Crouch….touch….pause ….reset!!!

Over the last few seasons its become very apparent that there’s been a major issue creeping around the game….Scrummaging!!!!

What has happend to the days where the 2 packs lined up together engaged, the ball fed down the middle channel, the Hookers competed to win the ball and it rarely collapsed!! 

Now we have to endure watching endless resets and teams being penalised.

The scrum has evolved hugely since the beginning of the game. Originally it was a huge difference from what we’ve come to know as the uniformed huddle called the scrum. In the dawn of time when rugby started, the scrum was a totally different entity. The scrum would occur when a stalemate happened during the match. If a player was trapped with the ball he would shout ‘held’, this would be replied by an opponent who would call ‘have it down’! Once the was called the ball was then placed upon the floor and the 2 sides would gather and compete for the ball. There was no requirement of a tunnel, the ball represented the off side line. There was actually no designated forwards that operated the ‘first up, first down’ system.

In 1905 the All Blacks started the creation of the specific positions, with 8 forwards but played with a 2-3-2 formation. This enabled the extra forward to be free to impeed the scrum half. Eventually the IRB deemed this practice to be unfair so brought in the rule of the 3 man front row. Again the rest of the scrum had no set formation so teams tinkered with 3-2-3, 3-4-1 and 3-3-2 arrangements. Then the South African’s managed to perfect the 3-4-1 set creating the pack we know today. Their formation had the hooker loosely bound freeing him to swing to win the ball, the locks (second row) bound against the props securing the rest of the scrum.

The next tweak came in the 1960’s restricting the loose forward from slipping their bind and breaking off prior to the ball leaving the scrum. The flanker had to remain bound with 1 arm and no8 had to keep both hands on the locks. One more change was to allow to pick the ball up when it arrived at his feet, whereas before it was only the scrum half allowed to take the ball from the scrum.

In 2007 the IRB decided to try and regulate the scrum much more trying to make it a safer place to be. So here came the introduction of crouch..touch..pause and engage. By doing this it controlled the distance between front rows and reducing the impact of the ‘hit’. A change to squad numbers changed also from 22 to 23, having to have 2 props and a hooker as a necessity on the bench. If you run out of front row replacements the scrums would have to become uncontested, but the team will have to drop to 14 players as not to make unfair gain from uncontested scrums.

This system was trialed first of all in France through all flights of divisions. In 2006/07 season 145 matches ended in uncontested scrums due to injuries so for the 2007/8 season they rang the changes. By implimenting the new changes this season saw some major differences, out of the 994 games played in the French leagues only 2 finished as uncontested scrums! The IRB decided that in 2009 to implement this across the board over all unions accross the world.

The main issue that appears to be ensuing in the scrum is the penalising for the infringements. This can range from front rows not engaging squarely, engaging too early, tight head bores into the hooker(restricting his movement), lose head lifting tight head and so on including many different ways of collapsing. All this result in either a reset or eventually a penalty.

The 1 rule that appears to of been let to lapse is the scrum half’s put in. This should be as the engagement happens a smooth single movement straight down the centre of the tunnel. From watching the game it is now very apparent that the scrum half is able to delay the put in so when creaks start to show they put the ball in and the scrum collapses, resulting in a penalty. Also feeding the ball into the scrum now appears to be the norm, resulting in the hooker to almost be redundant of their scrummaging role.

There are so many things that really do need to be looked at from the scrums perspective and really needs to be sorted or it will start to consume the game. Too much time in a fixture is spent messing with resets.

With the crouch…touch…pause and engage there seems to be no consistency in timings from refs, some are quick others can almost seem to take an age putting pressure on the 2 packs twitching to make the hit, resulting in collapse and generally reset of penalty. A few refs are renowned for being able to control and enforce upon the scrum, great in open play but poor under the set piece weak. The one problem I can see with the referees is the majority have never been inside a scrum, therefore not grasping the true technical side of most positions.

A topic that has come to light time and time again is the shirts. Due to the advances the sport has taken on, tighter shirts have now become part of the game. By having such snug shirts it is quite tricky to grab  the shirt to tackle, but also increasingly hard to make a decent bind increasing the chance of once again the collapse.

So what can be done to stop the scrum from becoming a tedious part of match and the hard fought gladiatorial contest we once new and loved!!!

My 1 suggestion would be for the IRB to form an international scrummaging board of ex and world renowned forwards. Players of the ilk of Sean Fitzpatrick, Brian Moore, Keith Wood, john Kirwin,OS du Randt, Jason Leonard and so on….to name but a handful of legends.These members would have first hand knowledge of being on the front line, meaning they would have an idea how to remedy the issues. Once a list of solutions had been drawn up everybody should adhere to the ruling including consistency in referees.

Unless the scrum is truly sorted it could end up going down the road of rugby league scrummaging a sight I personally would never want to see!!

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  1. 1

    Hello Matthew,

    Congratulations on your excellent article. From the historic account of the scrum to your points of concern, the very sore spots of current scrummaging conundrum, well done.

    On the 1905 All Blacks, you well pointed out they used to have the 2-3-2 formation. The 8th forward…… was called “Rover” who would introduce the ball into the scrum and almost simultaneously the half-back would collect the ball at the back of the scrum (they had to adopt this practice because the ball came out super-fast). Other times they opted for the tactic of using the “Rover” to pack as a 4th front rower, hence adding power, stability and hooking ability to the front row when needed.

    Your analysis of the problem areas affecting the scrum is spot-on. Guessing or theorising here, I think somebody (or a committee) back in 2006/07 applied the novel universal principle of “cut the cake in smaller parts so you can digest it easier” and came up with the simplistic C-T-P-E solution, in the name of “safety” and control for the sake of control (referee) without properly assessing the likely consequences.

    However, as we have seen by the results of the last 5 years, they have created a gigantic problem in tampering with the scrum structure and as a consequence overcomplicating the engagement sequence. This can be exemplified by a metaphor of a strong building that had an implosion shaking the foundations and some of the inhabitants are uncertain of what to do, others have took the law into their own hands. No doubt all of them most probably well intended.

    The remedy lies on another universal principle: “less is more”. Nonetheless, this is not just a matter of pruning a few branches from a sick tree. It requires a complete “technique and law overhaul” in order to distribute responsibilities, functionality and efficiency throughout all stakeholders as evenly as possible.

    Have recently completed a 180 page manuscript (scrum thesis) that I called “The ART of Scrummaging”. You may download a 16 page synopsis/teaser PDF from home page in my website ( this may give you an idea of the contents and depth of the subject (Index). I’ve been working in this project on and off for the last 15 years. Currently have been slowed down a bit by some copyright issues but hope to be able to publish it and distribute it worldwide soon.

    With this publication I’m hoping to help coaches, players and referees to understand the technical principles and intricacies of scrummaging for the betterment of the game.

    Furthermore, I wish to contribute with solutions and options into towards the discussions that the IRB may have together with other scrum experts as you have indicated.

    Thanks for your time, feel free to email me any questions you may have.

    Kind regards,

    Enrique TOPO Rodriguez E: (1977-1987) 26 test Australia – 15 test Argentina – 1 test Tahiti.

  2. 2

    Hi Matthew

    The scrums has always (and I suppose will always) be an area of mystery for any referee. The front row has always said: “No ref actually knows what is going on in a scrum”.

    I believe that it is a case of the more the IRB tries to change the laws and make scrums safer the more chaotic the scrum has become.

    I whole heartily agree with your suggestion of compiling a committee of legends who has been there and done that, to come up with a solution to the scrum and have it sorted out for once and for all! However, having said that I do not think that the IRB will be quick to appoint a specialist panel in the near future and they would have to be pushed into that direction.

    Congratulations on a well written article.

    Kind Regards


  3. 3

    It is simple. If I the front rower feel uncomfortable and are in the position I wanted to be I will collapse the scrum for a reset. No calls no only legal ways of binding is going to stop me. And if the opposition prop is binding suspiciously I will win a penalty for my efforts. Refs are under the illusion if they bind legally they can not bring it down by pulling down. Good for them. Nice way to milk 3 pointers out of them

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