The ‘hit’ is the problem after-all


A week or so back I (stupidly) decided to give my opinion in an area of the game very few know anything about, the scrum, but it seems by a shot of luck I might not have been far off!

My post ‘The hit is a miss’ dealt with issues at scrum time and suggested that the actual ‘hit’ in the scrum could be the root of all evil.  Well here is something I came across from someone that knows a hell of a lot more than I do on matters like this, and also provides some astonishing scientific data.

Scrum ‘hit’ is the problem after-all
The Roar – Jeznez

The ‘Hit’ in Rugby Union scrums has come under widespread criticism for a number of years now.

I have been arguing that it is players willfully collapsing which is the major issue, rather than the hit but new evidence is coming to light which suggests I am wrong.

The IRB sends regular emails to accredited coaches and the January installment arrived this week.

Included was a presentation by IRB Chief Medical Officer, Dr Martin Raftery titled “Scrum History, Scrum Force Project and Scrum Injuries”. The presentation cited a number of studies that have been predominantly conducted at Bath University.

In the history section the studies showed that between 1982 and 2004 the number of scrums per game went from an average of 31 to 19, a drop of 60%. This reduction has been maintained with the RWC of 2011 averaging 17 scrums per match.

During the 1982-2004 period the number of scrums won by the feeding team has stayed aligned going from 88% to 89%.

The biggest change reported was in relation to penalties. Back in 1982 scrum penalties were evenly distributed between the feeding and defending scrums. As of 2004 the side feeding the ball enjoyed a 6:1 advantage in having a penalty awarded to them.

Something has drastically changed if the defensive side has become six times more likely to give away a penalty at scrum time.

The presentation also compared the 2003 Rugby World Cup to the 2011 version. The latest RWC had twice as many scrum collapses and twice as many penalties compared to 2003.

The 1995 RWC was also compared to 2011 with an even bigger difference; there are now three times as many collapses and four times the penalties.

An analysis of the scrums in the 2011 World Cup showed that there are an average of 17 scrums per game; half of these are won cleanly, a third collapse and the remaining 20% result in a penalty or free kick.

This seems to be a first world problem though. A review of the pool matches showed that when two Tier 1 teams played each other the stats are much worse than if two Tier 2 teams play each other.

The 2011 RWC Pool Matches break down as follows; these are average results per 100 scrums.

Tier 1 v Tier 1 – Collapse = 50, Re-Set = 31, Penalty/FK = 41
Tier 1 v Tier 2 – Collapse = 34, Re-Set = 17, Penalty/FK = 29
Tier 2 v Tier 2 – Collapse = 19, Re-Set = 9, Penalty/FK = 17
6 Nations – Collapse = 54, Re-Set = 30, Penalty/FK = 44
Tri Nations – Collapse = 43, Re-Set = 25, Penalty/FK = 25

The Tri Nations numbers are surprisingly good but it could be argued that South Africa and Australia have been scrummaging at a Tier 2 level so skew the results.

Finally the studies showed that scrums are taking up more than their fair share of the game. Scrums make up 8% of all contested events in the game but consume 17.5% of total playing time.

All the above points to scrums materially being an issue today compared to prior eras, and an issue at the highest level compared to lower tiers. It doesn’t pinpoint the ‘Hit’ or show that my defence of it was wrong. The next section of the presentation addressed that.

Bath University has conducted extensive studies measuring forces on scrum machines. With the assistance of the RFU they were able to gain participation from International, Elite Professional, Community, Adolescent, Women and U/18 teams.

The study focused on:

Peak Engagement Force (PEF) being the maximum force generated on impact.
Sustained Compression Force (SCF) being the force maintained after impact.
Lateral and Vertical forces.

They looked at a number of engagement methods from the Crouch, Touch, Engage (CTE) to Passive, including the variations of hitting and holding versus double shoves, amongst others.

The key finding is that the PEF which measures the force on the ‘Hit’ is twice what it was 20 years ago. PEF are also twice as large as the SCF.

The International and Elite packs generated significantly higher PEF, even after normalising for their greater mass. It was deemed that the speed of engagement these professional packs were able to generate led to the difference.

The PEF on a normal engagement are twice as large as that on a ‘passive’ engagement. All engagements, including passive produced similar levels of SCF.

Passive engages involved reducing the engagement speed by between 55-75% compared to a normal one and as well as a 50% reduction in the Peak Engagement Force, the downward Vertical force was reduced by 20%.

Given the twin pieces of evidence that the peak engagement force in scrums is twice what it used to be and that this is a particular issue at the elite levels. We need to revisit the engagement method to get rid of the blight of collapses and penalties on the game.

The new Crouch, Touch, Set engagement call that has been introduced is an improvement with the removal of the Pause and change to a single syllable pack call. However it does nothing to address the distance between packs, and does not limit the speed at which engagement occurs.

These are the two key areas that need addressing. The IRB’s Scrum Unit is due to release more information and recommendations shortly so we can expect to hear more on this during the year.

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  1. IMO how to reduce the affect of the HIT:
    Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 11:05 am:

    Another option on reducing the hit is having the opposing front-rows bind before the rest of the scrum.
    At the moment you have the 8 players on each side pack up and then “engage” with the hit.
    In the old days the scrum bound in all sorts of ways – see video in a previous post. So another suggestion is the have the front-row set and engage and then the 2nd rowers and flankers can join. This will reduce the power of that hit, the importance of the hit and also will save a lot of medical bills…

  2. Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 9:51 am:

    I think your idea will result in more problems than it solves.

    Teams will continue to try to gain the upper hand before the ball goes in.
    Front rowers will attempt to engage with a hit and will jostle for control from the moment they do. The referee will have to police this.
    Locks will try to enter before the other teams’s locks and try to hit and push for advantage as soon as they do. The referee will have to police this, while he is also policing the ongoing wrestling match between the front rowers.
    Ditto for the back row.

  3. Reply to JT_BOKBEFOK! @ 2:21 pm:

    I agree that the hit needs to go or be de-powered, but you will have to do it in a way that will not saddle the referee with even more police work. That will just create more opportunities for trickery.

  4. Reply to Ollie @ 3:46 pm:

    and if they enforce that then the hit will become less and less important – at the moment some of the scrummies feed the ball on the hit which the scrum uses to get momentum which = collapse :?

    Make them engage and then wait! Crouch, Touch set PAUSE feed!

  5. If the scrum keeps moving, the referee will have to determine who is to blame = more guessing, more penalties and more opportunities for trickery.

    I think one will have to acknowledge that, no matter what the law says, the contest will always be starting at the moment the props engage.

  6. I posted this on the article on the roar. Too lazy to type it again, so here is a copy and paste.

    Talking as a loose head prop and from personal exerience.

    In my view the HIT itself is not the problem, it is purely the result of poor preparation by the front row before the hit. The whole idea of the referee calling the hit is where this problem starts.

    I played club rugby in the early nineties and we (The Feeding team) called the HIT. As a prop you are intently aware of every move your opposing front rower make. Your body positioning, where you hold your arm in the ready to bind, the angle of your body to absorb the hit, your bind to your hooker etc. It is all part of your preparation for the hit. Once ready for the hit, there is little else you focus on but the trigger movements of the opposing front row and your teammate next to you. Before I forget the lock behind you and his positioning is also vital before the hit.

    When I was ready to make the hit, my focus was firstly my bind to the hooker (AS tight as possible, with no movement or seperation of our hips.) Secondly I would not go down in the crouch until my lock was perfectly binded beneath my buttocks (binding anywhere higher than that would cause him to slide up and have no effect on providing any power, instead he would put pressue on my lower back and if my opposing prop scrummed upwards would severely compromise my position.

    My left arm (binding arm) was in what you could call a jab position, ready to shoot out and bind under the arm of the tight head and in the same movement to lock my elbow parrallel to the ground. By locking my shoulder like that, the tight head could not pull me down. This is probably the thing I focused on as the biggest priority as the speed of the bind secured my position.

    Once all those things were in place, my body angle could be best described as trying to form a straight line (javelin) from my heal to my shoulder at the required angle to hit the tighthead so that I could maintain his weight and push forward. I didn’t have a bend anywhere in my body, be it knees, back, etc.

    So ready for the hit, If it was our scrum, the hooker would merely tap the moment we would hit and the halfback would know to proceed feeding the ball.

    when it was the opposition’s feed, I would just watch the trigger movements of the opposing prop and be ready to hit, bind and straighten all in one movement.

    Having a prop focus on all that and then listen to a referee when to do what is absolute wrong in my view.

    So if preparation is done correctly, the chances of a srum going down is minute. Why it is happening so often is down to two things in my opinion. The referee and incorrect preparation for the front row.

    Just thought I will put my two cents in.