The best forwards’ coaches are often likened to nutty professors. Absolutely embroiled in the detail of lineouts and scrums, they find even the most mundane technique exciting. But their enthusiasm and understanding is all for nothing if their sessions are not interesting and engaging for the players. Watch England’s former lineout guru Steve Borthwick, now with Leicester, at work and you will see he’s constantly looking for ways to make training as close to the game as possible. Mike Cron, who’s done so much with the All Blacks over the last decade, is the same. MORE
Coaching tips for a great scrummaging session
This is not a guide to introducing the scrum for the first time. The constituent coaching bodies provide excellent resources on how to build a scrum for the uninitiated. We want to be able to move onto the next stage of improving our teams' scrummaging.
This rugby coaching session uses a methodology known as "Whole-Part-Whole". After the warm-up, the players pack down and scrummage, before breaking off to look at more individual aspects. They then return to the full scrummage, with further elements added, such as pressure.
However, I start by listing a few rugby coaching points you might like to consider.
Every player scrummages
A great scrummage drill session should ensure that every player, including replacements, improves their scrummaging technique and skills and is prepared to scrummage in a match. This is part of getting the players to have the right mindset.
Sometimes players are going to have to scrummage in a game after a sustained period of high intensity. Therefore the session must involve scrums where the players are tired.
Scrum techniques can be tried out individually away from the training pitch.
For less experienced players: The player can use a friend or family member to practise some gentle scrummaging. This is to purely look at the bind and body position to help them understand the shapes and positions they are trying to achieve. Sometimes, the less experienced the volunteer, the better. The player can then work out the sorts of problems you might encounter because they will naturally arise.
More experienced players: Ahead of your rugby coaching session, take aside the more experienced player to discuss the techniques you are going to look at. Their experience will be valuable. Especially if they are props, they will be more likely to want to demonstrate the positions with you. And when you are running the session, you will have consulted one of the players, putting them into your frame of thinking, allowing greater acceptance of what you are proposing.
The warm-up drill
Have a gradual physical and mental preparation period of about five minutes, assuming that the team as a whole has been working together before the scrum session. Start by making sure all the players are dressed properly, avoiding delays when moving onto the next drill. A spare scrum cap in the coach's bag is often invaluable.
All the warming-up, rugby drills should be aimed at static situations, with very little running needed, such as wrestling, press ups. It is important to include neck exercises.
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Step 1: "Whole"
After the warm-up drill, the next step is to form a scrum, whether against a scrum machine (preferable), or against another group. If the numbers are not enough, then build backwards from the front row. Form at least five scrums for each combination, with a player putting the ball into to be hooked.
This part of the session will be short, but necessary to understand the progress to be made. Ensure that the engagement is under control. That is, that everyone understands the instructions "CROUCH, TOUCH, PAUSE, ENGAGE".
Players should learn to fold into a scrum at first, making a big "hit" comes much later. If not then injuries can occur.
Step 2: "Part"
There are three areas a scrummager can always improve upon in technique:
Body position in the scrum: Either against the machine, or against another player, a series of exercises can take place where the player moves from being on all fours, with the knees on the ground, through to the correct position to scrummage. With this technique, a player approaches the scrum from the ground up, as opposed to the actual scrum position where most players are approaching from a higher starting point.
You must ensure that all the players' shoulders are above their hips and that all players look up. This prevents the scrum from collapsing, and helps the players keep their backs straight.
Strength of the lateral and forward bind: The lateral bind is how the player holds the team mate scrummaging next to them (prop on hooker, lock on lock, flanker on lock). The tightness of this bind, aligned to the comfort to then work together increase the whole power of the scrum. A simple two on two situation, with different binds experimented with, increases the player's ability to bind in different positions and with different players.
The forward bind is how the player interacts team mates in front of them (locks and flankers on props, number 8 on locks). Practise with three man scrums, with either two at the front and one in the back, or the other way round, will help improve this area.
The front row engagement is another, far longer and far more controversial area. To find out more, read my Secrets of the Front Row report. This is my ground-breaking coaching and skills manual that shows you how to get more power from your scrum and deliver top quality first phase ball. Click here to read more about the manual and to order it.
Power transfer: A strong body position and effective bind needs the final element of forward drive. Body shapes dictate where the bulk of the power comes from, but there needs to be transference of power through the legs, up through the shoulders, with a straight spine, and into the player in front.
Practise with a one-on-one drill, with one player pushing, the other holding, or straight onto a machine, with one player on each contact pad.
This article is taken from the Better Rugby Coaching e-newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free rugby drills and skills twice a week.
Click here for more scrummaging coaching tips.