Rugby Union is a complex physical sport, which continually has talking points on how the game is played from a safety and entertainment point of view. The scrum is currently at the forefront and has raised many questions.
The scrum is regarded as a restart after an infringement but is a crucial part of the game and a dominant scrum can determine the winner of a game. This has made scrummaging more important and more competitive. Due to this tactics, players and laws have changed over the years with the large majority thinking at the detriment of the game of rugby.
The professionalism of rugby changed the game in many ways mainly training and the size of players. Props have shifted from short fat players to athletes such as Andrew Sheridan who is 6″ 4 and nearly 19 stone. This has put more power and pressure on the scrum and the players involved.
The scrum has always been a controversial part of the game. Though a very low percentage, there have been serious injuries and deaths caused by scrummaging.
“The proportion of scrum injuries is tiny compared to those caused by the tackle.” The “catastrophic” injury rate is 0.8 per 100,000 players, compared with 8.2 per 100,000 in gymnastics.”
The rugby authorities are very aware of the dangers and have commissioned research and introduced new laws to hopefully reduce the risk of injury or worse.
In recent years the introduction of “Crouch, touch, pause, engage” has been implemented to control the engagement and stop charging in scrums. As a front row player myself, the touch aspect does control the distance between the two teams but the sequence as a whole doesn’t work. If you have crouched and touched you are already pausing in a crouched position. The introduction of this law is to make the engage safer but in some aspects it has made it more dangerous. The front row has to hold the impending drive of the other 5 players behind until the exact time of the referees engage. This can cause early engagements as teams try to preempt the referees timing or struggle to hover in the crouch position with 5 players driving on them.
Rugby is played at many different levels and the scrum can raise different questions at the varied degrees of the game. At the professional level reffing is the main concern. As rugby players at the peak of the game compete in the scrum, many collapse and referees have the job to establish who the offender was. TV pundits and fans alike are confused by most decisions. These continued collapsed scrums are not just the referees fault but if they fail to control them a game can be spoilt. The scrum is an art form that unless you’ve played in the front row, you probably have no idea of what is going on. This makes referees ill equipped to adjudicate them. Do rugby boards need to consult ex props to discover how best to control and preserve the art of scrummaging?
At a junior level the main concern is safety, which is understandable. Some campaigners want scrums to be outlawed at age group level to avoid any injuries. Although this would be true until 16 or 18, I feel it would cause more in the long run. Only players with front row experience can play prop or hooker. How are players meant to gain this experience if not at junior level?
Through the age groups scrummaging is introduced slowly, firstly with only six players, then 10, then onto the full 16. This allows young players to learn how to scrummage under less pressure and by the time they are old enough they have the experience and strength to play open age. If a player who is classed as a prop at junior level then steps up to senior rugby, he would have to then learn how to scrummage or risk being seriously hurt.
Also another massive impact would be the players who prop. Rugby is known as a game for all shapes and sizes, abolishing scrums at junior level would leave the players of ‘prop mould’ on the sideline as their weight and size would no longer be an advantageous attribute. These players maybe lost from rugby altogether and thus we loose the games future props.
Scrummaging is an important part of rugby and to loose it at junior level would risk future injury and risk the future of the scrum its self.
At what ever level the scrum is an important part of the game and for safety and the spectacle of the game it does need addressing. There is no obvious answer as this would have been implemented long ago. The result will have to keep the competitive art of scrummaging alive but at the same time ensure the safety of players and keep the game flowing for paying spectators. The suggestion of eradicating the ‘hit’ has been suggested, this may have long term benefits to the bodies of players and reduce the amount of collapsing engages that hinder the game at the moment. The ‘hit’ is one of the scrums oldest factors and is a skill in it’s self. If it was to disappear it may be the start of the end of scrums and no one wants to see a rugby league scrum in union, do they?