the referees are just ignoring the law when they allow crooked feeds, but isn't it also the case that they are also ignoring the law with this point too? If not, why not? If so, why are you, Keith Woods and many others advocating that the law should continue to be ignored?

    Surely, if the law as it stands was applied by referees, neither team would want to hit too hard for fear of infringing, and we would have much stabler scrums? What am I missing?

  • Comment number 55.

    biglaw - Where exactly did I advocate that the law should be ignored? I said: "I have to say I do understand the confusion over the hit, the very nature of which makes it almost impossible to have a stationary, stable scrum..."

  • Comment number 56.

    "it's realistic to have front rows at a lower level competing for the ball, it isn't at the top end" Exactly Ben the scrum is no longer a sensible means of a contest anymore.

  • Comment number 57.

    @Ben Dirs, OK, sorry, I thought you were siding with Keith Woods, Kingsley Jones and others, who argue you have to keep a full-on hit. Kingsley Jones said in the video 'I wouldn't want to de-power the engagement in any way...' So he doesn't actually think that his rule change would, as you believe, 'remove the incentive to smash into the hit' (even though I still think his proposal is a good one).
    Ultimately, I'm just trying to find out, from those who back the hit, whether it's even legal or not? Can anyone tell me why winning the hit is legal?

  • Comment number 58.

    This is clearly an emotive issue. UKexpat123, I don't think we can do without the set scrum. It is not sporting theatre but, done properly, an opportunity to restart the game in a manner where;

    - possession should be somehwat in the balance due to the nature of the infringement (a knock-on/forward pass etc) and therefore worth competing for, and;

    - over half of each team is tied to one part of the pitch creating space for the side that does win possession from the scrum to exploit.

    The real problem as I said earlier is the lack of a contest at the put-in due to how acceptable feeding has become at the highest level. That is what destroys this essential part of the game in my view.

    If the rationale behind changing the start of the set scrum was to reduce the risk of injuries this does not work and demonstrates that the change was made without consulting experienced proponents of the dark arts of the front row. Most set scrum injuries in the front row are caused by collapsed scrums and the current arrangements clearly increase rather than reduce the risks of it collapsing.

    The idea of adding players to the scrum in two stages will slow the game up because there will be two opportunities for a collision and this will emphasis instabilities and result in more delay and less game time.

    The original method of scrummaging worked for many many years. It is simply a case of the IRB recognising that the changes that have been made have failed and being courageous enough to say 'we were better off with what we had before so let's go back to that' or 'if it wasn't broke, we shouldn't have tried to fix it'. Change does not always equate to improvement...

  • Comment number 59.

    Interesting that pro players and coaches think the "hit" is sporting theatre. I don't see a lot of support for that idea from the commenters on this article, the fans just want the game to start.

  • Comment number 60.

    47. At 2:57pm on 31 Jan 2011, Ben Dirs - BBC Sport wrote:
    "Mwbar1 (16), as well as many others - I have to say I do understand the confusion over the hit, the very nature of which makes it almost impossible to have a stationary, stable scrum. The feeling among those I spoke to seemd to be that you simply cannot get rid of the hit because, as Wood pointed out, is it one moment of pure confrontation in modern rugby, a piece of sporting theatre if you like."

    Then nothing will change, Ben. The refs can't ref it as there's too much going on. The props will continue to struggle to bind as the hit only gives them a very brief window to do so.

    "But I think Kingsley Jones got it right when he said remove the part of the law that says 'the ball must be introduced immediately on the front rows' engagement' - get rid of that, and it removes the incentive to smash into the hit, therefore destabilising the scrum."

    Rubbish mate. If professional front rowers like Keith Wood regard it as something akin to stags rutting or "a piece of sporting theatre" they will carry on regardless. Presumably penalties will still be awarded for dropping the scrum or early engagement? Why stop?

    You also said......
    "For those who want to get back to a 'pushing and striking contest', the feeling I got was that it wasn't as simple as that. I know Brian Moore believes a straight delivery of the ball will help sort things out because it will concentrate the minds of front rows on winning the ball rather than smashing into the hit and therefore destabilising the scrum. But those I spoke to seemed to think the days of front rows genuinely contesting for the ball are over because of safety reasons - as I said in an earlier post, forwards are so much bigger now, scrums more compact and therefore more dangerous, and while it's realistic to have front rows at a lower level competing for the ball, it isn't at the top end."

    The dangers in the scrum come from the hit. Today's Crouch, Touch Pause, Engage, fall down, reset malarky has its roots in an attempt to control the developing dangerous situation where teams began to "hit" instead of engage to try and get an advantage at the put in. What should have happened is that the refs should have applied the Laws instead and killed the hit at the outset.

    Basically what the pros are saying is that the scrums are too tight for hookers to hook and if neither side gets an advantage at engage (from the hit) a ball rolled down the middle of the scrum will roll straight out of the other side as the pressure will be so immense that nobody will be able to lift their feet. Sounds like narrow thinking to me. If everyone engages straight and stays straight, the hookers will be able to hook. Only boring in and other easily spottable offences can spoil that situation and refs know all about that these days.

  • Comment number 61.

    @biglaw. Agreed. Although there is another way to "win the hit" which is to force your opponent into a binding error, which can lead to a collapsed scrum or a penalty. Neither of these are desirable results, in my view, although I feel that teams often see a scrum as an opportunity for securing the latter. And if the opposing pack "merely" collapses then you have imposed your physicality on them whilst ensuring that the referee subjects their forwards to closer scrutiny on the reset and subsequent scrums.

    @anonymous. I didn't say we could do away with scrums, just the "hit".

  • Comment number 62.

    I realise I am coming into this discussion late.
    One of my bones of contention all season has been the refereeing of the scrum and in particular the first scrum of the match. I do not think I have seen one match all season where the first scrum has not resulted in a free kick.
    The sequence of events are : referee calls “Crouch, touch, pause” and then waits a ludicrous length of time until one of the front rows topples forward before awarding a free kick. It happens every game. After a couple of scrums common sense breaks out and the referee starts administering the scrum with a sensible time interval between each command.
    Graeme Rowntree’s response to the shirts surprised me. As an onlooker it definitely appears as though the shirts hinder a successful bind but I would have to defer to his considerable knowledge.
    One major problem now with scrums is that the front rows are so darn tall. Consider front rows of yester year, Paul Rendall, Jeff Probyn and Jason Leonard (I apologise for the Anglocentric list), all 5’10” and under. Andrew Sheridan is 6’4”, Phil Vickery 6’3”, Dan Cole 6’3”. I know there isn’t really a solution to this but it can’t help with the stability with the scrum with such tall props as I would have thought it is a simple case of high centre of gravity.

  • Comment number 63.

    Nobody is denying that when Scrums go well, it's a fantastic spectacle. The problem is it doesn't go well, it doesn't go well 95% of the time.

    Scrums were meant to be a way to restart play, that's their intended purpose. This over complication of the game is getting ridiculous. If I want uber-technical, stop-start football, I'll watch the NFL.

    Lets not be nostalgic or sentemental(sp?) here. The cons far outweigh the pros. If line outs were as shambolic as scrums they'd have been removed from the game long ago.

    People who go on and on about scrums being an integral important part of the game engaging several logical fallacies. Appeal to tradition, most notably.

  • Comment number 64.

    So GR is officially taking seminars for current referees on how to referee the scrum?

    Great for England. If I was a fan of the other 5 nations or the big 3 downunder then I wouldn't be happy.

    I don't doubt GR's integrity. But having the person that's showing referees how to ref the scrum coaching you is a massive advantage. He knows exactly what the ref is looking for so you know everything that you can get away with.

    Coming into the world cup too, 6N refs will be a massive boost for our chances during this tournament. Getting long arm penalties in the world cup in kickable range can often make the difference when trying to bring home the webb-ellis trophy.

  • Comment number 65.

    The problem is the modern obsession with the scrum half having to put the ball in straight away. The engage is therefore turned into a hit with each side seeking an advantage in the knowledge that the balls arrival is imminent. I remember the days of my youth when the scrum half had about 3-4 seconds to put the ball in and only then did the pushing start. In fact if there was a misfeed we would often stay down whilst the ball was retrieved and put in again. In summary then the referee should let the two front rows engage with the minimum amount of instruction and once the scrum is settled the scrum half has lets say a maximum of five seconds to put the ball in. The referee should use the energy he presently expends in giving directions to the front rows to make sure the ball is fed in straight and then the shove can start. Any early shoving is penalised with a penalty.

  • Comment number 66.

    UKexpat123, apologies for my error.

    I agree that we do not need the hit what we need are stable scrums. I still think the ref should have the put in because then it will always go in straight and be a hooking contest. The push was always called by the tighthead in my day when playing against the head as he saw the ball into the scrum, so the contest relied on stability and strength.

    There really is no need for a 'hit' or a collapsed scrum, even at the highest level. If both sides know the ball won't come in unless and until the scrum is stable, straight and still, they will wait until then to compete in the scrum, otherwise they will concede a penalty or free kick.

  • Comment number 67.

    Part of the problem is the fact that the ref's have now , due to technology become also coaches[unnofficially] I cannot get to like the whole idea of the referee shouting repeatedly at players who are deliberately using foul play or gamesmanship before they award a penalty or free kick. This in my opinion is not the ref's job, and I know some will say it is letting everyone know why they award penalties etc. But the fact remains he should immediately punish the offender and if done again, penalise them and give the penalty 10 yards or whatever closer to the opponents goal line. I also cannot understand what happened to the old style linesman/woman who seeing an infringement on their side of the scrum was immediately on to the pitch to inform the ref. I am a season ticket holder at my local rugby club and have seen too many games ruined these last few years by what was once one of the best aspects of the game to watch. I have noticed in some matches there are teams who when told to crouch do so immediately and the opponents wait an inordinate amount of time before assuming the position. This leads to frustration and often the team, who does what the ref said immediately, getting punished because they have stood up out of frustration. With three officials on the pitch they should be able to easily stop this gamesmanship. I would hate to see the scrum going, but I have heard more and more people saying it is spoiling the game and asking for it to be taken out, even for a trial. I would never watch rugby union again if that happened. But I think there are enough laws already in the game for officials to stamp out the farce which the scrum has become. Take the coaching away from the ref's and let them control the game using the laws of the game.

  • Comment number 68.

    Brian Moore wrote a great article about this a year or so back and as a former OC with no real clue as to the underlying faults his opinion seemed to make perfect sense: That crooked feeds allowed hookers to join in the hit (charge) and destabilise the scrum and proper binding ensure the props were stable and at the right height.
    One further point is the dearth of strikes against the head - they always provided great panic / excitment and have all but disappeared from the game taking those emotions with them at scrum time.
    I'm with some of the older posters here in the sense that the hit is a new phenomenon and is effectively the entirety of most scrums. Collectively scrums are too big and powerful for this to be safe - let alone interesting.
    My vote goes with those calling for 'touch', 'engage' and 'bind' to be called simultaneously and for SH's to be made to feed a genuine hooking contest.

  • Comment number 69.

    As a referee and also coach I agree with a lot of the points raised here. Stopping of the clock for penalties kicks works in Rugby League so why not give it a go. Yes it may mean that games go on for an extra 5 - 10 minutes which will no doubt annoy Sky/ESPN/BBC because of the interuption to their schedules. But it means that all fans are getting better value for their money.

    Re the scrum - change the shirts. BM may think that this is not the cause but it doesn't help. Get the referees to talk to the players. One of the things that Rugby prides itself on over Football is the communication that goes on between the officials and the players and the respect that each has for each other. Lets improve this by getting the refs to talk to the front rows. I attend training evenings for the local refs society andwe regularly get players in to talk to us about areas of the game that we aren't experts in.

    For not putting the ball in straight award a penalty. Will mean that the 9's will think about it more.

    Make more of the offences at the scrum a penalty rather than a free kick.

    Finally the scrum needs to be coached better. The term collective responsibility is critical. There are too many players who play in the front row who haven't been coached how to bind properly, how to set themselves properly (feet, hips, shoulders), how to push properly.
    At the moment there have been very few serious accidents from front row collapses. The coaching needs to improve to ensure that the few become none.

    This wastes more

  • Comment number 70.

    @anonymous. I don't think we can have the referee putting the ball in. The main advantage in the scrum is knowing when the put-in will happen (a slight advantage comes from being able to hook with your right foot). In my days at SH, I waited for the hooker to signal with a tap of the hand of his left binding arm on the side of the LH prop.

  • Comment number 71.

    1 - Don't allow binding to the opposing side and the props are allowed to use the floor. No prop can be accused of bringing the scrum down other than the "assistant refs" seeing a "binding infringement" in that the props on the "blind side" of the referee are "using hands" or "tackling another player without the ball!"
    Then, on a collapse the referee could just shout "Scrum collapse, play on!"

    2 - Crounch - touch - pause - engage - we're set - and in (ball etc.)! The tempo of this is actually down to the "skill" of the referee to gauge a speed where the scrumaging is working and not.
    The scrum-half is only allowed to feed the ball, over the mark fairly and squarely (at right angles to the touch line without putting spin on it) and shall not move as to cause an advantage to his team.
    Where a scrum-half doesn't put the ball in as described above when told to by the referee (even if this is to the feet of the the opposing team) is penalised!

    3 - The referee says how many collapses are allowed before having to give a penalty best of three, five, seven etc. to cater juniors. Two infringments and you give away possesion!

  • Comment number 72.

    I think that one way to speed up the scrum is to award a penalty against a scrum-half who has the opportunity to put the ball into the scrum and fails to do so.

    This will prevent numerous resets resulting from the scrum-half waiting for the scrum to collapse if he does not perceive his team to have the advantage.
    This may also result in a few more wins against the head, which would be exciting for fans.

 

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.