Balie Swart on Scrumming

Posted by SCRRS Website Committee on September 30th, 2011

Original article published on

Mark Lawrence, retired from international refereeing but continuing other refereeing, as he eases his way more and more into coaching, training, helping referees in South Africa. He has written on scrumming, so often a bone of contention and so often seen as an area of conflict between referees and players.


Jonathan Kaplan refereeing Japan v Canada 2011 RWC

At the beginning of September, André Watson sent out some principles on scrumming. The purpose was not to use these points to “nail” you but to help you have a good day at scrums!

This was in consultation with Balie Swart, the scrumming expert who helps referees, but it seems that while the contents were noted, most of you don’t quite understand WHY we are applying them or WHAT we are trying to achieve, as a group.

Balie and I have spent hours discussing scrums and we want to clarify a few aspects of André and Balie’s’ principles

Principle: There is no such thing as ‘rewarding a dominant scrum’. Both teams are to scrum technically correctly and within the laws. (If a scrum is dominant then there is no reason for it to scrum illegally – or is the scrum dominant because it scrums illegally?)

Comment: A lot of you note, in game plans, “reward the stronger scrum”. This is a term the Kiwis like to use but it is causing some confusion amongst referees and is encouraging stronger teams to “cheat” in their dominance!

It is simple: encourage POSITIVE scrumming, and penalise NEGATIVE scrumming.

Food for thought: The 80/20 rule. The ball-feeding team wants a stable scrum, the defenders want to create an unstable scrum and SPOIL.

The law requires a STATIONARY scrum after engage. Be aware that teams like to use the term “hit and chase”. i.e. they scrum before the ball is fed.

Don’t tolerate it.

Food for thought : if the scrum is still and stable (stationary), you will have time to watch the scrum feed! And if you get a credible feed, the defending hooker will try and strike for the ball. The height of the scrum will also come up because the hookers are now hooking and not just putting their feet back to push!

In the definitions it states: “This creates a tunnel into which a scrum half throws the ball so that the front rows can compete for possession by HOOKING the ball with either of their feet”

Remember, the scrum must be still and steady just long enough to allow the scrumhalf to feed…. Literally 2 to 3 seconds!

Principle: Concentrate that the loosehead and the tighthead grip ON ENGAGE and that they keep it there for the duration of the scrum. See that the loosehead has the arm up (elbow) and that the tighthead binds over the top. Keep the tightheads away from the arm of the looseheads.

Principle: Be vigilant on the looseheads that walk around the tightheads.

Comment: Please note that if the loosehead walks around the tighthead, the tighthead will have to break his bind and bring his arm to his chest to protect his ribs. The loosehead has to “leave” his hooker and you will note that the loosehead is “shearing off” and his spine is no longer “in line” . Penalize the CAUSE (loosehead) NOT the symptom (tighthead) .

Principle: Ensure that the set-up is correct – square, in line and everyone in the INTERLOCK position.

Comment: Why interlock? The loosehead wants to line up head to head with the tighthead, to get under his chest. This often causes him to “hinge” because he has to go lower than the tighthead to be underneath him. If you move the loosehead to join under the shoulder or arm pit of the tighthead, you won’t get “hinging”. Also his left arm must come across to his HEAD to bind on the tighthead. Guess what: The loosehead’s elbow will be up and won’t point down, as it would, if he was under the chest of the tighthead. Please try this using a friend or even your wife ….. and if his elbow is up, he is not “hanging” on the tighthead who may have to “turn in” and consequently will end up “falling into the tunnel”

Make sure the tighthead does not close down the space under his arm pit. His arm must be “up” and elbow pointing “out” so he can bind over the top of the loosehead and the loosehead can get under the arm pit.

Principle: Ensure that the hookers are BOTH on the mark and in fact each one slightly to the left of the mark (and stay there when you call crouch)

Principle: After the TOUCH call – ensure that both teams are stationary (No Movement). Reset here if things are not correct as opposed to calling engage as it WILL fail.

Principle: Once PAUSE has been called, please realise that you have to do everything you can to make it work as you cannot simply leave it to the players to get it right or…

Principle: Beware the slingshot by the eighthman as this contributes to early engagement.

Comment: The eighthman wants to “initiate” or “ignite” the engage so that the props “hit” is even more forceful! That force has to go somewhere … often down! Reduce the impact by making sure the eighthman has his head between the locks and is fully bound so that he is not looking at you! If he asks you to make your calls LOUDER, it is because he wants to initiate the hit on your pause call!!! Use you assistant referees here to make sure both eighthman’s are bound in the scrum properly, as per the law, or penalize them with a free kick for not forming the scrum properly. They are spoiling the scrums and you are allowing it!

Principle: NO TEAM is to beat the engage call.

Principle: 4 calls, 4 actions! ZERO TOLERANCE.

I trust this helps bring some clarity and PURPOSE to what we want to achieve as a group. Please call Balie or Mark at any time if you have questions or concerns.

Original article published on

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