Has new engagement sequence fixed the scrum?

Crouch, touch, pause, engage has been banished to the history books with the shorter more precise crouch, touch, set being introduced this season. Josh Kewell examines the impact after the first weekend of matches.


I understood the need for safety, and in 2007 when it was introduced, the four step series seemed to be the answer – fixing the distance between the front rows would decrease the impact. However the idea of telling nearly two tonnes of muscle and power to pause is simply ludicrous and with the rate of collapses at the top of the game seemingly never ending, the IRB has acted in both the interest of player safety and the spectacle of the game itself.

Let us look at the sequence. First the idea is to crouch and touch as per the old call, making sure that the two scrums are within an arms length of each other. ‘Set’ now replaces engage as the trigger call – part of the reason to change the word is that the new call is one syllable as apposed to engage being two. Professional rugby is now so marginal that front rows would react on the ‘E’ of engage meaning one could have an advantage over the other if they react quicker. With the use of set, referees should be more able to judge infringements and more importantly make the right call instead of the lottery of penalties that ended last season.

So how will the game change both from the view of a player and a spectator? As a spectator, so far so good. Over this last weekend I watched the beginning of the season with a remarkable air of wonderment. Scrums did seem to be staying up and they were competitive. Treviso v Ospreys was a bore fest played out in very wet and windy conditions at the Stadio Comunale di Monigo, but the scrums were in good shape. Both teams seemed willing to stay up and contest the ball, Treviso even did the unthinkable and won the ball against the head with a clean strike. One or two scrums did go down: one sticks in the mind from the Ospreys who deliberately went to ground to avoid being shunted back. A few were reset due to slips, but other than that I was amazed to see upright scrums competing with each other.

As a player the three calls took me a little by surprise. They are much sharper than expected and the scrums seemed to collide much more quickly. Officials can really bark out the orders and can clearly see who is going early to win the hit, leading to fairer, more justified penalties.

All in all these new calls seem to be taking the game back in the right direction. One thing for sure is that rugby can never lose the scrum. It makes the game what it is, and the idea that two packs of men can collide in a test of strength, power and technique is unique to our game and can never be lost. Hopefully these new engagement criteria will help to right the scrum and make it an even contest, and if the IRB would just sort those crooked feeds, I will be a happy man.

By Josh Kewell

8 thoughts on “Has new engagement sequence fixed the scrum?

  1. I think it has made alot of confusion. After watching the Edinburgh v Munster game the other night there was alot of early engagment. Why could they not just have left it the way it was but quickened up the time it took to set and say the words.

  2. Hi Josh, you sound hopeful and positive about the change introduced and why not? I agree with you that the scrum needs to be rescued from the doldrums and re-valued as a distinct and uniqyue feature of rugby union. I think we need 12 months of observation to see the different reactions particularly from the coaches and teams that are not doing well! I have recently authored a book called: “The ART of Scrummaging” where I recommend a 2 step sequence: CROUCH and PACK, all controlled by the referee. In my opinion, this is the safest, quickest and most efficient way to conduct scrummaging. I have played 42 internationals in the front row 1977-1987. Food for thought! Enrique TOPO Rodriguez

    1. Hi Enrique, totally agree with your comments, I live in New Zealand where, I personally reckon the worlds best scrummagers are developed, I dont know if anyone has been watching our Provincial competition, the ITM Cup, but I feel it has certainly increased the speed of the game and made it easier for the referees to judge infringements and not make it a lottery. After the observation period I do think that any decision should include both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, because of the different styles of scrummaging, could be that it may need more tweeking. One thing that did come to mind….did the law makers in their big chairs consult any retired or playing forwards in their deccisions?????…just a thought

      1. Hi Raymond, apologies for disappearng under a pile of papers. In the matter of consultation with international payers the answer is very simple: NOT MANY!

        Without knowing much about it, I’d say it’s a very closed process with a group in favour and others that “do not stack up”. Cheers, Enrique TOPO

  3. after ranting for ages about the “new scrum laws” (that is the old scrum laws as you refer to them) the IRB has gone back to what it was before with the referee calling for the players to crouch – allowing them to set – and then calling for engage when he’s happy.

    This looked to be an unsurprising improvement. Referees have for the last few years just been going through the motions without checking that players are set properly and engaging in a straight line. Now, the referee calls crouch and the players set themselves and when everything’s balanced, the referee calls “set”. Not sure why it took them so long. What I haven’t seen – and came out as the area of concern among players and ex players – was the return to looser fitting shirts for the tight 5 to enable better binding.


      I think and almost 100% sure that the “almighty dollar/pound” is much more powerful than common sense or even practicality!

      All forwards (8) must be able to grip strongly and securely from the next player either at scrum or maul situation, even kick offs.

      It seems this “modern rugby” is about avoidance of physicality. For one the good old vigorous ruck is being eroded and faced out gradually.

      Next thing, rugby will be played with gloves, thermal jerseys and perhaps on skateboards! (tongue firmly planted) t.

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