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Thu 17 Jan 2013 | 10:31

SARU answers scrum queries

SARU answers scrum queries
Thu 17 Jan 2013 | 10:31

SARU answers scrum queries


Johan du Plessis, a Pretoria engineer with a passion for schools rugby had queries about the recent scrum changes to be introduced into schools rugby in 2013.

There was concern about the long-term effect this would have on scrumming in South Africa, bringing about a change in an essential part of the game. Du Plessis questioned who had given advice that led to the changes by which there is controlled engagement, no pushing till Under-10, no 'hit' till Under-17 and then only a reduced hit as the distance will be smaller.

Dr Wayne Viljoen, the BokSmart man who is SARU's head of rugby safety/injury prevention, representing the working group involved, replied extensively to Du Plessis. What is given here is very much a summary of that reply. One thing that is clear is that the process leading to the changes was careful and involved experts.

It may help to note those involved in the process as they give credence to the process: Dawie Theron (Ex-Springbok Front Row & National U20 Junior Rugby World Cup Champion Coach), Balie Swart (Ex- Rugby World Cup Champion Springbok Front Row, former Rugby World Cup Champion Springbok Scrum Coach), Wayne Viljoen (Head of Rugby Safety/Injury Prevention), Clint Readhead (Medical Manager), Tappe Henning (former International Referee, SARRA Referee Coach and IRB Selector of Referees), André Watson (Former IRB and International Referee, currently GM Referees), Hilton Adonis (Manager of Coaching), Justin Durandt (External Specialist Consultant), Graham Bentz (External Specialist Consultant), Nico Serfontein (Senior Manager Clubs and Schools), Brendan Venter (Medical Professional, Ex-Springbok and National U20 Junior Rugby World Cup Champion Assistant Coach), Pieter de Villiers (Ex-French Rugby International Front Row and current Springbok Scrum Coach), Rassie Erasmus (Ex-Springbok, and current GM High Performance) and Eugene Hare (CEO Blue Bulls, Former Provincial Player, and External Consultant around Junior players).

People involved in accepting and ratifying the changes were the SARU Long Term Player Development working group, SARU Senior Management, the SA Schools Rugby Association (SASRA) executive council, SARU’s executive council, SARU’s General Council and senior representatives from all of the 14 provincial unions (including the CEOs).

The process has not been a hasty one, but developed, as a result of the catastrophic injury data collected over four years.

Reasons for the Change

The reason for the change is essentially safety. The scrum and the tackle brought about 80% of catastrophic spinal injuries i.e. life changing injuries to neck and spine. The scrum contributed to 42% of those injuries even though there are far, far fewer scrums than tackles in a match. The relative risk at scrum time is far higher, and the scrum is a more controllable facet of the game.

What makes that even more significant is that only the three front rowers are really involved. Most of those catastrophic scrum injuries were at the scrum engagement and then scrum collapse. The hooker was far more at risk than his props. These injuries were also more severe than the tackle injuries.

In the 1980s South Africa first introduced scrumming measures aimed at reducing injury. In 2000 France introduced new scrumming laws for non-professional players, with a significant decline in catastrophic injuries.

The number of catastrophic injuries in scrums in South Africa has been increasing and so SARU has set about making the game safer in age-group and amateur rugby.

The problems are engagement (with hit) and collapse. The aim of the changed procedures at engagement is to reduce the chance of injury on the hit and the number of collapsed scrums. It is believed that if this is made safer more players will be willing to play in the front row.


Data were collected over four years (2008-11) and reviewed. The data were presented to Medical and Coaching/Refereeing expert advisory panels and input was received on the way forward to address the issue.

A scrum working group was established to explore possible amendments to make scrumming safer for amateurs and age groups.

Pertinent scientific literature was reviewed regarding interventions in the scrum and their effect on catastrophic injury and a meeting was held with the French Rugby Federation regarding their amateur scrum Law modifications. A further meeting was held with the IRB scrum research group in Bath, UK, regarding their scrum biomechanics research on the different researched engagement techniques.

The scrum working group which represented coaching, development, referee and medical expertise, including international level coaches and referees with both coaching/refereeing and competitive expertise consulted regularly.

The proposed Laws underwent many revisions. Once accepted by all of the scrum working group, the scrum Laws and proposed changes together with an evidence-based support document were presented to the SA Schools Rugby Association (SASRA) executive for their review. Once having been endorsed by SASRA’s executive, the documents then went to SARU’s executive council for review towards adoption and ratification.

Once the council had approved, the proposed changes went in late August 2012 to all 14 provincial union CEO’s for internal discussion and review towards adoption of these Law amendments to SARU's AGM.

At its AGM in December 2012, the proposed changes were unanimously adopted by all in attendance after having three months to scrutinise the documents.

The Future

France even today are one of the most formidable and competitive scrumming units in the world, having had passive scrums in most of their amateur division rugby levels (amateur second division and lower) for more than 10 years. So any concerns or claims regarding losing competitive front-row forwards are unfounded.

In a slightly different approach from the French, SARU has in fact built in an abridged ‘hit’ in the scrum from Under-18 upwards, with less risk of collapse and also potentially less risk of catastrophic cervical spinal injury. This phase will bridge the gap between no hit and the full hit currently employed in professional rugby.

Those players who are big and strong enough to make the jump to the elite level will still come through the ranks, and will be far better scrummagers. The jump from the abridged hit to the full hit is a matter of correct coaching, technical strengthening, conditioning, and appropriate preparation of the right players, who are suitable to play in the front row at these levels of play, as defined by Law.

The gain for front-row players will be in developing their scrumming ability and all the requirements of strength and technique that this demands. Reducing the impact of the hit will not reduce the importance of correct, powerful scrumming.


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