What started out as a quick Facebook entry has now turned into a rant. A little pet peeve of mine – I watch a lot of sports, mostly football, baseball and basketball. I generally don’t like announcers, I know enough about the games that I don’t need someone giving me their interpretation of what I’m seeing, but I digress. What really gets me is when a skirmish breaks out somewhere on the field of play, doesn’t matter what the sport is, the announcer invariably refers to the incident as a “scrum”. This only shows how ignorant the announcer is regarding the game of Rugby.
I started playing Rugby in the mid 70’s at Brigham Young University, then played for a number of clubs in Utah, before moving back to the Bay Area and playing for the Rugger’s Inn/Hayward Area Griffins until 1988. Along the way I broke my nose a couple of times, some fingers, some toes and a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in my left knee. I digress again but just wanted to show the bona fides of someone who knows the game.
A scrum is a means of restarting play after a minor infringement. A scrum is most commonly awarded when the ball is knocked forward, or passed forward, or when a ball becomes trapped in a ruck or maul. It is a very structured and controlled part of the game, not a street brawl as sports commentators would lead you to believe. It involves up to eight players from each team, known as the pack or forward pack, binding together in three rows and interlocking with the opposing team’s forwards.
The first row consists of the Loose Head Prop on the left, the Hooker and, the Tight Head prop. The two props support the hooker.
The second row consists of two locks. The locks bind to each other and to the props. The locks tend to be strong and tall. In the scrum they provide stability and a forward push to power the opposition off the ball. Players in the front row and the second row positions are collectively called the “tight five” because they are all bound tightly to each other in scrums.
The last row consists of flankers (also called breakaways) and the number eight position. These are the “loose forwards” because the can break away from the scrum and follow the ball more easily than the tight five forwards. Flankers assist in pushing in a scrum, but are expected to detach from the scrum as early as possible in order to get to the ball before the opposition’s forwards. The last member of the scrum is the number-eight person. They bind between the locks at the back of the scrum, providing extra weight at the push. Number eights interact with the scrum-half at the back of the scrum to control and provide clean ball for the backs. They can also pick the ball from the back of the scrum and run with it or flick it to the scrum half.
During my nearly fifteen years of Rugby I played the lock and number-eight positions and on rare occasions I played with backs as a full-back.
The last player involved in a scrum is called the Scrum-half. Acting as the link between the forwards and the backs, he will put the ball into the scrum, and then collect it from the back of the scrum and pass it to the backs. A good scrum-half will control exactly when the ball is fed out to the backs from the rear of a scrum
The scrum restarts play after a minor rules violation, such as passing the ball forward. When a scrum is formed the eight forwards from each team bind together to form a pack. The two opposing packs then bind together, head to head, prop on prop and form a tunnel.
The scrum-half from the non-offending team tosses the ball into the middle of tunnel favoring neither team. Each hooker will try and control or “hook” the ball with their feet and then the ball is funneled through the scrum to the feet of the number-eight who either pushes the ball out to the scrum-half or picks the ball up and passes to the waiting backs. No hands are allowed to touch the ball while it is in the scrum. Teams can be penalized for intentionally causing the scrum to collapse, and for not putting the ball into the scrum correctly. Because of the physical nature of scrums, injuries can occur, especially in the front row. I have seen opposing props head butt one another as the two packs come together. But, this is merely a distraction, a way to cause the other side to lose focus. With one referee and 30 rugby players on the pitch, two 40 minute halves with no timeouts, no protective gear, and continuous running to advance the ball, there are a number of such distractions that occur throughout the game.
So the next time you’re watching a baseball game and a pitcher knocks down or hits a batter and the dugouts empty and players start pushing each other around, not many punches are thrown during baseball fights, and the announcer states that it looks like a scrum, you can yell at the T.V. that it’s not a scrum it’s a fight.