Rugby is a team sport that originated in England in the early 19th century. It involves two teams of 15 players each competing to carry an oval-shaped ball across the opponent’s goal line to score points. Unlike many other sports, play in rugby is continuous, with very few stoppages outside of serious injuries. When play needs to be restarted after minor infringements or the ball going out of bounds, it is done through structured processes known as “set pieces” like scrums and lineouts.
Gameplay and Rules
The two main forms of rugby are rugby union and rugby league, which have slightly different rules but share the same general principles of gameplay. A rugby match is divided into two 40-minute halves, with a short halftime break in between.
Each team has 15 players on the field at a time, consisting of 8 forwards and 7 backs. Forwards are generally bigger and stronger, specializing in winning possession from scrums and lineouts. Backs are faster and more agile, focused on attacking and scoring tries.
To score points, a player must ground the ball behind the opponent’s goal line. This scores a try, worth 5 points. After scoring a try, the team gets a conversion kick attempt worth 2 points. Teams can also score through penalty kicks and drop goals.
Play is mostly continuous, only stopping for injuries, scores, infringements, or the ball going out of bounds. Rules exist to keep gameplay safe, requiring tackles below shoulder level. Dangerous high tackles, professional fouls, and misconduct can result in players being cautioned with yellow or red cards.
When play needs to be restarted, it is done through scrums and lineouts rather than free kicks.
For minor infringements, the non-offending team gets a scrum. Eight forwards from each team bind together and push against each other to win possession of the ball.
If the ball goes out of bounds, play restarts with a lineout. Forwards from each team line up perpendicular to the touchline and a player throws the ball back inbounds to restart play.
These structured set pieces ensure rugby retains continuity after stoppages in a fair, controlled manner. They add unique elements that distinguish rugby from other sports.
One might wonder, “how long are rugby games?” In Scrum Rugby, the game spans 80 minutes, divided into two halves of 40 minutes each, with a 10-minute halftime break. This period may seem short, but given the physical intensity and strategic demands of the game, it’s more than enough to push the players to their limits and deliver an exhilarating spectacle for the fans.
What is a Scrum
A scrum is a way to restart play after a minor infringement or the ball becoming unplayable in a ruck or maul. It brings the forwards and scrum-halves together to create space for the backs to mount an attack.
In 15s rugby, 8 players from each team bind together in a scrum. The front row is made up of two props on either side of the hooker. The second row is behind them, and the back row is at the back.
On the referee’s signal, the two packs come together and the scrum-half rolls the ball into the tunnel between them. Both teams push to try and gain possession of the ball.
Scrums need to be stable, safe and square before the scrum half can play the ball. Referees will penalize any infringement like collapsing, early pushing or pulling the scrum around.
Possession from the scrum usually goes to the team putting the ball in. But if they manage to hook the ball back, they can gain possession against the throw. This is known as a free kick.
In 7s rugby, each side has 3 players in the scrum.
Because 7s is faster paced, scrums are uncontested. The team putting the ball in is automatically awarded possession when it emerges at the back.
Scrums in 7s still need good technique to avoid collapsing. But without competition for the ball, the main role is just to restart play quickly and safely.
Having less players in scrums reduces the risk of injury for players. The smaller scrum size also suits the shorter 7 minute halves played.
So in summary, scrums in both formats serve to restart play and create attacking opportunities. The specific scrum mechanics reflect the different demands of 15s and 7s rugby.
How a Scrum is Formed
The referee marks the middle line and each team must form the scrum within 30 seconds with players bound together in specific positions.
In rugby union, a scrum is formed when the referee calls for a scrummage (often just called a “scrum”). Each team must quickly assemble eight players to form the scrum within 30 seconds of the call.
The scrum is assembled in specific positions. The front row is made up of the loosehead prop, the hooker, and the tighthead prop. They bind together by interlocking arms with the props’ heads positioning either side of the hooker. The hooker has one foot forward ready to hook the ball.
Behind the front row is the second row, made up of two locks who bind onto the front row. The locks are generally the tallest players on the team. Behind them is the back row with two flankers on the sides and the number eight in the center.
The scrum half, who will put the ball into the scrum, stands ready just behind the scrum. The remaining backs stand further back awaiting the ball to come out.
The front row binds together, then the second row, then the back row. The scrum-half stands ready to put the ball in.
When forming the scrum, the front row must bind together first. The props interlock arms with the hooker in the middle, positioning their heads either side.
Once the front row is bound, the second row then binds onto them by placing their heads between a prop and the hooker. The locks bind tightly onto the front row’s shorts.
With the front five players bound, the back row then joins the scrum. The flankers bind onto the locks on either side while the number eight binds in the center directly behind the second row.
The scrum half, who feeds the ball into the scrum, stands ready just to the side of the tunnel between the two front rows. Their aim is to roll the ball down the center of the tunnel.
On the referee’s call of “crouch, bind, set”, the front rows engage to complete the formation.
When the two packs are assembled and ready, the referee gives the step-by-step call to engage the scrum:
“Crouch” - the front rows bend at the waist with their heads up ready to bind with the opposition.
“Bind” - the props interlock arms with the hooker in the middle and the second rows bind onto the front row shorts.
“Set” - on this call the front rows engage by driving together. Their shoulders come together as they push against each other.
Once the referee is satisfied the scrum is square and steady, they will call “feed” to the scrum half who can then roll the ball into the tunnel between the front rows.
The ball is usually fed straight down the middle but the scrum half can feed to either side. The hookers try to hook the ball back with their feet. The push and contest for the ball begins as both packs try to win possession!
During the Scrum
The scrum is one of the methods used to restart play in rugby union and rugby league. It involves the forwards from each team binding together and pushing against each other, trying to win possession of the ball. There are some key rules that govern what players can and cannot do during the scrum.
The scrum begins when the ball leaves the scrum-half’s hands
The scrum is formed by the forwards from each team binding together and crouching down, ready to push against the opposition. However, the two packs cannot engage and start pushing until the ball has left the hands of the scrum-half, who feeds the ball into the tunnel between the two front rows.
Once the scrum-half rolls or throws the ball into the middle of the tunnel, then the packs can engage and the pushing contest begins as each team tries to push the opposition backwards and win possession. Teams cannot start driving forward until the ball is out of the scrum-half’s hands. Premature engagement is penalized.
Teams can only push once it begins
While the scrum-half is preparing to feed the ball and in the moments before they put it in, the two packs must stay still and stationary. There should be no pushing at this stage.
It is only once the scrum-half has released the ball and it is available to be won that the packs can start driving forward against each other. If a team starts pushing early, the referee will penalize them by awarding a scrum to the opposition.
Front row players can try to hook the ball back with their feet once it’s on the ground
While the main action during the scrum involves the packs trying to push each other backwards and off the ball, the front row players also have an important role to play.
Once the ball has been fed into the scrum tunnel by the scrum-half, it will likely end up at the feet of the front row players. At this point, the hookers and props are allowed to try to hook the ball back in their direction using their feet. They cannot kick wildly, but can make attempts to rake it back on their side.
All other players must stay bound and pushing straight and parallel
For the players in the scrum who are not in the front row, there are limits on what they can do during the engagement:
- They must stay bound to their teammate in front of them, with their head alongside theirs.
- They must keep pushing in a straight line, parallel to the touchline. They cannot try to wheel the scrum around.
- They cannot pull out of the scrum or break early if it starts moving backwards.
Players who break these rules may give away penalties to the opposition. Maintaining proper binding, posture and pushing technique is crucial during the scrum contest.
So in summary, there are clear laws governing what each player can and cannot do once the scrum has commenced after the feed. Adhering to these rules ensures that the scrum contest remains fair and competitive for both teams. It is down to the referee to police the scrum and penalize any illegal actions.
After the Scrum
The scrum is an important part of rugby union gameplay. It allows teams to restart play in a safe manner after a minor infringement or stoppage. There are several key things that happen after the scrum is set and the ball is fed into the tunnel.
The team that puts the ball into the scrum usually retains possession once the ball emerges at the hindmost foot. The hooker and scrum-half work together to secure the ball for their team.
The hooker uses their foot to “hook” the ball back towards their team. Meanwhile, the scrum-half stands ready nearby to collect the ball as it comes out. With the forwards driving forward in unison, the scrum-half can easily pick up the ball and pass it out to the fly-half who restarts play.
Instead of passing the ball immediately, the team may opt to keep it at the back of the scrum and drive forward. Using their collective weight and power, the eight forwards push as a unit to gain territory upfield.
The scrum-half stays close to the action to retrieve the ball when the pack decides to stop driving. This tactic eats up time and forces the opposition to commit numbers to the breakdown when the scrum finally ends.
Another key strategy is bringing the ball to the hindmost foot of the scrum. This makes it easier for the scrum-half to access it quickly.
The hooker and props work together to “turn” the scrum, angling it across the field. This exposes the ball on one side for the scrum-half to collect it cleanly.
Once the scrum-half has possession, the opposition team can contest the ball. A defending player may charge out of the scrum to tackle the scrum-half before they can clear the ball away.
Turnover scrum-halves who specialize in this tactic are highly valued. Slowing down the opposition ball allows the defending team to reset their defensive line. This pressure can sometimes lead to knock-ons or other mistakes.
So in summary, the team that puts the ball into the scrum usually dictates the initial action after it emerges. But defensive teams have opportunities to contest possession and disrupt their opponents’ flow. The coordinated efforts of the hooker, props and scrum-half are key to maintaining continuity.
The scrum is a defining feature of rugby that sets it apart from many other team sports. This structured contest between the forward packs restarts play in a fair, competitive manner after stoppages. Both in 15s and 7s, the scrum requires synchronization, technique, and power from the players to drive the team forward. Hookers strive to rake back possession on the feed using their feet, while scrum halves dutifully retrieve the ball to transition into attack. Beyond restarting play, tactical scrums can gain territory or eat up time when a team opts to keep the ball at the back and drive. For fans, the intensity of the scrum battle is thrilling to watch, as the giants of the game push themselves to the limit. The complex rules governing the scrum may seem arcane to outsiders, but they ensure this set piece, so core to rugby’s DNA, showcases the sport’s blend of grace, grit, and teamwork. Through the scrum and other structured contests, rugby continues to offer a unique sporting spectacle.