Thu 13 Feb 2020 | 06:32

Law discussion: The possibility of uncontested scrums

Law discussion: The possibility of uncontested scrums
Thu 13 Feb 2020 | 06:32
Law discussion: The possibility of uncontested scrums

SPOTLIGHT: @rugby365com‘s law guru Paul Dobson looks at the vexed issue of uncontested scrums.


This is fairly new and not all that easy to work through – the possibility of uncontested scrums when front-row players of the same position (loosehead, hooker or tighthead) are carded.

Early in the second half of the match between the Lions and the Reds in Johannesburg, the Reds were down to 13 men because tighthead prop Taniela Tupou had been sent off just before half time, and Tupou’s replacement, Josh Nasser, had been sent off at a lineout-maul infringement early in the second half.

The Lions were on the attack and won the ball back from a tackle on Elton Jantjies but Lions scrumhalf Morné van den Berg knocked on. And so there would be a scrum, to the Reds – who had lost both tightheads to the sin bin.

There is a discussion on how to proceed. If the Reds did not have a player capable of playing tighthead, there would be uncontested scrums. But in Super Rugby things are not quite so simple.

If a team has lost two props to the sin bin, as had happened in this case, and scrums had to become uncontested because of the sin-binnings, they were obliged to lose another player. That would have meant that the Reds would have been down to 12 players.

But the reds found a solution. JP Smith, who was playing loosehead, said that he could play at tighthead and so the subsequent scrum took place. Henry Speight came in from the wing and played flank and – lo and behold – the Lions were penalised at the scrum.

  • Continue reading below video …


13. Scrums will become uncontested if either team cannot field a suitably trained front row or if the referee so orders.
14. A match organiser may stipulate the conditions under which a game may start with uncontested scrums.

The following is a clarification by World Rugby in 2018 in answer to a query by England.

The following is correct:
* If a front row player is suspended ((and the other specialist prop(s) are injured/ carded)) and uncontested scrums are ordered the following must occur:
* The suspended player leaves the field as a result of foul play; and
* At the next scrum a further player leaves the field when uncontested scrums are called; The uncontested scrums are an additional contravention of a law and requires a visible consequence to the team responsible for the uncontested scrums. and
* A third player might have to leave the field to allow an available front row player to come on. In this instance the team would be left with 13 players (8 forwards and 5 backs at scrummage)

World Rugby wants to avoid the tactical use of uncontested scrums when a team may be suffering at scrum time.

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Law discussion: The possibility of uncontested scrums | Rugby365