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The Scrum and How American Sportscasters Get It Wrong

Rugby has captured mild intrigue from American sports fans but remains mostly mystery. This is evident when watching an NFL game and the announcers use rugby terms to identify sports situations. The one term that angers me to no end is when I hear Cris Collinsworth (as well as others) use the term “scrum” in a football game. When players get into disorganized messes of random shoving announcers always say the players are caught up in a scrum.

This ignorance does a great disservice to the sport of rugby. Being a sport that requires an attention span of more than 30 second that people do not take the time to learn does not make the sport disorganized or random.

A scrum in rugby is a way the game is reset after certain infraction are committed. Ranging from any time the ball is knocked or thrown forward, to a restart after a penalty. Two groups of eight people called forwards bind together crouch down and compete for the ball which is placed in between them by a ninth player. The most similar American sport equivalent I can give is a jump ball in basket ball

It consists of three front row player a two props called a tight head because his head cannot be seen and loose head because his can. Each prop grabs the opposite waste of the man in the middle called a Hooker, whose job is to hook the ball to the back of the scrum, he put his arm around either prop and crouch down.

Directly behind the front row are two player called locks. They wrap an arm around one another, crouch down and stick their heads between the hooker and the prop in front of them. Their other come up through their props legs grabbing either the waistband of their shorts or the bottom of their shirts. Off to the side of the locks and behind the props are two flankers, and directly behind the locks is the number eight.

Each group of 8 face each other at about 18 inches apart and when the referee feel they are ready he give three commands…

  1. Crouch- A preparatory command
  2. Bind-This is the command for the two groups of eight to come together
  3. Set- The order to groups to push into one another to allow the scrum to support itself

At this point the ninth player or  rolls the ball in the area between the front row players called the tunnel. When in the tunnel the two groups compete for the ball by either having there hooker hook the ball to the back of the scrum or by having the one group push the other back until the ball is in the back of the scrum. At this point the ball is picked up of the ground the by the scrumhalf or number 8 and play resumes.

This is an extremely basic explanation of what a scrum is. There are enough of tips, techniques, and strategies out there to fill several books. A scrum is a very controlled activity that players devout a time and training to. The sport has rules that require adequate training as a front row player to participate in a live contested scrum. The number of players a team can have on a roster has expanded over the years to be certain a properly trained first row player in case of injury. If a team doesn’t have enough trained players the scrums are modified for the sake of safety.

A scrum is one of the most carefully coordinated activities in the world of sport. If it were as reckless and disorganized as the world of American football suggest the sport would have never lasted the 169 years that it has. It would have killed many people and paralyzed even more. All contact sports have their moment of chaos and confusion. These football announcers ought to take time or least use a PA or intern to learn the difference between confusion as result from chaos and confusion resulting from 


I first saw game on TV at age 38, and immdeiately fell in love with same.  I played my last Men's side regular game at age 73 in 2008, got knocked on my butt & came out of game for last time,   I've battled depression ever since, before I didn't have to battle depression, eh?  

  It was instrumental in maintaining a very loving marriage lo these past 57 years that persists to this day.  The Mrs. & I have enjoyed many beautiful vacations by going on "rugby tours" over seas and to Canada.  Throughout I maintained a solid place on the 3d and/or 2d side of a midling Club in the States, only got to the "A" side 2 or 3 times overall.  [Due of course to lack of adequate number of players on long trips.]  But my love & concern for the Game persists to this day.

   i fully agree with the originator of the above letter, and PROTEST that we in the USA cannot purchase TV coverage of Rugby Union from around the world at any price.  I do not know WHO sold out the sport to the big time persons/organizations who are fearful of the USA sporting fana being exposed to the Sport,  BUT  "Fie" on them I say!!!!!



Look I understand your disdane for American announcers they can be brutal.  The word scrum, like most words in the English language have more than one meaning. The word scrum might coincide mainly with Rugby, but it has multiple meanings. IF the announcers were to use "Rugby Scrum", then I would agree with you. If you were to take the time to look at say, merriam-webster, you will come to find that Rugby does not own the rights to said word.  

Therefore, your annecdote is rather amusing and in reality, doesn't do a disservice to the announcers who are infact, utilizing the word correctly, it shows that you are frustrated for whatever reason with a word being used outside of sport. I have provided a link, although I doubt you will utilize it, showing the various definitions of the word scrum i(ncluding rugby), as well as some sentances it can be used it.

I did utilize the link. However while what you say is absolutely true there are several other words that words that would better describe the actions they attempting to convey. I feel that Americans who don't follow the sport see rugby a chaotic mess of a game. Sportscasters use of the word scrum only serves to add that idea.

you are correct re: CURRENT terminology but when I started playing (a couple fo years ago :)) there were "set scrums" and "loose scrums". "Rucks" later replaced "loose scrums".

The Canadian hockey annoncers stick with the old version of the world, thus every mess is a "scrum".



While the article and comments are two years old, things haven't changed. I was employed to announce college rugby because of my tenure as a referee. I was told to explain what's occuring on the pitch to the spectators. Spectators usually consists of family and friends - unfamiliar with the sport. At top level tourneys (in the states), the organizers bring in a sportscaster, who may havee been excellent with another sport, but can't distinguish between the referee signalling a try or a penalty. Fans are caught between watching the referee for information and what they hear over the loudspeaker. As a quick tap is being taken, the announcer is still complimenting the player for scoring the try. You can hear in his voice that he can't understand why the players are now heading toward the other try line. Other times, organizers bring in a star player for commentary. It appears that many great players are only familiar with basic signals. They confuse the signals for he ball being held up to requesting a trainer for an injured player. In short, my advice for those giving sportscasting a try, learn the signals so you don't have to guess. Then you'll have fun.