Scrum (rugby)

From Academic Kids

A  scrum
A rugby union scrum

In rugby football a scrummage or scrum is a way of restarting the game, either after an accidental infringement (in rugby union and rugby league, a set scrum), or when the ball has gone into touch (in rugby league only). Scrums occur more often, and are of greater importance, in union than in league.



The word "scrummage" is a modification of "scrimmage" (which form of the word was previously used in rugby and continues in use in American and Canadian football), which in turn derives from or is cognate to "skirmish".

Originally there was no distinction between an awarded or "set" scrum (today officially called simply "scrummage") and a "loose" scrum (today officially called a ruck). The side awarded a scrimmage simply had one player put the ball on the ground and let go of it; there was no requirement of a tunnel, although players were required to be onside, i.e. not ahead of the ball. The commonest way for a scrimmage/scrummage to be so awarded (there being no referee to actually award one, but as the rules specified) would be the occurrence of a stalemate between the player with the ball (who would declare "held") and opponents holding him (who would call, "Have it down."). A scrummage could also occur as a ruck today, in which opposing players simply close around a ball already on the ground.

Although the rules of playing the ball were different as to whether it was in scrimmage or not, the early rules did not draw a clear distinction between players in or out of scrimmage, and did not require players in scrimmage to bind. Early accounts of play show that in fact they could not have been bound, for they would try to work their way through the pack while attempting to get to and dribble the ball.

The early rules of rugby, even after recodification as "Laws of the Rugby Union" (the term "laws" having been borrowed from the Football Association), said the object of players in the scrummage was to kick the ball towards their opponents' goal line. This provision remained in the laws for approximately 20 years after practice had changed in the late 19th Century.

The modern scrummage and ruck, the Rugby League play-the-ball, and the American football snap and scrimmage (later adopted by Canadian football) were all derivatives of the early scrimmage, and responsive in different ways to problems encountered in the way the rules regarding it were written and administered.

The Rugby Union Scrummage

Before a scrum is formed the eight forwards from each team bind together in three rows (three players in the front row, two in the second row, and the remaining players behind them). The front row is composed of the two prop forwards (tighthead and loosehead) supporting the hooker; the second row forwards are more often referred to as lock; and the back row is made up of the two flanker (sometimes wing forwards) with the number 8 (named after the jersey number of the starter at that position) between them.

The front row are usually the stockiest members of the scrum. Hooker are normally smaller than props, though similar in build. Props and locks both need to be strong, but the positions differ in their main criteria for selection. Since props are more directly involved in wrestling for position and channelling the drive forward, strength and weight are of prime importance for them. Strength is also important for locks, since they also push; however, height is more important for them. Locks are virtually always the tallest players on the team; they are used as the primary contestants for possession in another phase of the game, the line-out. Flanker and the number 8 do less of the pushing in the scrum, and need more speed, because their task is to break quickly and cover the opposing half-backs if the opponents win the scrum.

The two packs of forwards approach to within a short distance of each other and crouch. On a signal from the referee the front rows engage with each other so that their heads are interlocked with those of the other side's front row. Another player (the scrum half) from the team that did not infringe then throws the ball into the tunnel thus formed, and the hookers (and sometimes the props) compete for possession by trying to hook the ball backwards with their feet, while the entire pack tries to push the opposing pack backwards. The side that wins possession usually transfers the ball to the back of the scrum, where it is picked up either by the Number 8, or by the scrum half, who will either pass it out to the fly-half and the other backs, or kick ahead over the heads of the scrum, then running forward to put his or her forwards onside. On other occasions the forwards will hold the ball in the scrum and try to push the opposition backwards.

It is the scrum, and also the line-out, that gives rise to the simplified explanation of rugby union: "The forwards are there to get the ball back, and the backs are there to get the ball forward".

A team with a dominant scrum can tire the opposition's forwards, and ensure any ball the opposition get is of poor quality, whilst ensuring good ball for their own team.

Scrums are the most dangerous phase in rugby, since a collapse can lead to the hooker breaking his neck. For this reason, only trained players may play in the front row.

The Rugby League Scrummage

A rugby league forward pack consists of six players: the loose-head prop, the tight-head prop, the hooker, the two second-row forwards, and the lock or loose-forward. The scrum looks basically like a union scrum with the two flank-forwards removed.

The main purpose of the scrum in rugby league is simply to remove the forwards from the play for a period, thus creating more space for back-play. This is intended to give advantage to the side that is awarded the scrum. Thus scrums in rugby league differ from those in rugby union, being simpler and less time consuming. It is very rare (but not completely unknown) for a team to win possession against the head.

There is almost always no pushing from either forward pack, and therefore no need for a referee to spend time ensuring that the scrum comes together properly: the two forward packs will usually bind together on their own and lean against each other, forming the tunnel of the scrum.

The ball is then rolled between the legs of the loose-head prop by his scrum-half directly to the back of the scrum: the scrum-half either then runs around and collects the ball himself, or the loose-forward detaches from the back of the scrum to collect the ball.

Previously, rugby league scrummages were competitive, as in rugby union. The provision that scrums must be competitive still remains in the laws of the game, but it is usually ignored with the blessing of the authorities. Occasionally, it is suggested that the law be applied again, or that the scrum should be abolished altogether and replaced with a tap kick, but so far these suggestions have carried no weight with the various governing bodies.

See also


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