IRB Elite Referees Ready for Scrum Trial Debut

From the IRB:

  • Scrum engagement trial to make international debut in The Rugby Championship
  • Referees committed to consistent application of new process and existing law
  • New process will take time to bed-in
  • Comprehensive education resource can be found at
  • The International Rugby Board’s top referees gathered at the Fédération Française de Rugby’s (FFR) Centre National de Rugby in Marcoussis, near Paris, last week for a workshop to finalise consistent management of the new ‘crouch, bind, set’ scrum engagement sequence that will begin global trials this month.

    Twenty-one referees, representing eight Unions, were joined by representatives of the IRB scrum working group, coaches, the media and the IRB’s match official selection committee for a series of preparation sessions ahead of The Rugby Championship and November Tests.

    In a revision of the ‘crouch, touch, set’ engagement sequence currently being trialled, props will be expected to bind using their outside arm after the referee has called “bind”. The front rows will maintain the bind until the referee calls “set”. At that point, the two packs will engage.

    The IRB Council approved the law trial in May, alongside a suite of five other aspects of law, on player welfare enhancement grounds as the revised sequence has the potential to reduce forces on engagement at the elite level by 25 per cent, therefore promoting long-term benefits.

    Addressing the scrum collapse issues that have been prevalent recently in elite Rugby is not the driver of this change. However, it is possible that the new sequence, coupled with strict application of existing law by referees and universal positive attitude buy-in, could lead to a more stable platform and therefore fewer collapses and resets.

    IRB Chief Executive Brett Gosper said: “The introduction of the law trial is just the tip of the iceberg. We are working in full partnership with our Unions to deliver a comprehensive programme of education to ensure that all are fully prepared for the start of the trial, including our top referees.”

    “Fundamental to this process will be buy-in from all to ensure a positive approach to the scrum and to tackle the issues that are prevalent at the elite level of the Game. We anticipate an element of time for all to get comfortable with the new process, but if we can ensure a stable platform by working together, then the product will be better for all.”

    “The feedback that we have been getting from coaches and players around the world is that this is a positive change that enhances player welfare and scrum stability. The referee forum was incredibly positive and highly constructive and there is a commitment to ensure strict policing of the scrum feed.”

    The IRB’s comprehensive free-to-access online education resource aimed at introducing players, coaches and match officials at community and elite level on the implementation and management of the sequence can be found at

    Editors Notes:

    Law 20.1(g) Forming a Scrum: The referee will call “crouch” and then “bind”. The front rows crouch and using their outside arm each prop must bind. A loose-head prop must bind on the opposing tight-head prop by placing the left arm inside the right arm of the tight-head and gripping the tight-head prop’s jersey on the back or side. A tight-head prop must bind on the opposing loose-head prop by placing the right arm outside the left upper arm of the opposing loose-head prop and gripping the loose-head prop’s jersey with the right hand only on the back or side. The props must not grip the opponent’s chest, arm, sleeve or collar. Following a pause, the referee will then call “set” when the front rows are ready. The front rows may then engage. The “set” call is not a command but an indication that the front rows may come together when ready. The sanction for any infringement will be a free kick.

    The 25 per cent reduction of compression forces is based on peak compression forces under the current sequence averaging 16,500 newtons for elite men’s packs and 8,700 newtons for women’s international packs.

    The research was based on two phases of examination under the University of Bath Scrum Forces Project: Phase one included six levels of the Game from international to under-18 with six teams at each level and six different engagement processes. The packs scrummaged with an instrumented scrum machine which measured the forces on engagement and the secondary shove post-engagement.

    Phase two was live scrummaging with players in both front rows wearing pads which measured the forces on engagement. The results from the elite teams showed that, averaged across all teams, the ‘crouch, bind, set’ condition generated lower peak forces during the engagement phase, demonstrating a 25 per cent reduction compared with the ‘crouch, touch, set’ or ‘crouch, touch, pause, engage’ sequence.

    The Scrum Steering Group comprises: David Barnes (IRPA), Mike Cron (NZRU), Didier Retière (FFR), Brian O’Shea (ARU), Norm Mottram (USA Rugby), Richie Dixon (GRU), Ken Quarrie (NZRU), Graham Mourie (IRB Rugby Committee member), John Jeffrey (IRB Council Member, SRU and Chairman of IRB Rugby Committee), Gavin Williams (RFU), Dr Martin Raftery (IRB Chief Medical Officer), Joël Jutge (IRB High Performance Match Official Manager).

    The group is supported by Dr Grant Trewartha, Dr Mike England and Dr Keith Stokes, members of the University of Bath research team.