EXPERT SESSIONS AND ADVICE FROM QUALIFIED AND EXPERIENCED GRASSROOTS RUGBY COACHES

Prop guru: My personal checklist

Sophie Hemming, a World Cup winner with England and one of the most capped props in the game shares her personal checklist to ensure she scrummaged to her best at every scrum.

This is my own pictorial reminder of what I should look like. I referred to it before a match to help trigger the right thoughts about my positioning at every scrum.

Over my career as an international prop, I have developed a checklist for my pre-engagement and engagement set-ups. The final wording is unique, using triggers that mean something to me.

This meant that prior to each scrum, I put my set up into the right order and it created a system that was ingrained. Though it might have become second nature in time, it was something for me to fall back on if the scrum wasn’t going well.

My suggestion is that you build your own checklist, based on the principles of good scrummaging. Mine certainly changed over time as new laws were introduced and I became a more experienced player. Here’s what I used.

PRE-ENGAGEMENT

  • Squat bar feet

Be on the balls of the feet, feet shoulder width apart. It will be the same position as for a squat in the gym. The sensation should be that the weight is slightly forwards, but you are balanced and not falling either back or forward.

  • Flex knees and pelvic tilt

In one movement, gently flex the knees and tilt the pelvis, so your body has a sort of concertina effect.

  • Thumbs

Point the thumb upwards. This engages the forearm and shoulder muscles.

  • Open chest

Be like a silverback gorilla, with the sternum pushed forwards.

  • Neutral head and tongue

I would make sure my head was in a neutral position and that my tongue was pressed into the roof of my mouth to engage the deep muscles about the neck.

All these trigger words would be going through my mind as I approached the scrum. I would arrive with my chest already out. This sent a clear message to the opposition. I wanted to feel big and bold, and mentally win the scrum before the scrum started.

ENGAGEMENT PROCESS

The engagement process in terms of the laws has changed over time. This is my adjusted process.

  • Fire punch

In the binding process with the opposition, don’t let it become a passive movement for you, with your arms swimming around for a good bind. I want to punch my hands forward and win the race for the bind.

  • Superman scaps

My shoulder blades have to be tight together, as if I’m holding a walnut between them. The “superman” scaps call activates the shoulder blades.

  • Bullet head

The head is in a neutral position. When the “set” is called, I fire the head like a bullet so I can dictate the angle in the scrum. It’s a positive message to me that I am going to dominate the scrum.

Also, because you tend to want your tight-head to lead the front row into the scrum, the bullet head idea helps promote me.

  • Elbow down

Once the bind is made, I like to get the elbow down, using a twist grip on the shirt, which again switches on the muscles.

THE FINAL WORD

My final word to myself was very pertinent: gobby. I am, by nature, a quiet person. Being gobby meant I would be more assertive on the pitch. I would be talking to the referee, either directly or through my messages to the hooker. The message would be loud enough for the referee to hear.

 

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