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World Rugby statement: Why Six Nations has adopted scrum law trial

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

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With just a week to go to the start of the 2022 championships, World Rugby and Six Nations Rugby have confirmed the use of a closed law trial in this year’s men’s, women’s and U20s tournaments that aims to advance scrum stability and player welfare. Both hookers will now be required to ensure one foot (the ‘brake foot’) is extended towards the opposition during the crouch and bind phases of the scrum engagement sequence. Referees will penalise failure to comply with a free-kick. 

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A World Rugby statement on the Six Nations scrum tweak read: “Having consulted widely with leading players, including international hookers, scrum coaches and match officials, World Rugby wishes to understand whether this minor adjustment can have a positive impact on the number of scrum collapses and resets, and welfare outcomes.

“It is anticipated that the adoption of a ‘brake foot’ will help prevent players, in particular hookers, from experiencing excessive loading and pressures in the scrum. The trial comes with the full support of the participating teams, Six Nations Rugby and International Rugby Players.”

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“Renowned scrum coach Mike Cron has been working with high-performance union scrum coaches throughout 2021, and specifically with Six Nations teams on behalf of World Rugby in advance of the championships to support them with the implementation of the trial, which has been welcomed by players.

“Axial loading, when front row players – primarily hookers – lean their heads onto opponents’ shoulders in between the referee’s ‘bind’ and ‘set’ calls placing pressure through necks, is outlawed. However, the dynamic nature of the scrum at the elite level, and in particular the need to balance tactical and stability considerations, has meant ‘axial loading’ has not been completely eliminated.

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“It is hoped that the adoption of a ‘brake foot’ will act as a brake to prevent axial loading, promote stability and enhance the rugby spectacle with players, coaches and match officials having joint responsibility to ensure compliance.” 

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World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin added: “We want rugby to be the best it can be for those playing and watching the game and this trial will enable us to understand whether we can positively impact both game and welfare outcomes during the three Six Nations championships.

“This builds on voluntary adoption by teams and greater vigilance by match officials in recent elite competitions and we would like to thank Six Nations rugby and all the participating teams for embracing the trial and we look forward to seeing the results.”

Julie Paterson, director of rugby at the Six Nations, said: “The game is constantly evolving, and the interests of player welfare are at the centre of decision making when considering the laws of the game. At Six Nations, we feel such trials are essential in providing informed feedback which will hopefully take the game forward. 

“As such, to collaborate with World Rugby and introduce this law trial during each Six Nations Championship this year, is a great opportunity for both parties to work together for the good of the game.”

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Connacht and Ireland hooker Dave Heffernan, who was involved in player consultation run via International Rugby Players, added: “I’m glad to see the brake foot being trialled in scrums. From talking to other hookers, axial loading seems to be causing neck related issues and while this trial is welcome, it needs to be enforced by referees for both front rows. It will be interesting to see the difference it makes during the Six Nations.”

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