Broughto’s Blog
Sep 23

The scrum of Rugby League


The rugby league scrum has always been an area in which the fans have enjoyed or voiced their disapprovals for over 110 years.  ‘Push harder’ and the endless call from fans for a penalty to be awarded to their team were part of yesterday’s game.“I know in our scrums we don’t push anymore, but it is so important to keep six  in a tight group to give you more attacking space,” Gordon Tallis said on Triple M’s Sin Bin. Gordons assertion on the value of the scrum must be given some consideration given his long experience competing at every level of the game.

This is written with perhaps a little tongue in cheek but as General Patton quoted” A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”

Before comparing rugby league to other ‘Games’ one should first accept that rugby league is a continuing evolving sport in many ways, driven by the players and the fans. Rugby, Basketball, Baseball, Cricket are all invented games and consequently tradition and heritage is retained in most cases when it comes to whether changes are necessary to the laws of these invented games. The NFL and Rugby League know they have to address their rules of the game when the fans, through and with the media, print and social, express their concerns, The NRL as the governors of the sport in Australia have acted professionally during Coronavirus in getting bums on lounges and seats and fortunately understands that it must always be presenting  a game that is a better game and more entertaining than any other sport

1895 and the N.U.

In 1895 when Northern Union (NU) broke away from Rugby they decided to address three major changes to distance the new game from Rugby.Firstly, reducing the number of players on the field from 15 players to 13 was achieved by limiting rugby league’s scrum to six by eliminating the positions of the two Flankers. N.U. then elected to bring the ball back into play by the ‘play by the ball movement’ rather than the rugby ruck and at the same time they also eliminated the Lineout.

A key catalyst for addressing the No Contest Scrum (NCS)

A severe neck injury to a Wollongong Schoolboy Steven Watson was a catalyst for  the NSWRL followed by  the NRL to continue to address safety as a primary reason to  rewrite laws of the game in regards to lifting, recklessly carelessly or needlessly in regards to neck or head, dangerous contact, dangerous throw, and  the shoulder charge. The scrum was a part of the heritage going back to 1895 but the decision in 1993 to introduce an uncontested scrum to make the game safer was carried at a full meeting of all clubs.

Don Furner Snr. opened the debate on ‘No Contest Scrum’ (NCS) at the NSWRL based on facts, submissions, and observations as it had become a matter of concern, by fans and through all media. Documentation was presented regarding the actual playing time spent in games on the field of play before getting results from the more than numerous scrums

In no particular order of priority is a summary of the concerns. Player safety is the key.

*Player safety particularly in relation to the neck

* Penalties from scrum infringements were increasing

* The 7 and 9 conducting private contests with referees

* Time taken out in endless resetting of scrums

* Second row feed lose head prop, outside foot up, all penalties.

* Hookers feet across the funnel

* Half backs baulk when feeding the scrum

All of the above points brought about a stoppage in play.

In addition, there was a huge amount of time required at training with all the forwards and the half on scrummaging. The laws of the game did ensure the advantage in a scum should go to the team which did not incur the minor infringement. A contested scrum did however give some advantage to the non-offending team even to the extent that they may receive an ensuring scrum penalty.

The NFL does not contest the snap in their Lineout. Rugby scrums also favourably advantage the team which did not infringe

Rugby League can rightfully pride itself on introducing spontaneity in 2020 with 6 again but a return to the contested scrum will not contribute to the growing entertainment value. Should the contested scrum be considered, then the profile of the front row also may need to change. The contested scrum is a show of strength and those who play in the front row in today’s game are mobile but they will further encompass an additional workload in a contested scrum against people just as big and just as strong as themselves thus their bench recovery time may need to increase. The rugby league scrum is not the fabric of the game it’s more of a ‘Huddle’ and it is unlikely scrimmages such as the NFL will work in a game as fast flowing as rugby league. Also, many rugby league fans are not fans of the line of scrimmage which defines the NFLWe should, as Gordon Tallis indicated ‘tighten the group’. How this can be done without with further pressure on the referees must be taken into consideration 

It is OK to say we should be innovative and find a better way to bring the ball back in the play in regard to the scrum, but options are limited. However, it is not a scrum as the scrum defines rugby, and as we expand globally it may become increasingly important for the rugby league brand to differentiate it from rugby.

In my opinion, the rugby league scrum is no longer a scrum, and is not uite as relevant as it once was. This  began when limited tackles were introduced and also when turnovers added to their lack of importance as a deciding factor on the scoreboard.

Discussion points 

1.Revert to contested scrums.

2.Players just leaning on the second rowers sends a poor image to fans (fans comments range from” abysma” l to “pathetic”), as the rest of the game portrays ultimate            professionalism. In the front row a  player takes first pass of a scrum or effects the first tackle. This undermines the reason the scrum ever existed in either code, that of keeping forwards out of the backline. Scrums were once a launch for an attacking move now this is undermined by loose packing forwards not forming and thus breaking far too soon. “Properly Bound and Packed” means all players in the scrum bound together, both teams packed together and the half back ready to feed the ball into the scrum.

3.The Scrimmage Line                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      If it was rugby league then we would then have at least 6 players on the line. The similarity between the two games of NFL/NRL  is in the transference of the ball by the                  ¼ back to the wide receiver by hand in the NFL which is duplicated in rugby league by the half kicking the ball to his winger. The foot replaces the hand. In NFL they are           allowed one forward pass in the set but can lateral as often as they wish, however there are two dominating factors that prevent this from occurring. One is the incompletion of the pass means they have turned the ball over. The other factor is that the helmet intrudes so far across the cheek that the ball carrier cannot see his receiver unless he does a full half head turn. Try it with your hands. Further, many NRL fans are not NFL fans and it was a form of scrimmage that the NU eliminated in 1895.


I believe the present formation and laws of the game in relation the NCS should  continue to be observed and enforced without change, but the laws in relation to players breaking from scrum be addressed as a  penalty, not  a differential.

Changes to laws of the game that is continually evolving are necessary, particularly in relation to those laws which relate to the set plays that come into motion when the scrum is in motion, and six players are or can be  out of the defensive line.

The scrum no longer has the relevance it once did, and when changes to the laws of the game were less frequen.t However, all that was to change when the limited tackle             was introduced.

Any law change to the scrum should not increase the 44 seconds that data shows  begins from the referee signalling the minor infringement to the ball leaving the half backs hands into the scrum, which then activated the scrum and reactivates the game.

I worked with the late Don Furner in those years at the NSWRL. He was a wonderful astute lover of the game and he strongly believed in the NCS. He also took advice from his associate at NSWRL former international referee Michael Stone, and  I also fully supported the NCS proposal at the NSWRL full meeting as operational manager at that time.

Rugby league is an  enigmatic ever evolving game and many who follow the game  may not understand some of the complexities, but there are those who  can see the problem even though they don’t understand some aspects of the game.

Paul Broughton OAM 23/09/2020


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