Here’s the first thing you need to know about the scrum: it’s not broken! It’s the same scrum. We all played with this scrum. The positions are the same, the binds are the same, you still push the same way.
So why is this scrum falling over?
Neglect.Not player neglect and not coaching neglect. The people neglecting the scrum are the referees. The same thing that happened to the ruck and the maul is happening to the scrum. And as with the ruck and the maul, the fix is for the referees to simply apply the laws as they are set out in the IRB laws book.
Example 1 — Law 20.1.g:
The referee will call “crouch” then “touch”. The front rows crouch and using their outside
arm each prop touches the point of the opposing prop’s outside shoulder. The props then
withdraw their arms. The referee will then call “pause”. Following a pause the referee will
then call “engage”. The front rows may then engage. The “engage” call is not a command
but an indication that the front rows may come together when ready.
The front rows crouch and using their outside arms, each prop touches the point of the opposing prop’s outside shoulder. It couldn’t be clearer! It’s not touching fingertips or arms. It’s the shoulders that they must touch.
Example 2 — Law 20.1.j:
Stationary and parallel. Until the ball leaves the scrum half’s hands, the scrum must be
stationary and the middle line must be parallel to the goal lines. A team must not shove the
scrum away from the mark before the ball is thrown in.
The scrum must be stationary before the scrum-half throws the ball. This means it’s impossible for the scrum-half to feed the scrum on the hit! He must wait for the scrum to be stationary.
Example 3 — Law 20.3.c, d and e:
(c) Binding by loose head props. A loose head prop must bind on the opposing tight head
prop by placing the left arm inside the right arm of the tight head and gripping the tight
head prop’s jersey on the back or side. The loose head prop must not grip the chest, arm,
sleeve or collar of the opposition tight head prop. The loose head prop must not exert any
Sanction: Penalty kick
(d) Binding by tight head props. A tight head prop must bind on the opposing loose head prop
by placing the right arm outside the left upper arm of the opposing loose head prop. The
tight head prop must grip the loose head prop’s jersey with the right hand only on the back
or side. The tight head prop must not grip the chest, arm, sleeve or collar of the opposition
loose head prop. The tight head prop must not exert any downward pressure.
Sanction: Penalty kick
(e) Both the loose head and tight head props may alter their bind providing they do so in
accordance with this Law.
Both props must grip on the back or the side of their opponents’ jersey. And if they get it wrong they can change it to get it right!
Here is what I think is happening to our scrum now. Our officials have become obsessed with the chant and not with the laws around the chant. They are not generally checking that the touch is on the shoulder. This means they are not policing the distance the front rows are apart!
They are standing five metres from the scrum to deliver the chant. This means they are not policing the binds of the front rowers!
And they are allowing halfbacks to feed the scrum on the hit. This means they are ignoring the stable scrum law.
It seems to me that without changing one single law, and just by following the ones already created, we can come up with a structure that works. How do we know it will work? Well, it worked before. I was playing when the “crouch, touch, engage” chant was introduced. It worked. It worked because of the way the referees policed it.
If I were the referees’ boss this is how I would instruct my guys to set up a scrum:
- Stand between the halfback and the scrum. Instruct the halfback to stay behind you until you step away.
- The scrum forms. Crouch! No change. Touch! Do not continue until four hands touch four shoulders. Pause! The word pause is the pause — that’s why you say it! Engage!
- Stay were you are. Ensure all four props are correctly bound on backs or sides. If not, instruct the offender to move his arm or hand.
- Check for a stable scrum, then step back and indicate to the halfback that he may feed the ball.
A question to all you 40-, 50-, 60- and 70-year-old rugby players: do parts of this sound familiar? If yes, that’s because parts of it are. Somewhere along the line our officialdom, not for the first time, moved away from something that worked. We will never know why, but that doesn’t mean we can’t say it’s not working and move back to something that does. That’s what we did with the ruck, so why can’t we do it with the scrum?
The only hindrance to my theory is another law I found while researching this article:
No Delay. As soon as the front rows have come together, the scrum half must throw in the
ball without delay. The scrum half must throw in the ball when told to do so by the referee.
The scrum half must throw in the ball from the side of the scrum first chosen.
I believe this has been a law for quite a while. Some of my Green and Gold Rugby colleague would certainly have some knowledge of the history of this law. But it seems to be a contradiction of the law that requires a stable scrum. For my system to work, Law 20.5 would have to be interpreted differently. We all know that this is not beyond our referees.
I have not mentioned individual players. Players come and go; the scrum does not. I have not mentioned hip and shoulder position. No matter what laws and interpretations apply, this issue and many others remain. I have written this piece in the hope of starting a discussion that leads to change. We fixed the lineout. We appear to be fixing the ruck. Now we can fix the scrum.