From put-ins to penalties, we run through the set-piece
What is a scrum in rugby union?
The scrum in rugby is either a way of restarting the game so the backs can do their stuff or it is a way of exerting dominance, physical and mental, on the opposition and is the most important thing in the game. It takes all sorts. Compare and contrast with the scrum in rugby league, which is a method of getting the ball back into play as soon as possible.
Front-rowers love scrums or they wouldn’t be in there and some of them can leave you glazy-eyed with chat about hip angles, binding and foot position. It really is another world.
A scrum is awarded for a knock-on or forward pass, if there is no advantage to the opposition, if the ball is trapped in a ruck or a maul and sometimes teams, who think they have got the better of opponents at scrum-time, can elect to take a scrum instead of a penalty.
The mentality is we are bigger and harder than you so we won’t take three points, we’ll push you over the line and get a try. Or if you continue giving scrum penalties away, one of you will be sent to the sin-bin.
If both sides have 15 players on the pitch, the scrum is formed, on the referee’s mark parallel to the touchlines, with eight players per team, three in the front row, two locks and a back-row trio. And the teams have 30 seconds to form it. Dream on.
Then the fun starts. The referee calls ‘crouch’ when the front rows bend, then comes the ‘bind’ call. Here the loosehead binds with opposing tighthead and vice versa, and the hooker is left defenceless with arms around both his props. Then comes ‘set’ from the referee and the whole pantomime begins when the ball is put in.
What about the scrum put-in?
The scrum-half puts the ball in, down the tunnel, in one movement and is supposed to put it in straight, well straight-ish. The No 9 can have shoulder in line with the middle of the tunnel so they are slightly closer to their side but the ball should still be put in straight. Of course, it never is with nines feeding the ball somewhere close to their No 8’s feet and inducing a fit of apoplexy amongst many supporters.
It must be easiest law in rugby to police and week after week referees don’t bother to make sure the ball is put in straight. It is not rocket science but they still can’t do it and it drives fans mad.
The hooker of the team in possession then hooks the ball, opposition hookers often don’t even bother to strike and nick one ‘against the head’ instead preferring to push and try to shove their opponents off the ball. It should end up at the No 8’s feet but it can come out anywhere apart from back out of the tunnel.
The No 8 can pick up if the nine gets behind the offside line, the back foot of the scrum, or the nine can do the job and get the ball out to the backs. Or the No 8 can keep the ball at their feet as their pack drives the opposition backwards.
If putting the ball in straight should be an easy thing to fix, refereeing the rest of the scrum is an utter nightmare and the reason why more former front-rowers should take up the whistle.
Safety has become paramount in the game and most scrum infringements are for things that can cause injury. These, such as props boring in, driving opponents upwards, letting their knee hit the ground or doing anything else that could collapse the scrum, end up in penalties and dubious looks, or wry grins, from the offenders. No one really knows what goes on in there.
And if a scrum does not come to a satisfactory ending, or if the ref doesn’t really know who the offenders are, we have a reset scrum, which can take ages and eat up time when the teams should be playing rugby.
As if that isn’t enough, the game can be reduced to having uncontested scrums, basically if a side does not have the right number of competent front-row players, through injury or yellow and red cards. These are even more tedious with both packs leaning against other, without pushing, and the team putting the ball in retaining possession without any effort. It is just a means of restarting the game, which is where we came in.
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