In 1823, William Webb Ellis first picked up the ball in his arms and ran with it. And for the next 156 years forwards have been trying to work out why. - Tasker Watkins VC, LJ.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Legal Liability and Scrums - Part II

Back in October of last year, I wrote Part I of this. In it, I pointed out that the failure on the part of the IRB to restrict big-hit scrummaging, crooked feeds and pushing before the ball was not just dangerous, not just opening up the IRB to legal liability, but was terrible, terrible rugby. Brian Moore and others have been beating the same drum; Moore, in particular, deserves enormous credit for a relentless, focussed insistence that the Laws be applied for the sake of safety and of scrummaging.

In a development as unexpected as it is delightful, it looks like it's all had an effect. The IRB have moved to get rid of big-hit scrummaging. You can read the announcement HERE, and I recommend it as a very interesting piece, especially in the small details it contains; in essence, the engage goes to crouch, bind, set. Since props have to bind before the engage, refs can now see that they are binding up. Since they have to be so much closer together before the set to be able to bind, it means that the big hit is effectively now neutralised (25% less, on the studies). You can see how it works in practice on the video in THIS piece from

No big hit means a more stable engage; and all offences of not binding up now become free kick offences, which means that there's no benefit to trying to gull the ref by breaking an opponent's (or your own) bind. The most important part is that the ball cannot go in before the scrum is square and stationary, and most go in straight; in other words, trying to get over the midline and knock the other scrum back on the engage is just so much wasted effort, because you'll be brought back to the mark.

If enforced - and that's an "if" the size of Brad Thorn - it is a proportionate, sensible response that has been shown to address the mischief of dangerous impacts causing bad rugby. It is a reasonable step taken to reduce the risk faced in a scrum to a reasonable one accepted by all in the course of a physical game - and that's all that the law asks.

In other words, it is a perfect example of how you can address problems of liability and player safety while making the game better. And that is good day's work all round.

I repeat, we will have to see if it's enforced, and consistently enforced: there have been false dawns before. But, even as a first step, it's a pleasure to be able to say: well done, the IRB.