The scrum is one of the most iconic, complex, and strategic elements of rugby union. To the casual observer or newcomer to the sport, the coordinated chaos of sixteen large athletes packed together, pushing and shoving with brute force can appear straightforward. However, decades of refinement have evolved the scrum into an intricate technical art form and science. There is far more subtlety and nuance involved in properly executing scrums than meets the eye. This article will aim to decode the technical intricacies and hidden complexities of the scrum. We will analyze the specific roles of different positions in the scrum, review the laws governing scrums, and explore strategies teams employ to gain an advantage from this set piece.
The Basics: Foundation and Setup
The scrum is a method of restarting play in rugby after a minor infringement or stoppage in play. It involves both teams packing down eight players each to tightly bind together in three rows, creating a tunnel-like formation. The scrum half then feeds the ball into this tunnel by rolling it along the ground. This initiates play as the hookers from each team try to hook the ball backwards with their foot to their team. At the same time, the other players drive forward applying coordinated force to try and push their opponents backwards and off the ball.
Scrums involve a carefully choreographed dance of footwork, body angles, and synchronized power to execute properly. In the modern professional era, teams invest significant time practicing and analyzing their scrummaging technique. The setup of the scrum is meticulously planned, with specific techniques for how players bind together designed to optimize power and provide stability. For example, the hooker must adopt an asymmetrical bind, with their head at a 45-degree angle and feet splayed outward. This provides optimal reach when striking for the ball. The props bind tightly on either side of the hooker to provide a solid base and foundation. The locks use their height and long limbs to drive upwards and contest possession of the ball.
The Engagement: Hitting and Contesting
The referee begins the engagement sequence by calling “crouch” to get the packs in their starting stance, followed by “pause” to enable both sides to reset. The referee then calls “engage” to initiate the contest. On this cue, a massive collision occurs as the sixteen players simultaneously drive forward with explosive power. The timing of this engagement hit is critical – mistiming it by even a fraction of a second can lead to collapsed scrums or the dreaded scrum ‘wheel’, exposing the ball.
During the engagement, hookers brace their neck and core muscles while driving forward with their legs to strike for the ball. The props push forward powerfully to withstand the hit, protect their hooker, and drive the opposition backwards. The locks and loose forwards drive upwards or sideways against their direct opponents in explosive bursts to disrupt their balance. It is a fierce battle of technique, coordination, strength and pure power.
Tactics like subtly angling in on the engagement hit or using a coordinated forward rolling motion can help destabilize and knock the opposition off balance. The scrumhalf may opt to put the ball in quickly off the hit to catch the opposition forwards off-guard before they can set their stance firmly. Teams spend significant time analyzing video of the opponent’s scrummaging technique and tactics, seeking to identify weaknesses in their bind or engagement to exploit.
|Role in the Scrum
|Tries to hook the ball back with foot
|Provide stability and drive forward
|Use height to drive upwards and contest ball
|Drive forward or sideways against opponents
|Throws ball into tunnel to initiate play
|Orchestrates strike moves off the scrum
Set Piece Plays: Attacking Variations
The scrum does not merely restart play; it presents teams with a valuable attacking platform to unleash pre-planned set piece moves against a disorganized defense. The 9-10-12 axis is usually key, allowing scrumhalves to pass directly down the line to flyhalves once the ball is secured.
Common strike moves involve the first receiver crashing forward directly off the scrum to commit defenders before releasing wide to a line of onrushing backline players timed to hit gaps at pace. Dummies, misdirection, and looping runs can all be used to manipulate overly aggressive defensive lines. Variations on this theme utilize key forwards like the number 8 breaking off the scrum to act as decoy runners, or the flyhalf stepping back against the flow to fix defenders in place.
Back row forwards may also plan to peel off the side of the scrum early to add width and numbers to the attacking shape. A blindside flanker is primed to sneak away down the blindside unseen if the defense over-commits and loses shape. Unpredictability in the pre-planned strike options and sequencing is vital to keep defenses guessing in their rush to reorganize off the set piece.
In summary, the scrum is a complex mix of technique, coordinated power generation, tactical awareness and strategic planning. The technical setup sees positions and binds planned to millimeter accuracy, optimizing stability and drive. The synchronized engagement requires immaculate timing and explosive technique to generate force and contest possession under immense pressure. And scrums give teams priceless opportunities to unleash pre-planned set piece strike plays against a scrambled defense. While the mass of straining, sweating bodies locked in primal battle may appear brute and ugly to the casual fan, decades of innovation have evolved the scrum into a nuanced art form and science in itself. There are hidden depths of technicality, skill and strategy involved in mastering the dark arts of the scrum.