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The evolution of the scrum

In the run-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, EWN Sport takes a look at different aspects of the game.

Picture: Freeimages.com

JOHANNESBURG - Over the years the game of rugby has gone through significant changes that would make the game unrecogniseable from its origins; from changing the numbers on the players' jerseys and positions, to the rules surrounding the set pieces and even the legalities surrounding tackling.

In the run-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, EWN Sport will take a look at different aspects of the game that have undergone extreme changes over more than 100 years.

We start with the evolution of the scrum, which started as a very common part of the game that greatly defined the sport. Some would go so far as to say that the scrum made up the entire game.

Rugby blogger Tony Collins explains that in the 1800s the game was played by school boys who would have forwards number between 50 and 60 in school matches where they stood upright in the scrums, pushing and kicking either the ball or their rivals' shins.

This practice was continued by adult clubs which would eventually build the Rugby Football Union in 1871.

Back then the scrum was the main way of propelling the ball forward.

And on rare occasions that the ball emerged to one of the backs, a tackle was immediately followed by a scrum.

In some ways it feels like not only was it a different time, but a different game all together.

Up until the late 1870s, any player who was tackled would have to put the ball on the ground before shouting out 'down!' signaling for the forwards to start pushing.

In the 1920s matches would average up to 50 to 60 scrums.

When the turnover was finally introduced in 1983 after a set of six tackles, the importance of the scrum was de-emphasised. This means that back then there was no real difference between rucks and mauls as everything was considered scrumming.

By the mid-1990s the possession struggle at set pieces had become a far less troublesome aspect of the game. A gentlemen's agreement was reached that allowed scrumhalves to feed the ball to their own forwards, before both teams started pushing.

The International Rugby Board (IRB) conducted a study in 2005, Changes in the Playing of International Rugby, which found that over a period of 20 years the side feeding the scrum kept possession 90% of the time.

The study also found that there was there was 93% ball retention rate after a tackle and 80% at the lineout.

The IRB's final conclusion after the study was that the contest for possession was for the most part predictable, if not pretty much guaranteed.

WATCH: Professional commentators on the changing of the scrum from the late 1990s to now.