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IRB to introduce new scrum law

Published: 2:56PM Saturday November 18, 2006 Source: Reuters

A new scrummaging rule will be introduced to rugby union next year in a bid to improve safety, the International Rugby Board announced on Saturday.

The new IRB Council law will see a four-stage "crouch, touch, pause, engage" process that will bring packs closer and cut the force on impact when it is implemented on January 1.

The world governing body has reviewed the safety of the scrum after recommendations by its medical committee although it rejected calls to follow rugby league and "depower" the scrum.

The key change to the present sequence is that the two props will have to touch their opponent's shoulder. Currently, the two packs often charge at each other from up to three feet away.

Front rows will also be prohibited from engaging with their head and shoulders lower than their hips in a bid to reduce the number of collapsed scrums while keeping set-pieces competitive.

IRB chairman Dr Syd Millar, quoted on the official IRB Web site, said the contested scrum remained central to the sport.

Contested scrum

"An essential element of rugby is its physicality. This has to be appropriately balanced with the welfare of participating players and the IRB continues to take such issues very seriously.

"The IRB believes that the contested scrum is an integral part of the game and that rugby is unique in that its playing charter provides the opportunity for individuals of all shapes and sizes to play the game," said Millar.

He added, however, that expert medical and technical advice had indicated it was appropriate for the game to adopt a "less vigorous scrum engagement sequence".

Former England front row forward Jason Leonard, who helped the IRB review the scrum, told the Web site: "This new engagement sequence will standardise the distance the two sets of forwards are apart, reduce the collision at engagement and will assist in ensuring that both sets of forwards are at the best horizontal height possible.

"This is crucial to the successful engagement of the scrum."

"With the reduced impact and forwards at the correct height we will see an associated improvement in the bind. This should also assist in minimising collapsing of the front row.

"It also ensures that the scrum remains a true contest which is important for the game. It in no way impairs both teams ability to contest for the ball," added Leonard.

The law change will accompany the zero tolerance policy on crooked feeds to the scrum that comes into effect next year.