Scrum Camp Part III – Finesse

Welcome back for the final day of Summer Scrum Camp! We started this series with Part I highlighting the importance of proper body position, which is the cornerstone of power in the scrum. It also is the foundation for safety and making sure that the rugby careers of forwards (especially those occupying the front row) are not cut short due to injury resulting from years of improper form.

In Part II, we built upon this core skill by adding alignment and binding techniques that sustain the power through the duration of the scrum. The pack that can maintain its form and structure, will be the side that dominates the game at scrum down.

I am convinced that clubs who are willing to put forth the time, energy, and effort to master this craft, will experience a massive boost to the physicality and intensity brought to their opponents. You see, scrummaging is psychological as much as it is physical. 

So when you can take ownership of the scrum, it sends a devastating message that can demoralize your opposition. I commend all the coaches and players who are taking this opportunity to really own this area of the game.

In the third and final session of Scrum Camp, we are going to move from the technical and get more into the finesse of scrummaging. What I mean by this is that in the case of an offensive scrum, while retaining ball possession is always the first objective, how the scrum transitions from set piece to open play is critical to ensure that ball possession is not lost at the first or second breakdown. 

In fact, the more efficient the pack is at shifting from scrum to ruck support will generate a significant attacking advantage. On the flip side, the efficiency of a defensive transition can create immediate pressure often resulting in turnover ball. Either way, tactical scrum mindset, and situational awareness are keys to controlling the opportunity that every scrum presents.

Day III

Warm Up Phase

Utilize your typical pre-match routine of stretching, calisthenics, etc., but consider adding some additional scrum-mobility specific exercises to limber up the body as well. Just as in Day I and Day II, it is imperative to loosen up the ligaments and tendons which will enhance the flexibility necessary to achieve proper scrum form. If you have chosen to hold back-to-back-to-back sessions, build in some extra time to warm up on Day III, making sure all soreness and tightness are worked out before engaging.

Review Phase

As consistent with Days I and II, get your squad straight into scrum position. 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 90-90 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.

Again, if this is the third consecutive day, the possibility of soreness and fatigue can cause some bad form to creep in, so be extra attentive before moving on. Rotate your players through until everyone has completed a minimum of 2 scrum form sets.

Assessment Phase

The emphasis of Day I centered on proper body form and posturing, setting up Day II for technical scrum alignment, but if the goal of every scrum is to gain advantage and generate pressure, then how the scrum transitions to open play will be the final determining factor for overall success.

To adequately assess your squad’s current form, place the scrum center on the 50 and place two cones on the defensive 10 meter line, one on each 15 meter hash. Bind the scrum in full 8-on-8 and when the ball is won and retrieved by the scrumhalf yell, “Balls Out Right!” or “Balls Out Left!” at which point all forwards will unbind and sprint past the cone on the side determined by the call.

Right now just focus on the speed of the drill. The first player to the cone should always be one of the loose forwards. If it’s not, address it with them immediately.

Run at least 2 cycles, with all players having a go on offensive attack. Now flip the drill and set up a defensive 8-on-8 scrum and upon the retrieval of the ball by the offensive side yell, “Balls Out Right!” or “Balls Out Left!” alerting your defensive pack to break and sprint past the designated cone behind them to the left or right. Complete 2 full defensive cycles.

Instruction Phase

Now that your players have had a feel for the speed of the scrum’s transition to open play, you want to provide some position-specific instructions about lines of attack.

First, the offensive attacking policy:

Setting up an advantage is not just a matter of speed but also occupied space. Meaning, if you possess a scrum, you can gain a tactical advantage by either causing or allowing the scrum to rotate towards the open side of the field. To accomplish this, your LH Prop will have to resist the urge to drive, and possibly even permit a slight retreat to allow the TH Prop to overpower his opposition due to the imbalance created. This slight rotation will place all the offensive forwards in closer proximity to the first breakdown of open play and generate a significant player overload. Once the rotation begins though, the ball must be retrieved quickly so as to not insight a wheeling penalty.

To be clear, this is a sneaky tactic and one that must be done subtly. The only way to ensure it’s legitimacy is to allow the opposition’s push to counteract the attacking push. The “weak-side” of the attacking scrum must absorb the force; not create it by outright pulling to or disengaging in retreat.

To instruct this, bind a scrum 8-on-8 and advise the pack before the put in which side of the field is open. Go at 50% power and walk around the scrum communicating who you need more or less from to get the pack to rotate. This move will also heavily rely on the keenness of each flanker and the push they are generating through the props.

Repeat this process at 50% until the pack can generate the positional outcome as desired.

Now, to defensive attacking policy:

With the same theory in mind, the goal is to gain the positional ground and occupy the space nearest the open field (side of attacking backfield). This is a great strategy, especially when playing against a bigger, more aggressive offensive pack since the advantage can be two-fold. 

If the ball is retrieved prior to 90 degree rotation, not only have you forced more distance between the scrum half and the first receiver (making the pass far more difficult) but you have also gained a significant player number advantage, to easily overwhelm the first ruck with your loose forwards. If the ball is slow to come out of the scrum, simply allow the rotation to pass 90 degrees and pick up an easy penalty.

As before, bind a scrum 8-on-8 and advise the defensive pack before the put in which side of the field is open. Go at 50% power and walk around the scrum communicating who you need more or less from to get the pack to rotate. Again, pay attention to each flanker and their influence on the rotation.

Repeat this process at 50% until the pack can generate the positional outcome as desired.

Drill Phase

Building off what has been accomplished on Day I and Day II – primarily proper body position, binding and the ability to adapt to pressure – it’s now time to develop control-technique. This will be accomplished by working in sets of 3.

Tip Drill

  • 3 players utilize a front-row bind and assume a 90-90 position, with outside players’ arms extended and hands (or better, fists) on the ground.
  • Players hold this position as another player moves around their group attempting to push them off their territory.
  • Rotate players, complete 3 rounds.

Dozer Drill

  • 2 sets of 3 players interlocking shoulders, with outside hands grasping the opponent’s jersey on each side.
  • Working together in this bound position and maintaining 90-90 posture, the first set of players advance 5 meters, as the second set retreats, but applies enough tension to maintain the hold. After 5 meters, the second set responds and reverses the movement now advancing 5 meters back.
  • Complete 5 cycles of 5 up and 5 back.

Wheel Drill

  • 2 sets of 3 players utilize a front-row bind. Before engaging each other have a player stand behind one set of 3 and point to a direction – Left or Right. Then have each set of 3 bind against each other, interlocking shoulders, with outside hands grasping the opponent’s jersey on each side.
  • Instruct that Hooker that on his command of “Launch!” the attacking set of 3 are to attempt to rotate the scrum in the desired direction. Once the rotation stalls or passes 90 degrees, the drill is over.
  • It is the role of the oppositional 3 to resist the rotation.

Complete 3 attacking rotation drills, before switching sides.

Teaching Phase

To be honest, scrum intuition is endless. There are innumerable tactics that can be employed during the course of a game. What seems like a simple test of strength and will, can actually be dictated by corporate timing and finesse. The challenge for all teams to achieve this level of mastery is found in scrum awareness and the ever-changing dynamics of field position, personnel, and fatigue. This awareness must be sensed and recognized by the entire pack, so everyone is contributing in a way that maximizes the best possible outcome of the scrum.

One area that we have not yet explored is the defensive shove. With the modern law structure for scrummaging and the virtual removal of any forcible contact at engagement (or Set), this tactic has in many cases been lost. Outside of a squad that is simply heavier and more powerful, the overtaking of possession is becoming more and more rare. It does not have to be this way! An undersized team can easily overpower a heavier squad if two things occur: Better power-posture and a perfectly executed SHOVE.

To preload the force necessary for a powerful shove, each player in the pack must keep their feet set, but squat just a little deeper and hold that position until the call is made. Then together, explode forward. It’s important to emphasize that no player should lift their feet or advance a step until there is actually forward momentum. 1

After scrum engagement and referee’s satisfaction with the stability, the ball is put in by the scrumhalf. It will be at this precise moment that defensive hooker will shout “Shove!” and collectively the defensive pack will launch themselves forward. 2 When unsuspected, this action will likely overpower any opposition. 

Here is the beauty, even if you don’t win the ball in your first defensive scrum, you will alert the opposition to your power-tactic. So for the next defensive scrum, the opposition will be anticipating it and counter-launch themselves, all you have to do is simply let them. By slightly retreating, their unresisted force will drive their front row into the ground. Ideally, this will create a penalty if it occurs before the ball is put it, but if it occurs after, you have gained the advantage because their pack will have fallen on their faces and your pack can quickly engage the open play.

So, establish the shove presence early, but do not utilize it for every defensive scrum. Keep your opposition unbalanced and guessing.

On defense, if you attempt a shove right after ball put in and you fail to advance, your hooker must be quick to call for a quick change of tactic. Now, depending on field position and knowing the open side, let’s say it’s to the left, the hooker can call for “Lion!” which would immediately signal the right side of the scrum to stop pushing, and the left side to keep shoving. This will hopefully allow the scrum to rotate left, putting your pack in position for an advantage when the ball comes out. If the open field is to the right, the hooker will call “Rambo!”, signaling the left to back off and the right to shove on. 3

As soon as the ball is retrieved from the back of the scrum, either flanker can yell, “Balls out Right!” or “Balls out Left” at which the pack will quickly unbind and beat the oppositional pack to open play.

I have always attested, a smarter (more technically fundamental) rugby team will always have an advantage over a more athletic side. This is not always due to a smarter team doing the right things, but more often not doing the wrong things. It is error in the fundamentals that creates disadvantage more so than correctness creating advantage.

Ball possession is premium in rugby, and whenever possession is lost it is always due to a breakdown in fundamentals. It is no fluke that the top teams in every league at every level are those who get the fundamentals right.

So let’s put it into practice.

Implementation Phase

This is where we put all the finesse together.

Place 6 cones across the span of the pitch in varying depths between the 10m and 22m lines. The scrum will be set at any position of your choosing along the midfield line.

We will first practice offensive attacking scrum with the following goals:

  1. Maintain possession.
  2. Create positional space advantage (by rotating towards the open field).
  3. Sprint to the breakdown.

Coach your defensive opposition to push straight and hold their position.

Assign another player or coach to stand behind the defense and place a ball in front of one of the six cones on the open side of the scrum.

Instruct your offensive pack that following the scrum and on the command of “Balls out Right!” or “Balls out Left!” everyone is to sprint to the cone, with the first arriving player assuming a ruck position over the ball, the second arriving player will pick and go with support advancing 10 meters with the ball before stopping and allowing the rest of the pack to sprint past them.

Tell your offense, even if positional advantage is not gained, finish the exercise.

Complete 5 attacking scrums, before rotating personnel. Complete as many scrums as necessary to ensure all players participate a minimum of 5 total times. Always place the ball at a new point on the 50 and in front of a new cone.

Now let’s transition to defensive scrummaging and focus on the following goals:

  1. Attempt to gain possession by shoving over the ball
  2. If unable, create positional advantage (by rotating towards the open field).
  3. Sprint to the breakdown.

Coach your offensive side to push straight and hold their position.

Assign another player or coach to stand behind the defense and place a ball in front of one of the six cones on the open side of the scrum.

Instruct your defensive pack that following the scrum on the command of “Balls out Right!” or “Balls out Left!” everyone is to sprint to the cone. The first arriving player will enter by law through the gate (over the cone) and place hands on the ball. All other arriving players will get onside, in defensive alignment. Once everyone has arrived and is in position, either call “Ball is Lost!” at which everyone will sprint 10 yards forward in defensive attack, or call “Ball is Won!” at which the defense will re-align with the man over the ball picking it up and passing to a first receiver who will run forward 10 meters and stop, allowing all other supporting players to sprint past.

Complete 5 defensive scrums, before rotating personnel. Complete as many scrums as necessary to ensure all players participate a minimum of 5 total times. Always place the ball at a new point on the 50 and in front of a new cone.

Competition Phase

Final Round of SCRUMO Tournament! Only the winners from Day II will compete.

  • Create a 12′ diameter circular field of play, ideally w rope, but flat agility cones will suffice.
  • All players surround the circle, with 2 players in the middle.
  • 2 players bind in 90-90 position and on the command “Set” attempt to drive each other in any direction outside of the circle. The first player to step out loses.
  • If the players collapse or unbind the game is reset.
  • For the finale, have some beverage on hand and when won, shower the victor!

CONGRATULATIONS, you’ve just completed Scrum Camp!

Sources

  • Ross, Bruce Essentials of the Argentinian ‘Bajada’ rugby scrum June 2006, http://www.myoquip.com.au/Bajada_article.htm
  • Argentina’s Perfect Scrum https://therugbysite.com/blog/news-opinions/argentina-s-perfect-scrum
  • Scrum Movement in Rugby rugby.isport.com/rugby-guides/scrum-movement-in-rugby

AUTHOR

Clarke Cayton

Clarke Cayton

Clarke is an amateur rugby player and Level 200 certified coach. He began his career with Springfield (MO) RFC and is now touring the U.S. with his wife (who is a travel nurse) playing with various clubs wherever they happen to be living at the time.

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