The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2013 will provide the backdrop for a revised scrum engagement trial featuring props binding on the "touch" call.
The move is part of what the IRB says is its "ongoing commitment to improving issues currently associated with the scrum in elite rugby while promoting the best-possible player welfare standards."
The annual IRB-funded development tournament, which features A sides from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Japan as well as development sides from the Australian and New Zealand Super Rugby franchises and national academy sides, will provide the necessary evaluation platform to address the revised sequence that is hoped will reduce the impact of the 'hit' while increasing overall scrum stability.
The "crouch", "touch", "set" engagement calls currently being trialled globally are maintained within the PRC trial but in a revision to the technique of engagement, props will be expected to bind using their outside arm after the referee has called "touch" in the sequence.
The front-rows will maintain the bind and the referee will then call "set" and the two packs will be permitted to engage. In this sequence, with the props bound, the "set" call is not a command to engage, but an instruction that the front-rows may come together when ready.
The trial process was identified by the specialist IRB Scrum Steering Group (featuring Union scrum experts) as a potential enhancement to the scrum mechanics after an extensive process of testing and analysis at all levels of the game within the unprecedented IRB funded Scrum Forces Project run by the University of Bath in conjunction with the RFU.
Key aims of the trial are to reduce the force upon engagement and therefore promote the best-possible player welfare standards at all levels, while delivering a more stable scrum to reduce the number of collapses and resets prevalent at the elite level. Early projections are that the force upon engagement could be reduced by some 25 per cent, enhancing player welfare and promoting a more stable scrum. However, the trial in a live competition will determine how successful the sequence can be.
"The scrum is a complex and dynamic area of the game and we are committed to working with our Unions to facilitate the best possible platform to enhance player welfare, stability and the contest itself," said IRB Rugby Committee Chairman and IRB Scrum Steering Group member Graham Mourie.
"The trial will be accompanied by a dedicated training and education programme for participating teams and match officials to ensure best possible practice and player welfare considerations. It should be remembered that this trial in the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup is not a fait accompli, but will be considered along with the current global trial of the crouch-touch-set engagement sequence."
"I would like to thank all the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup participating Unions for their support and enthusiasm in the lead-up to this trial. We are happy to continue to work with the expert groups to address any issues facing the scrum and this trial will hopefully give us more detailed information that will certainly help."
The trial will take place in the Australia and New Zealand legs of the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup, which kicks off on March 1.
Players, coaches and referees will form part of an extensive feedback and analysis process that will see every scrum monitored and assessed.
The outcomes of the trial will be considered by the IRB Rugby Committee and the IRB Scrum Steering Group alongside the current global trial before recommendations regarding further evaluation and consideration will be made.