The Rugby Coaching Manual
You will have your own methods of practising scrummaging and there is no doubt that practice will improve the effectiveness of any set-piece. However, do try not to fall into the trap of asking the forwards to push blindly against a machine till they drop. It is far more effective to tell them what you want before the session begins. Don’t be afraid to put a realistic maximum on how many you want – and specify how many, say, on your put-in, the opposition put-in and so many eight-man, eyes-out gut-busters. You will get more from the players if they know what is expected.
We all try different techniques, but the firm bind, good body position and positive hit will never become redundant. I like all the pack to be on the front studs with the heel raised so that there is no laziness at the set-up stage. One of the best descriptions I ever heard was that all the pack at the scrum preparation should feel as if they are ready to dive into the pool at the start of a swimming race; they are just waiting for the starter to fire the gun. That sums it all up perfectly and gives the players a clear coaching picture where complex instructions might not be easily or readily taken on board.
One key element of scrummaging that is frequently overlooked in the quest for effective ball-winning is the importance of the stomach muscles – the abdominals. They are a vital aspect of core stability and are crucial in the weight-bearing exercise that is a scrum. It is usual to see players being reminded of the important back position, feet position and the angle of the head, but try to add the abdominals to their check list before engagement and you might be pleasantly surprised at the difference it can make when all eight of the pack tighten-up their midriff at the same time. If you watch quality weightlifting, the lifter will make a conscious effort to tighten up the core before the lift; try punching a punch bag without sucking-in the stomach and you will not hit effectively. This short process can become very important in your quest as a coach to improve your team; get all eight to tighten-up the abdominals just before the referee calls the engage.
The scrum machine is an important tool but is usually underused. Try to train your forwards to use the machine for a few minutes on individual work if they arrive early to training. There has to be a degree of supervision and common sense so they will be advised to work in pairs with one working and one supervising the exercise. The coach can work on all the forwards initially but you can soon get the key points across so that they can take some control later.
The springs have to be altered so that a single player can just about get the machine’s single head to move forwards no more than about 23cm (9 inches); allow too much forward momentum and the benefits are nullified as the player will stretch too far onto nearly straight legs and you do not want that in any scrum or scrum practice.
Get the player to crouch and follow the referee’s (fellow player’s) verbal commands of “Crouch. Touch. Pause. Engage.” Do not let the player stand too far away from the machine as he will want to ‘win’ the engagement with momentum; you want to develop power. When he hits, coach him to shuffle the feet forwards to ‘follow the hit’ so that he does not extend the legs, an action that leads to an ineffective scrummaging position. When the pads have been hit forward, do not let the player bounce straight back; he must hold the hit for a couple of seconds then he has to work through his core stability muscles to let the machine heads come back slowly and in a controlled manner.
This is an elementary form of resistance training and can be beneficial for all forwards, not just the front row. You can have two players hitting at any given time but the coach has to teach them what they are working on and what the spotters are looking for if spotters are being used. You must not allow too many springs to be discarded as too much movement forwards can be dangerous. The machine should be moved as soon as the ground condition deteriorates then the roller soon repairs the marks.
When individuals practise to improve their scrum technique, the difference can be marked when the eight come together and they all concentrate on the basics that they have practised individually. However, if they have practised individually on poor technique, the effort was wasted.
If you are not comfortable with coaching the scrum, be prepared to analyse body positions and don’t be afraid to comment. The forwards, front row in particular, love to preach the myth that there are dark and dangerous secrets that only they understand, so take them on. The scrum is all about being together with a tight bind in what would be acceptable in weight-lifting technique. Look at a weight-lifter’s position, turn it around ninety degrees and you are not far off what you want from the eight forwards. The feet are pointing forwards, not sideways, legs are at a maximum bend of half squat, the back is straight and the head is tilted slightly upwards, So when the fraternity of Stone Age men approach you and suggest that they enjoy scrummaging with their feet in the ten to two o’ clock position, right shoulder down and backside two feet above their spine, disabuse them of their ideas and try to get a degree of change. This, unfortunately, could be the impossible task, so stay sane and coach the next generation of props into some sensible and sound technique.
When the players have achieved a very tight bind it can become too effective and the second rowers cannot get their heads in between hooker and prop. The simple answer to the problem is the wrong one as the props then tend to relax their grip to let the second row in, thus nullifying all the previous good work on the strong bind. There is a very simple remedy that maintains the bind yet allows the second row to get in. Photo 11 rioght
The prop on the side of the entry problem (or both props at the same time if neither second row can get his head in the gap) must not move his hips or feet sideways away from the hooker to leave a space. He simply has to slightly rotate his foot nearest the hooker and rotate the heel away from the hooker. This means that the loose head prop moves his right foot slightly clockwise and the tight head moves his left foot anti-clockwise. The movement is hardly perceptible but it allows a second row entry while maintaining the shape and strength of the pack’s tightness.
The Rugby Coaching Manual is now available for easy order from Amazon. This book will greatly help any rugby coach whether they are an old pro or overseeing their first training sessions. For more tips or information on the book, please visit The Rugby Coaching Manual official site. And check out a preview of the other chapters from the book on Rugby Rugby.
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