The International Rugby Board Council has at last announced the implementation of a global trial of the “crouch, bind, set” scrum engagement sequence. The new sequence is aimed at enhancing player welfare by reducing impact on engagement by up to 25 per cent in elite competition.
The scrum engagement has been the bane of the modern game with half of all scrums called at Rugby World Cup 2011 collapsing, with this figure increasing to 59% in the latest six nations. With so much time wasted per game setting and re-setting scrums (each scrum took an average of 61.02 seconds in this years six nations) it is no wonder fans are becoming so disillusioned with this element of the game. Even more worryingly an average of 14 minutes and 27 seconds was spent per game scrummaging, this equates to over 18% of the game time spent with the ball not in play.
It is great therefore to see that the IRB are looking to address the issue to try to reduce the amount of time spent setting scrums. Starting from next season props will be expected to bind using their outside arm after the referee has called “bind” in the new sequence. The front rows will maintain the bind until the referee calls “set”. At that point, the two packs will engage. This should hopefully help to reduce the number of accidental collapses when props haven’t been able to find a bind on tight fitting shirts whilst also making it more obvious when a prop deliberately drops their bind.
In addition to the new sequence the IRB will instruct referees to ensure that the ball does not enter play unless the scrum is square and stationary and that a straight throw-in is strictly policed. This is another fantastic move that will hopefully see scrum halves being penalised for feeding the ball into the second rows feet. This has again been a major issue in top level rugby as the crooked feed reduce the potential for any real contest at scrum time. It will also mean that hookers will finally have to being living up to their name by actually hooking for the ball, a technique many younger players will be unfamiliar with.
Whilst the new engagement process seems a positive forwards step as not only will it hopefully help reduce the number of collapsed scrums but also help improve player welfare by reducing the pressure on front row players. However it does not fully address a number of other issues at scrum time. First of all when you have two teams of 8 men crouched together in such a manner, often with some players weighing in excess of 120 kg, there is a tremendous amount of power waiting to be released. Having experienced the scrum and in particular the front row I know how difficult it can be to maintain the crouched position waiting for referees to call out the engagement sequence. The IRB therefore needs to look at standardising the amount of time referees spend calling out the engagement sequence as much as is safely possible.
In addition to this there is still no mention of scrum halves feeding the ball in reasonable time. On far too many occasions in recent games I have had to watch scrum halves delay feeding the ball until they perceive their team to have an advantage which often does not come. In a similar manner to the new five second ruck timing, there should be an introduction of say a three second window in which the ball can be fed or the team hands over a free kick to the opposition. This would also reduce the issue of early pushing in the scrum as how on earth are two packs weighing in at over 1000 kg supposed to avoid pushing one another after the initial collision.
Although far from perfect the new irb scrum sequence coupled with several minor tweaks seems a positive step forwards. It should help reduce the amount of time wasted by scrums whilst allowing for a proper contest that reduces the impact on the players involved. It is important that the scrum never becomes uncontested like in league as a fully functioning scrum is still one of the great sites of the game, but this shouldn’t come at the expense of other elements of rugby.