What Is A Scrum In Rugby: A Comprehensive Guide

Newcomers to the sport of rugby are often confused by some of the rules. However, you can find out more about what is a scrum in rugby here.

Rugby can often be a daunting sport to understand for newcomers, with a number of unique restarts that aren’t used in any other sport. One of those come in the form of the scrum. 

Many newcomers are often confused and ask what is a scrum in rugby, as this is one of the most unique restarts, as they are frequent throughout a match of rugby union. However, you can find out everything you need to know surrounding all questions revolving around what is a scrum in rugby here on OVAL3.

What Is A Scrum In Rugby?

Scrums are very straightforward to understand in rugby, as it is a means used to restart play after a stoppage has been triggered due to a minor infringement on the field. Scrums are typically awarded after a forward pass has occurred or a knock-on. This form of restart adds an extra layer to a game of rugby, as it occupies all forwards and scrum-halves in one area of the field, meaning that there is a perfect opportunity for backs to mount an attacking player on other areas of the field. 

When understanding what is scrum in rugby, newcomers should be aware that this restart sees eight players from each team lock, with the ball rolled in through the middle of the two tunnels. The opposing hookers will then compete for the ball to try and retrieve possession and therefore start an attacking play. However, the team that throws that ball into the tunnel typically retains possession, as they will have a tactic in place to catch the other side unawares. 

As soon as possession has been secured by a team, the ball can then be moved forward on the ground in order to create a drive and force the opposing team down the field. Meanwhile, the team in possession could also look to take the ball out of the scrum using their foot to resume play and unleash their backs on a vulnerable defense.  You can see this in all the best rugby leagues in the world.

Luke Burgess (rightmost player in black) introduces the ball into the scrum.

Key Takeaways

  • A scrum is made up of eight players from opposing teams
  • The team in possession can drive the defending team back towards their try line
  • A scrum is awarded following a minor infringement on field, such as a knock-on or a forward pass

The Formation Of A Scrum

When learning what is a scrum in rugby, it is important to understand how the scrum is formed. Preparing for a scrum will see each team’s eight forwards bind together in three rows, with the front row being at the front and then second row and back row being closely behind. The front row is made up by the two props and the hooker. The loosehead prop will be on the left on the front row, with the hooker being in the centre, and the tighthead prop taking their position on the right.

All three players will join together closely, so there is no gap between either of the props and the hooker. Failing to bind together for a prop leads to a penalty, meaning that the first three players in the row will set the tone for the scrum. The fourth and fifth players in the scrum will be directly below the hooker, and these are known as the locks, as they keep the scrum ‘locked’. The flankers make up the sides of the lock, while the number eight binds between the two locks at the back of the scrum.

Forming a scrum often takes time in rugby union, as the two forward packs must approach to within arms length. The on-field referee will then give the command to ‘crouch’, before players are given the order to ‘bind’. The latter of these orders is to ensure that the front rows aren’t too far apart. A permission is then granted to the front rows to engaged when the referee says ‘set’. Finally, the scrum action gets underway when the teams are given the order to ‘engage’. 

Rules and Infringements 

Keeping players safe during the scrum is a huge importance, and therefore there are a number of rules that must be followed when following what is a scrum in rugby. Rules are vitally important during the scrum, as they will have a huge impact on the reduction of injuries given the force and power that will be on display during the restart. The vast majority of the rules are focused on the players on the front row.

Key to those are the fact that front rows must engage square on, which limits the movement of the opposing hooker. This also sees the tighthead prop limiting the movement of the opposing hooker. A team not engaging square on are punished with a penalty against the team. Furthermore, front-rowers aren’t allowed to twist their bodies, pull opponents, or do anything that could see the scrum collapse. Failure to comply with these rules will also see a penalty given against the team. 

One of the key rules that must be followed by players on the back row is that they must remain bound until the ball has left the scrum. This will ensure that flankers will keep at least one arm in contact with the scrum until the ball has exited the restart process. 

When understanding what is a scrum in rugby, it is also important to assess the rules that scrumhalves must follow during the restart. The vast majority of the rules focus around how the ball is thrown into the scrum. Before the ball enters the scrum, the structure must be stable and stationary, as well as parallel to the goal lines. 

If these rules aren’t followed, then a free kick is awarded to the non-offending team in the scrum. Scrumhalves must also follow the instructions given by the referee during the restart, meaning that they shouldn’t delay putting the ball into the scrum if encouraged to do so. Once the ball has left the hands of the scrumhalf, then the scrum has got underway. 

Scrum Players and Their Roles


The hooker is one of the most important players in a scrum, as they will line up between the two props. This player will be the key decision-maker when it comes to how a team will attack the restart. A hooker will determine the timing, and will also be in charge of winning possession for the team by hooking the ball back to their teammates. 

Loosehead & Tighthead Props

When understanding what is the scrum in rugby, it’s important to understand the importance of the loosehead and tighthead props on the front row. These players will be either side of the hooker. Successful players in this position are typically strong in the upper body areas, as they look to overpower the opposing front rows. 

As well as stopping their team from moving backwards in the scrum, these two players will also be responsible for taking the hooker’s body weight and ensuring that the player in the middle of the front row can see and strike the ball when it is rolled into the scrum. 

4 & 5 Lock/ Second Row

Players in the second row also have a huge role to play when assessing what is a scrum in rugby. These players are typically the engine room, and therefore they will likely be among the tallest stars on a team. 

They will need to bind together solidly to ensure that the scrum has the power it requires to gain possession of the ball. Meanwhile, second rows also have a huge role to play in line outs, as they will need to be accurate with their jumping. 

Number Eight

The number eight is an important player in the scrum, as they are one of just two that are allowed to pick the ball up from the base of the restart. The number eight is often the player that takes advantage of an excellent scrum, as they can quickly gain control of the ball and made a dynamic or explosive move to the try line.

6 & 7 Flanker

Flankers typically have the fewest responsibilities in a rugby team, but they are normally all-rounders, meaning that they can often prove to be the difference at the highest level. Flankers are typically smaller than most other players in the scrum, but their mobility compliments the power players. 


The scrumhalf is key, as they are often the link between the backs and fronts. The player in this position will be responsible for feeding the ball into the scrum, meaning that they will need to do it correctly in order to avoid giving away a penalty. Meanwhile, they are also responsible for taking control when the ball is fed out to the backs from the rear of the scrum. 

Awarding and Initiating a Scrum

To understand what is a scrum in rugby, newcomers must also be aware of when the decision may be awarded for a scrum restart. The restart can be awarded for a number of different reasons, with the most common being down to a knock-on or a forward pass. Other reasons why a scrum may be awarded include when a player is accidentally offside. A scrum may also be awarded by a referee if the ball is trapped up a ruck or a maul with no real chance of it being retrieved by either team. 

An interesting factor to consider when assessing what is the scrum in rugby is that a team may make the decision to take a scrum if they are awarded a penalty. This is often a decision taken by teams that are close to the opposing side’s try line, as they stand to win more points if they score a try than the penalty. 

Pushover tries are also an interesting factor to consider when assessing what is a scrum in rugby. These are typically very rare, because scrums are only awarded a minimum of five metres from either try line. Therefore, in order to score a pushover try, a team must force their opponents back several metres without a collapse. 

Recent Changes In Scrum Laws

Rugby has changed drastically over the last 20 years, as there have been greater improvements made to player safety, AS besides trying to elevate the game of rugby. There have been a number of slight rule changes when it comes to the scrum in recent years, including when World Rugby announced a number of tweaks in 2017. 

Among the changes would see the scrumhalves having to align their shoulder to the middle line of the scrum. Meanwhile, other changes saw the decision to allow all front row players to contest the ball, meaning that there would be less pressure on the hooker. A final change as part of the rules would see the number eight being able to pick up the ball once it was at the feet of the second rowers. 

Strategy and Competition Within The Scrum

The scrums are a vitally important part of a rugby match, as they could have a huge bearing in the momentum of a match. Therefore, there is typically extra attention on this restart, as it gives both sets of players an opportunity to gain an advantage for their team. 

Teams that are able to gain possession of the ball from the restart will be able to take advantage of the opposing team in a weak position defensively, meaning that there is a greater chance of scoring a try. International teams often put extra emphasis on the scrum, meaning that players are often listed for international duty due to their strength, which could be a massive factor to aid the team in a scrum situation. 


Newcomers can find an extensive breakdown regarding what is a scrum in rugby above, as we have gone through each player’s responsibilities, as well as the decisions that could see a scrum awarded.

We have also gone through the rules that players must follow during a scrum to ensure that they don’t give away a penalty, and the advantages that a team stands to benefit from during the restart. 

Social share