TO: IRB Law Committee and Scrum Steering Group
Mr. Graham Mourie, Mr. John Jeffrey, Mr. Mike Hawker, Mr. Brian O’Shea, Mr. Mike Cron, Mr. Didier Retiere,

FROM: Enrique TOPO Rodriguez
DATE: April 10th, 2013
SUBJECT:Pre-bind modifications Trials, South Pacific Cup, March/April 2013 – Review of You Tube videos
Dear Graham,

Many thanks for asking me to have a look at the recent modifications applied to the scrum engagement law during the South Pacific Cup trials. As you may appreciate being this a field of my passion (42 years involvement) I have taken your request with all due seriousness and professionalism.

In recent times I had some contact with the other listed gentlemen mostly to do with my book (TAOS) and other matters too. Thus, since we all have the scrum at heart as a common interest albeit from different perspectives, thought this would be a good opportunity to communicate with all of you after I watched and reviewed the 17 matches through the You Tube links.

As you may appreciate, I do enjoy the benefit of consulting and discussing the scrum subject and current issues with a wide group of ex-International experts, several of them with more than 50 years committed to rugby and scrummaging.

I’d like to add in defence of these scrum law modifications that due to the complexity of scrummaging, perhaps it might be needed between 2 to 3 years for full adaptation and understanding of the general objectives and particular tasks to be performed by referees, coaches, and players. I feel, it has been proposed that the scrum will morph into a different structure and this is no mean feat.

It has been claimed that by altering the biomechanics of the engagement it has been achieved a 25% reduction on the forces that generally develop at front row assembly point during this phase of the scrum. At this juncture a reduction of a quarter of the forces and a reduction of potential risks is not an insignificant amount, well done!

To facilitate our observations would like to establish that in scrummaging there are three intimately and inter-connected (nonetheless different) phases to contend with: a) preparation; b) engagement; and c) ball put-in and push. It is extremely important than the three are completed successfully in order to attain what I call the “Top Trilogy”: a Safe, Successful and Efficient scrum. The first is and should be solely domain of the players. However, the other two require the combined “commitment and right attitude” of players and referee, here both parties must share responsibility for the outcomes. To utilise an “orchestra” as a metaphor: the referee should operate as “the conductor” during steps (b) + (c). And the players should be in charge of “fine tuning” their instruments (bodies) in step (a) as well as executing steps (b) + (c).

Have watched the SP Cup trials videos (an average of 4 min. approx. p/match) that even though the problematic “HIT” has been erradicated, other problems and side effects are developing. This comes to no surprise to me because when we have a very well compressed and competitive structure like the scrum, with super-fit and competitive athletes and we squeeze it or restrict it in one particular point, without adjusting the whole structure.
Then the scrum (namely the players) will accordingly react and try to compensate for those restrictions by creating advantages even at their own detriment.

Therefore, and due to the above I have detected a number of technical and physical deficiencies surfacing (that in my opinion) compromise player safety and technique. Hence, you will have to evaluate whether taking the risk of 2 to 3 years adaptation is worth the risk?
Following are my observation in regards to the different anatomical areas compromised:

1. Spinal Cord and Neck are and could be compromised by being unnecessarily flexed or extended (see hyper-flexion and hyper-extension) in three vital areas: a) cervical; b) dorsal; and c) lumbar [in layman’s terms: neck, upper and lower back]

The safest and most efficient spine position for front rowers in the scrum is the equivalent to “the squat” with back straight and head in alignment with the spine (never up or down)

2. As or when the legs of both front rows are over extended there is no transfer of their own weight and also the weight of the back five. Thus the emphasis and critical area has transferred now onto the upper body and neck muscles.

To support this view, when forces are projected forward towards the opposition there are only three possible directions to go: i) forward; ii) upwards; or downwards. I see in these trials a marked tendency to go upwards – very risky indeed.

3. The scrum formation because the new law requirements (may or may not be) in my opinion is too loose lacking cohesion and togetherness. This in turn generates extra risks particularly for the tight five (not just the front row alone). The back rows by merits of being semi-detached are not exposed to these forces as much as the rest.

4. It was quite noticeable to me, in these trials that the heavier packs have easily asserted “supremacy” from the engagement generating momentum from the beginning. Conversely, the lighter/weaker packs when stationery is in the receiving end like targets. Lighter packs have no defence against that initial impulse/shove.

5. Moreover, when the lighter/weaker pack wants to contest or counter that supremacy, invariably they appeal to two tactical initiatives: a) “speed of execution” or “anticipation”; and b) get lower than the opposed pack, this sometimes works but as you may understand other times is counter-productive favouring the heavier pack that are able to wrestle their way down on to them.

6. The results in these situations are mixed but it is obvious that once the initial resistance is broken, inertia takes over and makes the winning pack push its opposition pretty fast and unusually long distances. This is also a situation of increased risks!

7. Have also noticed an accentuated use of the wheel to de-stabilise the opposition, which in my opinion is very dangerous even worse than the HIT because the receiving side is neither aware nor prepared for these twisting forces. I recommend the WHEEL must be completely outlawed (maximum tolerance: 45 degrees)

8. The call: it appeared to me sometimes it was not-consistent. E.g.: Crouch too long other times too short. Other times the ball goes in too quick. TOUCH really means BIND.

NOTE: It could have been that, at times the sound of the videos was out of synch with the images (or perhaps insufficient bandwidth)

9. Front rows tend to be too high. Sometimes they start from a good position (backs parallel to the ground and flexed legs) but as scrum progresses they degenerate into an upright position. As a domino effect the second rowers also get very high (they have no choice but to follow their front row!)

10. Competitiveness and aggression have not diminished with these modifications but the structure of the scrum looks to me very fragile and vulnerable to several different forces and influences. On this, the scrummaging TECHNIQUE has deteriorated and the functionality of the eight positions has been compromised.

11. The pre-bind law appears to protect the weak packs and it may be so, on paper. On the field as seen in the trials, the bigger and stronger packs are able to establish ascendency much quicker. So, it may be a question of: Are we equalising upwards or downwards?

12. Between 1984 and 1985 several spinal injuries occurred in Australia at school level including two catastrophic. As a preventative measure the ARU introduced the Under 19’s Laws Package which was also adopted by New Zealand and by the IRB. Obviously the mandate was to de-power the scrum at school levels. Thus the first reaction of the “smart coaches” was to pick flankers as props because it was not required to push, so they selected runners instead. It probably worked for 2 or 3 years albeit the level of scrum expertise for “grass roots for senior levels was depleted.

13. It can also be concluded that Australia since, has been sporadically performing in scrummaging for the last 20-25 years. This type of “regression or involution” could well occur with the introduction of pre-bind initiative that simultaneously reduces the need for technique, conditioning and attitude. I strongly believe that raising the levels of Coaches’ Technical Expertise and increasing the numbers of dedicated coaches, the whole of scrummaging will improve.

14. We need to consider that “initiative” sometimes is a very good thing but “initiative without technical knowledge” could be very detrimental. I refer to enthusiastic coaches, players and referees that go on “problem solving” mode but it appears is done without considering the repercussions to the whole scrum.

15. It appears to me and my colleagues that professionalism in rugby has brought increased skill to all areas of the game except to the scrum

16. In my estimation, long term injuries that may be sustained under the present “New Scrum Laws” and the associated consequences may take between 3-5 years to be apparent. Furthermore, in some cases it could be only after retirement (15-20 years) that real repercussions could be researched, detected and accounted for.

Technical recommendations for consideration:

a) Crouch is almost a given, everybody knows it (players’ responsibility). Therefore, why not using just 2 calls: This will simplify everything and it will provide more time and control to the referees. So, e.g.:
CROUCH, with a good pause and BIND; or
BIND, a pause and PACK; or
BIND, a pause and SET
b) Second row: one knee to the ground (this takes majority of their weight off the front row before engagement, a technical advancement worth considering)

c) Ball put-in must be strictly in the middle (the most popular grievance heard)

d) Pushing starts with the ball coming in (second most popular grievance)

e) Outlaw the wheels – This is a very destructive and dangerous practice that contradicts all the precautions and safety measures taken by the IRB.

Find enclosed technical data and support information from MyoQuip

I’d also like to quote two well known specialist front rowers and very successful coaches in their very succinct appreciation and thoughts that could also be very helpful in your considerations.

Topo, Pre-bind allows players to pull other players out of position and could be dangerous. It is the shirt that causes binding problems as too tight to grab.
Regards, Jeff
Jeff Probyn – England, 37 caps, 1988-1993

Excerpts from The Rugby Paper, UK (article by Paul Eddison, 7/04/2013)
Comments by Philip Keith-Roach, Former England, Scrum Coach 2003 RWC

First the scrums are brought together as per law 20.1 (j) which says that the scrum must be stationery until the referee gives the order/signal for the scrum-half to put the ball in. Shoving can only start after the ball is put in.

Law makers need to draw their attention onto law 20.5 and cross out the first sentence which says: “the scrum-half should put the ball in without delay”

As per the second part of the law, it’s the referee who must decide when the ball is put in, and he/she should be able to check the scrum is steady before letting the scrum-half get involved.
Only then, in that second part of the process, is where we’d have the pushing contest. That is after the referee has checked the scrum is stable. When law 20.5 is changed, it would entirely remove the incentive of charging in for the hit and there will be no illegal gains because you couldn’t get “that edge” before the referee has checked the binding and ensured that the scrum is stable.

It would also make it much easier for the officials to check on crooked feeds, which by the way is one of most widely unpopular and sore points within the rugby family.

When law makers do that, then there will be no more early engagements. I still do a lot of work with top level clubs and we do live scrummaging sessions with a two-step process (first the engage, and then the push once everything is stable). I can say there are almost no collapses and the concussive nature of the hit is completely removed. And you are able to put teams on the back foot and go for pushover tries all legally.

About toporod

Triple Rugby Union International (1977-1991) The ART of SCRUMMAGING - 2013 Gold Medal Winning Author - [IPPY] - 2014 Silver Medal Winner [eLit Awards] - Enthusiastic writer on Rugby and Bipolar Disorders - International Rugby Consultant and Public Speaker -
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