The rugby scrum cap is the most noticeable piece of equipment a rugby player can opt to wear. And let’s make no bones about it, they often evoke some strong feelings! Some players feel they are useless and only the ‘soft’ wear them. Others, often in the tight-five, feel they are a necessity.
Like most voluntary pieces of equipment it comes down to personal preference on whether the benefits outweigh any potential downsides.
Anatomy of a Scrum Cap
At its most basic level, a scrum cap is just a padded cap that covers the head. They come with a chin strap, padding around the head and laces along the back for fine tuning the fit. But World Rugby has some very tight regulations and details around the construction of a scrum cap.
Some highlights per Regulation 12, Schedule 1:
(f) Headgear* A player may wear headgear made of soft and thin materials provided that no part of the headgear is thicker than 1cm when uncompressed and no part of the headgear has a density of more than 45 kilograms per cubic metre.
Zones of Coverage The headgear must have zones of coverage that cover the crown, temple, forehead (sweatband area) and ear areas. The zones of coverage shall fulfil the requirements of the impact performance specification and have a maximum padding thickness of 10mm+2mm tolerance band plus an additional allowance of 1mm on each side for fabric.
Ear Aperture(i.e. Earhole) The ear aperture […] shall have a linear dimension not less than 25mm and not more than 30mm. It may have a cross mesh or similar design characteristic but this must not significantly affect the hearing of the wearer.
Vision Horizontal field: the headgear shall provide peripheral vision clearance of at least 105 degrees to each side of the longitudinal vertical line when the headgear is positioned in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. Vertical field: the headgear shall provide peripheral vision clearance of 25 degrees above the Apex plan when the headgear is positioned [as intended].
Given the strict requirements of Regulation 12 (hyperlink: http://playerwelfare.worldrugby.org/content/getfile.php?h=21974c3ae428b671604976ce312ff245&p=pdfs/World_Rugby_Regulation12_EN.pdf ) (there are even more!) there is generally little meaningful difference in the shape or dimensions of different brands and types of scrum caps.
Now that you understand the construction, it is important to understand what the scrum cap is, and is not, meant to accomplish.
Scrum caps are meant to protect the head and ears from scrapes, cuts, abrasions and cauliflower ear. In regards to these superficial injuries, scrum caps are excellent at reducing them. It is for this reason that scrum caps exist and why a player should wear one.
Scrum caps ARE NOT meant to prevent concussion, which is a common misconception. There is no firm evidence they help with concussions and should not be worn for this purpose alone.
So bearing the above points in mind, you can begin to decide whether one is or is not right for you.
Who Should Wear One?
All players can benefit from a reduction of bleeding head wounds and cauliflower ear from wearing a scrum cap. The head is protected from the inadvertent elbow or knee which can result in a split scalp and a trip to the sideline to stop the bleeding. This makes it a potentially valuable piece of equipment for every position. But positions that require the most physical contact, such as the tight five, will likely see the most benefit.
Scrummaging is particular rough on the ears of tight five players. The scrum cap helps by covering the ear and protecting it from the friction that causes cauliflower ear. This is very similar to a wrestler’s headgear. While taping ears can help in the scrum, it provides no protection to the head or ears in contact. A scrum cap offers both protection for the ears and scalp with one piece of equipment.
The only real downside to wearing a scrum cap is that it can be hot, uncomfortable if poorly fitted and generally just feel constricting. Some players care about this more than others, but there are no real performance decrements to wearing one. Ultimately Comfort is the primary concern when choosing to wear one or not.
Choosing a Scrum Cap
Because design regulations from World Rugby are so strict, there are few major design differences between brands and price points. The biggest consideration is comfort and fit.
Pick Officially Sanctioned Headgear
Firstly it is important to buy only World Rugby approved headgear or you run the risk of faulty equipment or having a referee make you remove the gear. All approved scrum caps will have a tag denoting this inside.
Pick a Size
You will need to pick a base size that fits your head. To get an accurate measurement take a tape measurer and go across the forehead around the head just above the ears.
Scrum caps should fit snugly so they do not slide around, but not excessively tight. The laces at the back will let you fine tune the tightness of the cap. The chin strap should be tight, but not so tight it restricts breathing/talking.
At the end of the day, if the padding is sufficient and your head is covered the scrum cap is going to do its job. One is not safer than another. The main point of difference between brands and price points is the comfort factor.
Lower price point scrum caps tend to use lower quality materials (that still meet minimum World Rugby standards), fasteners and fewer, bigger pieces of foam padding. This means the caps will often not conform to the head as well and can be rougher around the edges (literally).
Higher end scrum caps tend to utilize more, smaller honeycomb/grid style padding that molds around the head better and just use generally better quality materials. Some even have anti-microbial properties in the fabric.
But importantly, you are not sacrificing safety when you go for an entry level scrum cap even if aesthetically and comfort wise you might.
It is important to emphasize that the added protection of a scrum cap should not translate to more reckless play. As with every piece of rugby equipment, the scrum cap is not designed to replace good technique or fair play. It does not provide sufficient protection for leading with your head in tackles (like in American football) but can make for a better and safer experience when playing to the laws. .