Preseason is right around the corner and it’s time for the pack to put down the Bahama Mommas and get back to work! I’ve got the perfect summer session to get your forwards on their A-Game heading into the Fall Season.
Truth be told, for the typical American club rugby side that practices just two times a week, the amount of training dedicated to learning proper scum technique is severely lacking. (And I’m sorry, but not having a scrum sled is NO EXCUSE!)
We all know the importance of the scrum for securing possession and applying the pressure that wins rugby matches. No element of the game is more impactful to these two areas than a powerful scrum.
All those who live by the cadence Crouch – Bind – Set know when the pack is tight and the shove caves the opposition, the feeling is absolutely euphoric. The sheer physical and mental domination it generates imposes itself into virtually every other vital area of the game. I am convinced, if you can dominate the scrum, you will likely dominate the attitude of the game. So put in the work and make the scrum your éclat.
First, you need to decide how much time you can legitimately allocate to this. Knowing your club and what is a reasonable expectation for member participation. For an effective camp, you will need a minimum of 16 forwards. If you do not have those numbers, recruit from your backs to get you the body count you need. (Every back is physically capable of providing support at the opposition scrum’s flanker position.) The ideal would be a 3-day (evening) camp held on a Thursday, Friday, and Saturday concluding with a Cook Out at the training pitch on the final night. However, even a single evening session dedicated to scrummaging is better than nothing at all.
What I have created is a three-part series for the 3-day camp, but you can modify the outline as needed for your purposes.
Since a majority of clubs do not possess a scrum sled, I will not include this piece of equipment in the drills. But if you are fortunate enough to have one, incorporate it as is useful, but not at the expense of actual scrummaging.
Let’s begin… Scrum Camp – Day 1!
Utilize your typical pre-match routine of stretching, calisthenics, etc. Emphasizing the neck, shoulder, lower back and pelvis areas.
A recommended exercise would be Over the Rope, Under the Wire – Starting at the try line, facing the touchline, step with your lead foot over an invisible rope at least knee height, then repeat with your trail foot. Next, step with your lead foot and crouch below an invisible wire at least chest height. Repeat all the way to the 22m line then return with the opposite lead foot.
Go ahead and get your squad in scrum position right out of the gate. This will give you the opportunity to observe the specific areas requiring additional attention moving forward. Ideally, you will have numbers to fill a complete 16 man scrum. At minimum though, pack out your starting side of 8 and an oppositional side of 5; no less.
Ensure that everyone participating in this first session has experience scrummaging, this is not the time to be teaching first timers (yet). Administer the call of Crouch – Bind – Set and instruct the players to hold for 4 full counts (without any push) before releasing. At this point, just pay attention to body posture, the physical alignment and binding will come later.
Don’t correct any issues at this point, just observe and keep a mental note of areas that will need attention moving forward. After each scrum-down ask the players what they are feeling in their bodies. Allow them to communicate with one another and implement their own adjustments with your supervision. Complete 5 scum-downs before rotating in new players and/or recycling multi-position players. Complete at least 3 cycles of 5. At the conclusion of the Assessment Phase, bring the pack together and briefly share your observations, highlighting the positives and introducing them to the specific areas you want to improve upon.
Now that your forwards are physically and mentally engaged, this is a good time to offer some brief fundamental teaching on scrummaging posture. Identify the player who has demonstrated the best pre-engagement form and call him or her to the front. Instruct the player to get in a scrum ready position and direct the packs attention the key elements of a quality stance.
*Should feel and look very similar to 1/4 to 1/2 squat lifting position.
Upon completion of instruction, direct all players to get themselves in this pre-engagement position and walk among them, adjusting their posture as necessary. Once you are satisfied with their demonstration, transition to post-engagement form.
Utilizing 2 players, have them bind facing each other, shoulder to shoulder and get them into a proper 90-90 body position, where the spine and lower legs (knee to ankle) are parallel to the ground and the upper leg (hip to knee) is perpendicular creating a 90 degree angle at both the waist and knee joint. Communicate that this is not only the safest form to prevent injury, but it is also the body structure that generates the most power. The moment the shoulders elevate above or dip below waist height, all kinetic strength is lost and the risk of injury is increased. (2)
Now instruct all players to partner up with a teammate of similar size to get into post-engagement 90-90 position and hold; walking among them, making necessary adjustments to form until satisfied.
Now that baseline body position techniques have been established, we can transition to more specific drill work.
For Day 1 we are primarily focusing on correct posture and the ability self-correct when pressure is applied. *Prior to each drill, select 2 players and conduct a visual demonstration.
Take advantage of this opportunity to praise those players with good form and who are working hard to get better. Explain also that an inability to maintain posture in these elementary drills is primarily a strength issue. So if a player lacks the core strength here, they will most certainly be a liability during a live scrum. Get them to the gym!
Take some time during this portion and let everyone rest their bodies, without disengaging their minds. Gather them around and have 8 of them stand at rest in scrum formation. Ask the squad to raise their hands for who they think makes the highest contribution to the power of the scrum. Is it found on the front row? Second row? Back row?
Drop some knowledge on them by citing the Peter Milburn study, Biomechanics of Rugby Union Scrummaging, where his research concluded that 42% of the power is generated by the second row, followed by 38% by the front row and 20% by the back row. (1) When your players recognize how significant the role of the second row is, it will help immensely in their overall approach to alignment and binding, which will be addressed further over the next two days of camp.
Explain to your squad that an effective scrum is not determined by which pack is heavier or stronger, but rather the pack that is able to maintain its form and drive its “load-leverage” through the opposition. Following the initial scrum impact, only 66% of the applied force is sustained, which means the side that can withstand (and control) the pressures of the load the longest will control the scrum. A technical scrum will always have an advantage over size and strength.
Now lets put it into practice. Ask your squad, What are the fundamentals of proper scrum posture?
The spine and lower legs (knee to ankle) are parallel to the ground and the upper leg (hip to knee) is perpendicular creating a 90-degree angle at the waist and knee joint.
Having communicated understanding, pack out your starting side of 8 and an oppositional side of no less than 5. Administer the call of Crouch – Bind – Set and instruct the players to hold (without push) as you walk around the scrum and observe the body position of each player. Advising players to adjust their posture as necessary. When you are satisfied everyone is proper form, call for the scrum to release.
Generate muscle memory by completing 5 scrum downs, before rotating out players allowing your brand newbie forwards to participate as well. As fatigue begins to become a factor, posture will be the first to go, so pay special attention. The incentive for the squad is the sooner everyone gets in right position the sooner the scum-down will release. Complete a minimum of 10 total walk-around scrum-downs. When you are satisfied, call an end to the exercise.
For the final phase of the training session, we end with some mono-e-mono fun!
(1) West, Cameron Scrum Science: Rugby Union Scrummaging by the Numbers
(2) Williams, Ross Monroe The Scrum