Is the modern day scrum slowing rugby games down?

October 27 2014

It doesn’t matter which match you watch, chances are you’ve been annoyed with the scrum. Collapsed front rows, constant resets and put-ins that are never straight. They can make a fast moving game stop at a standstill for anywhere up to 10 minutes; so why exactly are scrums holding up the game?

Changing the rules

Many players, coaches, referees, officials and spectators have called for changes to be made in the way the scrum is carried out. These protests meant that the RFU decided to bring in new laws in the 2013 season in order to combat the defects in the scrum. These new rules focus on ensuring that the players bind and make the connection before the command ‘engage’ is given. Another major change is the way in which refs are looking at the ball being introduced into the scrum, with any put-in that isn’t straight being penalised.

We’ve now seen a full international competition under these new rules and although it is undeniable that the changes have made a difference, it hasn’t quite had the impact that was hoped for. In some games, these rules have had a very negative impact.

Problems with New Rules

One of the biggest problems with the new rules is the way in which the referees monitor them. While some are still very lenient others are very strict, delivering penalties, free kicks and yellow cards in accordance to the rules.

One such example of this was during the Wales vs. South Africa, which saw a ‘deliberate collapse of the scrum’ to which the ref gave yellow cards to both Jenkins and Oosthuizen. This sin bin saw uncontested scrums for 10 minutes during an international match – something which caused controversy throughout the entire rugby world.

This incident called for better monitoring by the referees, penalising fairly and only to a certain extent. The teams themselves should be taken into account when dishing out stricter punishments than penalties and free kicks. In the Wales vs. South Africa example, the referee was made aware that Wales did not have a replacement front row, which should have altered his decision for a double yellow card.

Benefits of the New Rules

These new rules do come with a handful of positives, the main one being exactly what they were put in place for: to stop scrums collapsing. According to this season’s statistics there have been much fewer collapsed scrums, resulting in less resets and therefore a huge reduction in the amount of time spent on the scrum.

Less time scrumming means that the game can be kept at a much faster pace, making it more spectator friendly. In addition to this it is much safer for the props and hookers on both teams, as collapsed scrums create a dangerous environment with increased risk of head, neck and spine injuries.

As these rules are still very new there will be teething problems, however it already shows the advantages that they present. In time we can expect to see these laws having an even bigger impact on the way in which the game is played, improving scrums for everyone.