The importance of rugby union’s scrum

warrenj Roar Rookie

By warrenj, warrenj is a Roar Rookie


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    There was a time in recent televised history when channels had a timer at the bottom of the screen to illustrate how much time of the game was being dedicated to scrums.

    This counted how much time was being wasted while backs were just standing around and waiting until the big men upfront channelled the ball out into the backline.

    There have been changes over the years, and referees now speed up the process by communicating with the front rows clearly, or penalising a prop for incorrect binding or dangerous engagement.

    This has sped up the game a lot, but sometimes penalties are not the props’ fault, as their binding may slip off the ultra-tight jerseys or they touch the ground for an instant to get some stability.

    There have been many scrums when both front rows engage with such force that they slip or buckle due to the immense pressure generated, but the referee would select a prop he feels was at fault and blows the whistle for a penalty. Yes, this has sped up the process of scrums and has given some easy points to teams, but it still has not changed the importance of scrums in the game of rugby.

    The scrum is essentially a show of strength and power. The eight biggest men form a solid unit and push against an opposing unit. The team that dominates the scrum is usually the team that can win a game. The scrum becomes many things: a psychological weapon, a platform to attack, and a defensive tactic.

    As a psychological tactic, the scrum that dominates can mentally take eight men out of the match. Each time a strong scrum draws a penalty or forces the other to retreat, the tight five feel fantastic about their effort and receive a pat on the back from their fellow players.

    When a prop forces a tighthead scrum or causes his opposite number to buckle, they sometimes fist-pump the air, knowing that they have their rival on the ropes and that a few more big engagements will produce front football, allowing their team to attack harder and with more confidence.

    The psychological damage done to a losing scrum can be seen on dejected faces of the front row, and it’s a difficult slump to come out of once you know that you are beaten at the job you train hard for.

    The attacking platforms produced from scrums can be exploited by the backline. The scrum is a set piece, so the backline has a chance to set things up as they would on the training field and execute a play to get over the try line. If you doubt this, just watch The Rugby Club‘s Plays of the Week for round nine (you can find the highlight video on a variety of social websites).

    Each of their chosen three tries were off the back of a scrum. Of course the backline had the skills to execute the plays and get tries, but they had the time and field position from a scrum. These are very recent examples of such set plays, but you are able to find evidence of this type of attack dating back to the first scrums of rugby.

    It is more difficult to form a scrum as a defensive tactic as the front row has to be highly skilled, strong and a bit lucky to pull off a tighthead. If throughout the game the scrum has been solid, the team has a chance to push the attacking team off the ball and relieve pressure.

    The hooker has to be aware of when the ball is being tossed in by the scrumhalf and can challenge the strike. Technically the ball should be thrown into the scrum down the centre of the tunnel, but that isn’t always the case, so the hooker has to be alert to be able to challenge for the ball.

    Physics suggests that the team feeding the ball into the scrum will be slightly weaker, because the hooker needs to lift a foot off the ground to strike the ball, while the opposing hooker can gain leverage by planting both feet into a stronger position. If the defensive hooker is skilled and is in tune with his props, he can challenge the strike by lifting a foot and sacrificing a solid base.

    This is a high-risk, high-reward tactic and skilled players are able to pull it off. If successful, the defensive scrum now becomes a weapon, and the attacking scrum is now under pressure to stabilise and win their own ball.

    For the general spectator, the scrum may seem a boring and drawn out process, but there is no other game that has such a regulation where the pure force of power is exhibited.

    The rugby league scrums are mere huddles and an excuse to keep the big men occupied for the moment. In the NFL, the scrummage is not a show of sustained strength, rather explosive power, which if unsuccessful in the first hit, leaves little chance for a player to be involved in the rest of the play.

    The rugby scrum is a show of sustained strength and tactics allowing for many aspects of the game to be brought into play.

    The scrum was, is and will always be the centrepiece of rugby, as a chance for the big men to get on the field, and as a pure simple test of their ability.

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    The Crowd Says (26)

    • April 30th 2012 @ 7:38am
      oikee said | April 30th 2012 @ 7:38am | ! Report

      Rugby union should be played on AFL grounds.
      By all means keep the scrum, but sharing fields with other codes has to be dropped. If you dont believe me, just have a look at the state of Suncorp, it is the worst i have even seen, a complete mess.
      It will only take a few more injuries to elite players of other codes before its ugly head will be raised.
      These players are ripping fields to pieces.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 30th 2012 @ 10:16am
        warrenj said | April 30th 2012 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        I agree that there should be better maintained fields for rugby and sports that potentially damage the fields, but AFL fields are a last option.
        AFL is an aerial game so stadium seats are built lower to the ground in a gentle terrace style. Rugby is mainly played at ground level, so seats are built higher off the ground with a dramatic terrace. I remember watching a rugby match at Subiaco Oval and spending more time watching the big screen than the action on the field, because we couldn’t really see what was happening on the field. Compared to the colosseum style stadiums, where you are able to look down into the action, the AFL fields allow you to look up. I can only speak for Subiaco, so I’m not sure about the other stadiums, but on TV, the seats seem to be set up in a flat structure.
        There maybe nothing wrong with the field itself, rather the stadium seating structure.

    • April 30th 2012 @ 7:41am
      Enrique TOPO Rodriguez said | April 30th 2012 @ 7:41am | ! Report

      Dear Warren J, (yes an open letter to you and your followers)

      Very occassionaly I enter a conversation in blogs like this because I run the risk of people recognising my name whilst I do not know who you people are on the other side of the screen, this is one occassion I do because I see an opportunity to redress the subject providing some education for those that know less than me and less than you too about scrummaging.

      It really amazes me that you could write with such authority, backed by THE ROAR (reputable and opinionated site). However, I get the feeling you (with due respect) need to: a) watch more rugby; b) discuss it with more people that know about it; or c) read more about scrummaging, or the three options! On the “discussion option”, don’t need to search too far, the Zavos family (wogs like me) know a fair bit about the subject.

      I’d like to start that if in a rugby match at times it appears that the FORWARDS are working for the BACKS or vice versa, it is only an ilusion and a wrong perception. Teamwork is what makes them interact towards common objectives. There is no written or verbal Law that dictates who will or won’t score the 1st or last try of the game, or How are you going to win (tactics & strategy)

      “There have been changes over the years, and referees now speed up the process by communicating with the front rows clearly”!
      Are we watching the same game Warren? How do you define speed-up? One (just one) of the problems with scrums is the interventionist and patronising attitude of referees that pretend to know more than the players about scrum. They just happen to be trained on THE LAW and should stick to ruling on that, nothing else (Judge-like)

      In your extended article where you touch on many subjects about scrums even including a comment about NRL scrums, not once you refer, alude or imply SKILL or TECHNIQUE, yes just Strength and Power! (Are Skills and Techniques only reserved to backs’ actions?) If I was neofyte, I’d think that Forwards are part of a “Roman Circus” where the biggest and the strongest will prevail. Yet, not completely true! to survive any contest or life struggle apart from ably using your body you also need to use your head. This is what happens at International level and at a RWC, otherwise you would have 16 forwards cartered-off to a hospital even before the 80 minutes are over.

      Well done on all other accurate information you have disseminated, it helps all and sundry with understanding the finer points of rugby.

      All the best to you and all scrummites!


      • Roar Rookie

        April 30th 2012 @ 9:53am
        warrenj said | April 30th 2012 @ 9:53am | ! Report


        All points taken into consideration, but I do elude to skill and technique when talking about the scrum. If I had to get into a discussion about correct technique and skill, I would be creating a whole new article. What we see on TV, is the brute strength that is generated by proper technique and skill. I can get into all the intricacies of proper scrumming and technique, but I’ll create another article, an article based in physics and the human skeletal positions and anatomic motions, which would be a boring read. (and I would need a number of visual aids).

        As far as I have seen, the refs are communicating more openly with players. The refs call front rows for a quick meeting before a match and the good referees communicate on the field with the front rows, which can be heard via the ref’s mic. I didn’t not say anything about them knowing more about scrumming than the players – in fact I agree with you completely that they really don’t know a thing about scrums besides the application of the law. I state that refs often penalise a player when clearly there is no need to.

        I watch a ton of rugby, close to 80% of the Super Rugby games and every Southern Hemisphere test match. I have grown up in the scrumming ranks and have played the game for over 25 years. I have gained coaching certification and IRB law administration at school level matches. I consider myself well versed in the game of rugby.

        If you doubt the fact that refs have sped up the process of scrumming times, just look at the number of resets per game compared to a few years ago. I remember watching a 6 nations match (I cannot recall what teams were playing) and the broadcaster timed the phases of play dedicated to scrums. At the end of the match, the clock read 15 minutes and some odd seconds dedicated to scrumming and resets, which wasn’t that unusual for the time. If compared to now, the time dedicated to scrumming is nowhere near this as the refs either award penalties or free kicks (unjust or not) to keep the game moving.

        To finish off, there are 15 men on the field and all 15 men work towards winning. In open play, it doesn’t matter if you are wearing number 1 or 15, if you are there in support, your teammate will look for you and use you, working together to score points.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 30th 2012 @ 4:44pm
        Sharminator said | April 30th 2012 @ 4:44pm | ! Report

        Hi Topo,
        this isnt really related to the topic, but seeing your name I remembered you used to coach me back at Sydney Uni in 2nd or 3rd grade in the late 1990´s.

        Ive actually done the reverse to you, and moved to South America, where I`ve been playing rugby in Paraguay for the last 6 years, including for the national team here.

        Anyway, cheers,

    • April 30th 2012 @ 8:49am
      formeropenside said | April 30th 2012 @ 8:49am | ! Report

      I’d prefer to see a counter for time wasted NOT scrummaging.

    • April 30th 2012 @ 10:55am
      JIM said | April 30th 2012 @ 10:55am | ! Report

      having watched and played rugby most of my life, i love a good scrum contest. I think that a big part of the problem is the way it is managed on TV. When you are at the ground, you sense the tension from the scrum a lot more than when you get commentators using the break in action to chat about other things.

      When you are there and watching the players approaching the scrum and taking the bindings you learn a lot by their body language. Watching a good scrum getting ready to scrum is great to watch. Watching the backs get into positions and the little budges and winks between all of the players about what they are going to try. Unfortunately most of the TV commentators dont seem to get it. I think that some more commentators with experience in the tight 5 would go a long way to making scrums a more entertaining part of the game on TV. Better camera angles would also help.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 30th 2012 @ 11:57am
        warrenj said | April 30th 2012 @ 11:57am | ! Report

        Agreed completely. Recently Super Sport contracted Vic Matfield as a commentator and use him for his experience and knowledge and he can usually call a play accurately and explains well what is happening in the scrums and lineouts.

    • April 30th 2012 @ 5:21pm
      Enrique TOPO Rodriguez said | April 30th 2012 @ 5:21pm | ! Report

      Hello Mr Sharminator,

      Do remember you well! Congratulations on your international representation of Paraguay and all the terrorising you must have done in Parque Caballero, Asuncion.

      Are you still living there? If so did you get the hang of the “mate drink”?

      Kind regards, tOPO

    • Roar Guru

      April 30th 2012 @ 6:40pm
      jeznez said | April 30th 2012 @ 6:40pm | ! Report

      Warren, always good to see an article promoting scrummaging. You should definitely write one from a technical perspective. I’ve written a couple and they are generally well received. Am always keen to get other perspectives on the skills and structure.

      • Roar Rookie

        April 30th 2012 @ 9:13pm
        warrenj said | April 30th 2012 @ 9:13pm | ! Report

        When I have the time and gather my resources, I’ll have a go at writing a technical aspect of the scrum. A project for another day and it’s something that I have been studying for years, so it’ll be interesting to see what I can personally bring to the table.