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The Hallucinating Goose

The evolution of the uncontested scrum

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I know it's a topic that gets discussed quite often but I was just wondering if anyone knows why uncontested scrums developed? Is this just something that slowly crept in over time or was there a official declaration that this was how the scrum would be played or something else? 

Reason I ask is cos I was reading the Union laws for scrums and decided to look up our sports at the same time. Reading the RFL's rules on the scrum it seems that they can officially still be contested and I seem to think I do see it very occasionally. So the fact the rules were never changed suggests the game just moved in that direction, I'm presuming simply to speed the game up and avoid the complications of performing a scrum correctly but what has happened that meant a sport as a whole mutually agreed to stop contesting the scrum? 

So what do people know about the evolution of the uncontested scrum? 

The rules btw:

https://www.rugby-league.com/the_rfl/rules/laws_of_the_game/the_scrum

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Wasn’t it essentially that referees over time became more and more tolerant of feeding (for reasons of expediency) to the point where ‘no-contest’ scrums, ie with blatant feeding, became - by osmosis - uncontested scrums when defending teams realised there wasn’t any point in shoving anymore?

Edited by Man of Kent
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I remember Eddie Waring once suggesting that there should be a giant funnel over the centre of the scrum and the referee drop the ball in and then the hookers would get to work in heeling it backwards.

Scrums were a mess in the 70s and were both part of the rough and ready character of the game and a blight on it at the same time. 

Something had to change,and it did. I don't know how or when it happened but do miss the old contested scrums even though they were often chaotic and always unpredictable.

Edited by Pigeon Lofter

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It came around the time when markers were prohibited from heeling the ball back from a sloppy play the ball. Early 90’s.

Referees were enforcing a larger “5 metres”, Bill Harrigan simply felt the game flowed better and he was right. In the early 90s you will find the feed was becoming less perpendicular and more towards the second row but past the front foot of the outside leg of the prop.

I still think the laws state the props outside foot must be in front of the other. This rule in itself seems to have been neglected. A prop can have his inside foot well forward and his outside well back, in turn giving the HB a huge tunnel to feed the ball into the scrum and arguably, in front of the props foot and loosely debatable as in the middle of the scrum.

You are spot on, there is no mention of uncontested scrums in the laws. Teams are still allowed to push and its a tactic I am surprised does not happen more often. Teams defending the scrum will rarely pack the scrum with their full set of forwards in their respective positions anyway, so the strength to push and timing to push is less obvious.

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This is a very interesting article by Tony Collins that I've come across. 

http://www.tony-collins.org/rugbyreloaded/2012/8/12/the-evolution-of-the-scrum

In it he says that essentially the reason scrums evolved to be uncontested is cos of other rule changes making them less relevant. 

When there was an unlimited tackle count the main way for opposition to gain possession of the ball was through winning it in a scrum but when the tackle count was limited they got their hands on the ball a lot more and so it wasn't as important to gain possession at the scrum cos they'd just get it soon after anyway. It also says that sets used to end with a scrum (I'm not old enough to remember that) and so the real death of contested scrums came when the simple turnover we have these days was brought in leaving scrums for only handling errors. He says there was a "gentleman's agreement" that allowed scrums to be uncontested. 

The way I interprate that then is that sets limited to 6 tackles only tend to last for a minute/minute and half so there are many opportunities to gain possession through the game these days unlike say 50 years ago so the time spent contesting and resetting scrums can be used instead to gain a couple more sets per team and so more opportunity to attack rather than waste a load of time working harder to gain possession through a scrum. It's easy enough I suppose to just defend 6 tackles and retrieve the ball and even if the opposition do score then there are plenty more opportunities for the defending team to do so as well, assuming the score doesn't come right at the end of the game. 

Towards the end of a game is probably the only time a contested scrum might be considered in the modern day. As we know a set takes about a minute so say there is about that time left and the trailing team knock on, it would make sense in that situation to try to regain the ball at the scrum. Of course most of that minute could be wasted playing the scrum unless the clock was stopped until the ball actually emerged from the scrum. 

Interesting. Any other ways a contested scrum would still be useful in the modern day? 

Edited by The Hallucinating Goose

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4 hours ago, Sports Prophet said:

 You are spot on, there is no mention of uncontested scrums in the laws. Teams are still allowed to push and its a tactic I am surprised does not happen more often. Teams defending the scrum will rarely pack the scrum with their full set of forwards in their respective positions anyway, so the strength to push and timing to push is less obvious.

I suppose the problem with pushing these days is that because it is so rare, one team will push and the other won't and the scrum will probably collapse very easily as a result and of course collapsing the scrum is an offence. So its probably not worth risking giving a penalty away. 

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I'm just old enough to remember that the BBC coverage used to count scrums awarded and then how many went against the head. There was a little chart to keep count in the match programme as well. I saw my first game live in 1987. There was an expectation that scrums *should* be contested but that they weren't being.


Build a man a fire, and he'll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he'll be warm for the rest of his life. (Terry Pratchett)

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2 hours ago, The Hallucinating Goose said:

Any other ways a contested scrum would still be useful in the modern day? 

Perhaps to stop the scrums from looking as pathetic as they do now?

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I mean, teams can still push at the scrum and contest it if they like -

I think we need to see more of that when you get teams holding the ball in the scrum.

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4 minutes ago, Click said:

I mean, teams can still push at the scrum and contest it if they like -

I think we need to see more of that when you get teams holding the ball in the scrum.

refs actually tell teams not to push or reset the scrum if they do.

 

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A heel against the head and feed

The trouble with the contested scrum was that every other one seemed to result in a penalty.  I recall a period in the 80's when refs had a clamp down on scrummage offences.  Players were being sent off for persistent feeding or feet up, some were being suspended.  Didn't stop it and as with all clamp downs, the refs eased off.

I think Union may have solved their problem by insisting that the attacking side must strike for the ball instead of just shoving.  Whether we could adopt something similar I couldn't say.  I certainly think that contested scrums would result in less wide running back row forwards stifling attacking play.  As the game went on they'd be too knackered!


“Few thought him even a starter.There were many who thought themselves smarter. But he ended PM, CH and OM. An Earl and a Knight of the Garter.”

Clement Attlee.

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11 hours ago, Man of Kent said:

Wasn’t it essentially that referees over time became more and more tolerant of feeding (for reasons of expediency) to the point where ‘no-contest’ scrums, ie with blatant feeding, became - by osmosis - uncontested scrums when defending teams realised there wasn’t any point in shoving anymore?

That is more my recollection too.

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2 hours ago, aj1908 said:

refs actually tell teams not to push or reset the scrum if they do.

Sometimes a referee (correctly) lets a shove carry on, but when it is so frequently whistled up, it isn't risked often.

Edited by Futtocks

"Men will be proud to say 'I am a European'. We hope to see a day when men of every country will think as much of being a European as of being from their native land." (Winston Churchill)

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14 minutes ago, Futtocks said:

Sometimes a referee (correctly) lets a shove carry on, but when it is so frequently whistled up, it isn't risked often.

you can almost hear the embarrasment in the refs voice as he tells them not to push.

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5 hours ago, The Hallucinating Goose said:

I suppose the problem with pushing these days is that because it is so rare, one team will push and the other won't and the scrum will probably collapse very easily as a result and of course collapsing the scrum is an offence. So its probably not worth risking giving a penalty away. 

I think it also becomes an arms race where if you start doing it regularly you end up needing scrummaging forwards and it changes the running nature of the game.

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5 hours ago, The Hallucinating Goose said:

This is a very interesting article by Tony Collins that I've come across. 

http://www.tony-collins.org/rugbyreloaded/2012/8/12/the-evolution-of-the-scrum

'But rather than mourning the death of the ‘proper’ scrum, rugby league should view it as a new opportunity. The surface has barely been scratched when it comes to tactical ploys and set plays around the scrum.'

Agree 100% with the Prof and the NRL's new rule could well give the evolution of the rugby league scrum a, er, shove. 

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2 minutes ago, Man of Kent said:

'But rather than mourning the death of the ‘proper’ scrum, rugby league should view it as a new opportunity. The surface has barely been scratched when it comes to tactical ploys and set plays around the scrum.'

Agree 100% with the Prof and the NRL's new rule could well give the evolution of the rugby league scrum a, er, shove. 

the new rules are dumb and will slow the game down imo. just get rid of the scrum.

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5 minutes ago, aj1908 said:

the new rules are dumb and will slow the game down imo. just get rid of the scrum.

Not sure. Wearing my optimistic hat, the new rule makes the scrum more of an attacking set-piece. Moreover, moving the scrum automatically raises the likelihood (and anticipation) of a ploy so it inherently makes scrums more interesting.

Wearing my pessimistic hat, some sides may just think 'Can't be bothered to move the head & feed, let's just do it here'. 

Tend to think some teams/coaches will see the opportunity and try to make the most of it, however.

Edited by Man of Kent

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1 minute ago, Man of Kent said:

Not sure. Wearing my optimistic hat, the new rule makes the scrum more of an attacking set-piece. Moreover, moving the scrum automatically raises the likelihood (and anticipation) of a ploy so it inherently makes scrums more interesting.

Wearing my pessimistic hat, some sides may just think 'Can't be bothered to move the head & feed, let's just do it here'. 

Tend to think some teams/coaches will see the opportunity and try to make the most of it, however.

It will.be the same issue as.now.  players won't be allowed to take risk on tackle.one for fear of losing the ball 

Though some.coaches may encourage it.

Plus deciding where.the scrum.goes will also waste time as.the.defneding team won't know where to go at first 

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Interesting thread.

1983 was a key year in the evolution of scrums. The handover rule that summer slashed the number of scrums, made the last tackle kick virtually obligatory and was the beginning of the end of the hooking role as was.

I don't miss the total mess and waste of time that is laughably referred to as "contested scrums" at all. It took skill and guts to scummage well, and was a hugely important facet of the game, but it was not spectator friendly.

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8 hours ago, The Hallucinating Goose said:

I suppose the problem with pushing these days is that because it is so rare, one team will push and the other won't and the scrum will probably collapse very easily as a result and of course collapsing the scrum is an offence. So its probably not worth risking giving a penalty away. 

A bigger issue than that is that if the defence push and the ball still gets out quickly, the defenders can't get out as quickly. The tightest defenders outside the scrum tend to defend a bit wide, knowing the forwards will get out to plug the gap. They can't do that if they push, and it's a ploy that would likely only work once at most.

5 hours ago, aj1908 said:

refs actually tell teams not to push or reset the scrum if they do.

 

Only if they push before the ball is in the scrum.

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A while back I watched a couple of classic games on youtube from the time I started watching the game (1996). People were already saying scrums had become a farce with no contest by then, but it was really noticeable how the packs would bind and the two front rows lock together properly. Gradually since then we've moved more and more towards 12 players standing in the general area ready to break ASAP

Interestingly, just last season the NRL did seem to make a slight swing back to competing for possession, with defences using the element of surprise to put a quick shove on against a pack just standing around. I'm sure I saw at least a couple go against the head throughout the season. Unfortunately it seemed that most times the referee would find an excuse to reset the scrum. Perfect example near the end of the season (wish I'd made a note of the game): Ball goes in, defence put a shove on, win ball, referee blows whistle and says "they [points to attacking team] weren't set yet". If they put the ball in before the forwards had set then surely you penalise them or give advantage to the other side.

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11 hours ago, gingerjon said:

I'm just old enough to remember that the BBC coverage used to count scrums awarded and then how many went against the head. There was a little chart to keep count in the match programme as well. I saw my first game live in 1987. There was an expectation that scrums *should* be contested but that they weren't being.

As recently as about 2004 the BBC would still give you the total weight of each pack as the first scrum went down. On the pulse with the modern game as ever.

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One thing contested scrums did was tire the forwards quicker, which created opportunity for quick agile backs to make breaks. I remember you couldn't just rest in the scrums because of the ability to push and gain possession. Although many a scrap would start at scrums with front rows kicking out .

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12 hours ago, aj1908 said:

refs actually tell teams not to push or reset the scrum if they do.

 

No pushing before the ball enters the scrum that is.

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