Law discussion: Scrum talk
Law discussion: Scrum talkSHARE
The scrums are still unsatisfactory. Referees find them hard, players and coaches get annoyed, people don't trust referees and improvement is not always clear and obvious. Perhaps some of the refspeak is also unsatisfactory.
Some of the mystifying things referees say give the impression of bluffing, using verbiage to cover for guesswork. Yet all referees worth their salt spend time and energy in learning about the scrum. They will talk to props and go to practices. You do not get a serious referees' course without time spent on scrumming.
Recently we spoke about the vocabulary that referees use and suggested that they speak only in terms of the law – what is written in law books. Doing so may make the infringement clearer in the referees mind and clearer to those who listen to him, making the process of controlling the scrum more credible.
And controlling the scrum is important, just because it is such a dangerous area. Scrums have the potential to cause catastrophic accidents. They need to be controlled. For one thing they need to stay up. The collapse of scrums is dangerous – not just annoying – dangerous.
Here are some of the vogue words in a referee's vocabulary – the hit, fading on the hit, not taking the hit, jumping the hit, standing up, standing up under pressure, deliberately wheeling, running or walking around, hinging, going over the cliff, hand on ground, chasing your feet.
Most of that is not in the Laws of the Game or in the IRB's clarifications/rulings. Some of them do not exist. Some of them cannot be translated into the vocabulary of the laws either. It is possible that these are offences that do not exist at all – and yet the whistle has gone and a sanction dished out.
The IRB recognised the collapsed scrum as dangerous and the reset scrum as a blight on the game. At one stage, it was estimated that resetting scrums was taking on an average 18 minutes per Test match – 18 out of 80. That is 22%. It does not make for the entertaining sport which will attract those who pay money to see it, and professional rugby is about making money.
Recently the Leicester Tigers played Gloucester. There were 19 scrums, 13 collapses, 6 resets, 12 penalties and a yellow card. 13 collapses. The Match of the Year was England vs New Zealand. There were 13 scrums, 5 collapses, 1 reset, 4 penalties and a free kick. The number of resets is down from a few years ago but the number of penalties is up.
But we digress Let's get back to refspeak at scrums.
First of all – and perhaps the most important – there is the hit. There is nothing in the law which speaks of or suggests or describes a hit. The nearest that exists is a condemnation.
Law 20.1 (I) Charging. A front row must not form at a distance from its opponents and rush against them. This is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick.
Is a hit charging? It could certainly be construed as such and if both sides do it, then both sides are wrong, which does not make it right.
In fact the law says that the engage call, and presumably the same applies to set, is not a command but an indication that the front rows may come together when ready.
'Come together', not hit.
In fact the hit may just be the root of the scrum problem.
It follows, if the law makes no reference to the hit, fading on the hit and not taking the hit could just be nonsense.
Standing up in a scrum as an infringement does not exist in law either.
There are two bits of law which deal with going up.
Law 20.3 (I) Player forced upwards. If a player in a scrum is lifted in the air, or is forced upwards out of the scrum, the referee must blow the whistle immediately so that players stop pushing.
Law 20.8 (I) Lifting or forcing an opponent up. A front row player must not lift an opponent in the air, or force an opponent upwards out of the scrum, either when the ball is being thrown in or afterwards. This is dangerous play.
Sanction: Penalty kick
There is no sanction for a player standing up, presumably because there is no infringement.
It is unlikely that it ever will be an infringement because a player usually stands up because of pressure. If that pressure is, as it is most likely to be, on his neck, he is a player in danger. If it were a law that he could not stand up, a player who injures his neck in such a circumstance would have the right to sue the law-makers.
There is nothing in the laws of senior rugby that says it is illegal to wheel intentionally or deliberately. That law exists in Under-19 variations (Law 20.11 (a)). It does not exist in senior rugby.
The wheel does exist in law.
Law 20.11 SCRUM WHEELED
(a) If a scrum is wheeled through more than 90 degrees, so that the middle line has passed beyond a position parallel to the touchline, the referee must stop play and order another scrum.
(b) This new scrum is formed at the place where the previous scrum ended. The ball is thrown in by the team not in possession at the time of the stoppage. If neither team win possession, it is thrown in by the team that previously threw it in.
Running or walking around are terms used when a scrum is wheeled. The terms do not exist in law and the concept is vague enough to be suspect..
Hinging and going over the cliff, it seems, refer to what the law talks of as dipping and causing a scrum to collapse.
Law 20.8 (g) Twisting, dipping or collapsing. Front row players must not twist or lower their bodies, or pull opponents, or do anything that is likely to collapse the scrum, either when the ball is being thrown in or afterwards.
Sanction: Penalty kick
After all he was expected to go down with his head and shoulders no lower than his hips
Law 20.1 FORMING A SCRUM
(f) Front rows coming together. First, the referee marks with a foot the place where the scrum is to be formed. Before the two front rows come together they must be standing not more than an arm’s length apart. The ball is in the scrumhalf’s hands, ready to be thrown in. The front rows must crouch so that when they meet, each player’s head and shoulders are no lower than the hips. The front rows must interlock so that no player’s head is next to the head of a team-mate.
Sanction: Free Kick
If he starts incorrectly it is a free kick. If he starts correctly and then dips, it is a penalty.
Hand on ground is illegal because the player is not binding.
Law 20.3 BINDING IN THE SCRUM
Definition – When a player binds on a team-mate that player must use the whole arm from hand to shoulder to grasp the team-mate’s body at or below the level of the armpit. Placing only a hand on another player is not satisfactory binding.
(a) Binding by all front row players. All front row players must bind firmly and continuously from the start to the finish of the scrum.
Sanction: Penalty Kick
There is a tolerance in all of this.
Law 20.3 (e) Both the loose head and tight head props may alter their bind providing they do so in
accordance with this Law.
To change a bind means that the player does not bind continuously. If he momentarily puts his hand on the ground to steady himself and then binds correctly, surely play should go on.
Chasing your feet is probably the strangest of the lot. We have a clip on it which may be worth looking at: http://www.sareferees.com/laws/view/2829926/
Jumping the hit is engaging/setting before the referee has said it was all right to do so.
Law 20.1 (g) The referee will-call “crouch” then “touch”. The front rows crouch and using their outside arm each prop touches the point of the opposing prop’s outside shoulder. The props then withdraw their arms. The referee will then call “pause”. Following a pause the referee will then call “engage”. The front rows may then engage. The “engage” call is not a command but an indication that the front rows may come together when ready.
Sanction: Free Kick
NB This changes with the three-word call – crouch – touch – set, but the principle, presumably, remains the same.