Editorials - February 2019

February 11 2019


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Thoughts on the Art & Science of Scrummaging: Added Mike Pletch's Thoughts



After the Brazil v Canada game I asked for some input from scrum experts. I haven't heard back from all of them but mostly the talk was about the philosophy of the scrum and the long term vision. Gary Dukelow helped build the women's XVs scrum into a dominant force under head coaches John Tait 2011-2013 and Francois Ratier 2014-2018. He was a national team prop himself and not being the largest prop had to rely a lot on technique to get the upper hand. One of the items he mentioned was the tight five camps that John Tait let him run before the backs would arrive, these would sometimes last 3 days. Scrummaging isn't something that is just done as an afterthought at practice. Even during unopposed practice he would ask the tight five be involved to train their muscle memory for getting the engagements perfect.

Angel Cividanes also commented on the Brazil v Canada article, the Argentine is a well respected front row technician who has helped several mainland clubs, these were his thoughts, "Scrummaging is an addition of several factors and ingredients... Individual technique + unit technique and system and above all of this the attitude and mental commitment to get a solid platform. the forwards needs to buy into the system proposed and really believe in themselves to become a dominant pack. We are still missing parts of the equation."

Going back to Gary Dukelow, he had this to say:

"I have always considered scrummaging a martial art. In fact, Wikipedia defines a martial art as an activity that nurtures physical, mental and spiritual development; as well as entertainment and the preservation of a nation's intangible cultural heritage. The scrum is also a metaphor for what the game (and life, perhaps) is all about - using bodies together, efficiently, where the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts.

Like any art, a scrum takes time and practice to develop. I have noticed over the past decade or so that the emphasis on scrummaging at the high school level has declined. There is a lot of discussion about developing skills now, which I agree with, but unfortunately, scrummaging is not considered a skill in this country, for the most part. Ironically, developing a good scrum is a perfect way to practice proper body position for all contact scenarios. At all levels, the better breakdown team is usually the better scrummaging team. This is not a coincidence. As a scrum specialist for coaches like Dave Chambers, Jim Delaney and Francois Ratier, I was always grateful for the time that they gave me to work on scrummaging and contact technique (for all players). They even allowed me to insert pre-set timing practice into unopposed sessions.

I believe that spending more time on body position for contact or scrummaging will also make the game safer. The art of scrummaging, performed correctly, is one of the safest actions on a rugby field. We should be teaching this as soon as the tackle is introduced, as it is based on the same principles. Good scrummagers seldom collapse scrums, and good scrums and scrummagers produce the same. That is one of the reasons why front rows often come from the same club, where the best tighthead hones his or her skill against their teams best loosehead.

It is obvious that Brazil has chosen to take this skill seriously, and perhaps they see it as another form of ground fighting, like jujitsu. Other teams have defined themselves through the scrum as well, and in doing so have risen up the world rankings over time. Good examples are Argentina, Romania, Georgia, Uruguay and Japan."


Mike Pletch added to the conversation:

Generally I'd say the team's poor scrummaging is another symptom of the mens' 15's program being generally on a downward trend. For me that trend really started when carding was only made available to 7's players when it was announced as an Olympic sport (2012 or so?). So 15's forwards stopped getting the funding and coaching they once were, and not long after Canada's forwards are getting pushed around and we're losing more games. Prior to that the carded forwards regularly worked on scrummaging with specialist coaching (at the time Lunk). There was also a few scrum camps at Shawnigan, and one of those camps had no other than Mike Cron (All Blacks forward coach) leading the sessions.

In terms of development, one theory I have about why we aren't producing many props (or why clubs always seem to be short on props), is that when you look at a high school or junior team, the coaches always put their most athletic big men in the back row. This makes sense in the short term because that's where they can have the most involvement in the game. So it's pretty rare that a large athletic kid starts learning prop at an early age, which is really what you need for him to be both physically and technically ready when he reaches senior rugby. Perhaps clubs should be trying to identify potential front rowers at a younger age, get them specialist coaching, and encourage their youth coaches to play them in the front row. A side effect of my theory is that it's fairly common to see senior coaches, even at the national team level, to try to convert back row players to the front row, to varying degrees of success.

And certainly I can agree with Angel's and Dukelow's comments you've already posted, about the importance developing the craft of scrummaging, and not just consider it an afterthought and have the forwards bang on the scrum machine for a while at the end of training.

Pemberton Holmes
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