How we made the rugby scrum safer

You’re in the front row. You’ve got roughly 500kg of weight behind you. Your teammates have taken their positions and you’re bracing yourself for the impact. In a few seconds, you will collide with the opposing pack and the full force of hundreds of kilograms will hit your neck and shoulders, reverberating through your back.

This is the rugby scrum. It’s where the brute force of a team is measured, but also where most serious injuries in the sport happen.In 2013, our researchers set out on a journey to make scrums safer.

When packs of rugby forwards clashed in scrums at the Rugby World Cup 2015, the world was watching the results of our research in action.

The “crouch, bind, set” technique was established on the recommendation of our researchers. It pre-binds the opposing sides before the collision, reducing the peak force of the hit by 25% without affecting the levels of sustained force.

The stronger binding makes the scrum more stable and, crucially, the reduced peak force makes it safer. For the players, this means a significantly reduced risk of both acute and longer-term back injuries, such as arthritis. For the fans, it means the game gets going faster as there will be fewer collapses and resets.

Rugby scrum machine

Kevin Appleton has been coaching rugby in the South West for over a decade and has witnessed over a hundred injuries first-hand:

“The new scrum works. For me, the impact [of the new technique] is about managing individual body shape and collective body shape, and pushing straight. My opinion is that the scrum is now more of a pushing contest, as before it was all about who could hit the hardest.”

As the new technique will be implemented in scrums at all levels, millions of rugby players around the world will benefit from our research.

Find out more about our sport research, which was recently ranked 5th in the UK by an independent nationwide assessment.

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