the scrum

“The scrum is a fundamental and dynamic part of our game. It is important that we continue to promote the best possible player welfare standards and this trial process is about putting players first and delivering a reduction of the forces on engagement, which could have significant positive effects on long-term player welfare.” – Bernard Lapasset, IRB chairman.

So yet AGAIN, the IRB have decided to change the scrum engagement calls, to try and solve the problem of scrums constantly not being completed and eating up game time. This hugely technical area of the game can be fantastically interesting to pore over and analyse for die-hard fans, but let’s all be honest, when we go to a live game, we want to see the exciting and dynamic game we love, not the stodgy game of constant scrum resets that is beginning to unfold.
It’s gone from Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, to Crouch, Touch, Set and for 2013/14, it will now be Crouch, Bind, Set. Props, under the new laws, will have to crouch upon the call of the same name, bind using their outside arm when the referee calls “bind” and then the two props will then hold their bind until “set” is called. At that point, the two packs will engage and the contest will begin. This new system was trialled at the recent IRB Pacific Rugby Cup competition, and was successful in improving scrum completion rates.
However, the question everyone’s thinking is ‘will this REALLY change anything?’ Personally, I didn’t see much improvement from CTPE to CTS, and I’m more than a little bit sceptical about whether this new call will bring any benefits to the game. Essentially, all it is is giving a new name to a similar routine. You could call an apple a Mars bar to try and improve it, but it’s still an apple at the end of the day!
Maybe what we should be focusing in on at scrum time is the ‘hit.’ Designed to try and destabilise the opposition and to gain an advantage before the ball is fed in, it’s not actually in the laws of rugby, but for some reason or another, referees and officials have been lenient and let it develop and instil itself in the modern game. Some might argue that this is just breeding massive, immensely strong front rows, stuck at prop purely for their ‘oooompf’ in the hit, rather than their technical scrummaging ability.
Not only should we make games more enjoyable for spectators and aim to protect the art of scrummaging, but we should also promote player safety. For example, removing, or at least significantly reducing the illegal ‘hit’ in the scrum, could reduce compressional forces by an astonishing 25%, and the hit itself is one of the main causes of scrum collapse, therefore we would see more of them completed first time round. The chief medical officer for the IRB, Dr Martin Raftery, commented that the reduction of compressional forces is likely to have ‘a positive impact on injury rates at the top level of the game where forces are highest.’ He added that it would be a ‘logical and proactive step in improving player welfare.’

Whether Crouch, Bind, Set is the answer is yet to be discovered. I suppose we will find out over the next year. The IRB chairman himself, Bernard Lapasset, acknowledges that this new sequence isn’t about ‘overcoming all the challenges of the scrum,’ but he does say that it will be a ‘forward step’ aiming to make scrummaging a ‘positive, fair and, above all, safe contest.’