Analysis: Wallabies Scrum Battle v Lions - Part 2 - Green and Gold Rugby

Analysis: Wallabies Scrum Battle v Lions – Part 2

Analysis: Wallabies Scrum Battle v Lions – Part 2
Vunipola gets outside Alexander

Vunipola gets outside Alexander

In part one of this article I looked at some of the horizontal angles involved in scrums, the importance of body shape / height and how those points are relevant for the Wallabies scrum against the Lions.

With apologies in advance to Nutta, who was adamant in comments on part one of this article that I had to stop revealing secrets, I’ve got some more secrets to share today.

In part two I’m going to look at some of the vertical angles involved in scrums and how those vertical angles impacted on the clash between Ben Alexander and Mako Vunipola in the second test.

I’ll post part three of the article on Friday looking at why the flankers are so important to props and what the trial laws being introduced next season will mean for scrums.

Vertical Angles

As I showed in part one, the loosehead effectively ‘dives’ under the tighthead as they engage and then drives forward and up to disrupt the tighthead. It’s not an easy manoeuvre and only experienced looseheads are capable of doing it well.

In order for the tactic to work the loosehead has to get the back of their head under the tighthead’s chest. Due to the offset of the front rows the loosehead lines up with their head opposite the tighthead’s right shoulder and if the loosehead packs straight forward the back of their head ends up under the tighthead’s right shoulder as shown below.

If loosehead engages straight

Impact point if loosehead engages straight

With their head in this position as the loosehead lifts up their head can slip outside the tighthead’s body which leaves them with nothing to push on and they can’t transfer any force through to the tighthead.

Alternatively if the loosehead’s head stays under the tighthead’s right shoulder their upward movement rolls the tighthead in towards the middle of the scrum rather than up. We saw Alexander being rolled up and in by Vunipola in the second test but I’ll go into more detail about what was happening in those scrums shortly.

If either of these things happen there is a good chance the referee will take the view that the loosehead is pushing illegally and penalise them.

Ideally the loosehead wants to get the back of their head under the sternum of the tighthead so that as the loosehead lifts up they have something solid to drive on. A good way to think about where a loosehead engages under the tighthead is to imagine a clock face on the tighthead’s chest looking from where the loosehead is standing opposite.

The best looseheads will move the back of their head under the tighthead to the 12 o’clock position right on the sternum. A loosehead with reasonable technique will get the back of their head under the breast of the tighthead in the 11 o’clock position. A loosehead with poor technique will settle for getting the back of their head under the armpit of the tighthead in the 10 o’clock position.

Aim for a loosehead is to engage at 12 o'clock

Aim for a loosehead is to engage at 12 o’clock

There are two keys to being able to move from the 10 o’clock position to the 12 o’clock position.

  1. Body shape / height – if the loosehead is flexible in their hips they can get into a good low starting position to get their head down low enough as they engage. If the loosehead starts too high it’s nearly impossible to physically get down low enough to get that far under the tighthead’s chest. This is why loosehead’s are normally the shorter of your two props. There’s a reason why someone like Wyatt Crockett struggles to get under tightheads and is often penalised for angling down and going to straight to ground in an attempt to do so.
  2. Strength – the further down you ‘dive’ the further you have to come back up and that relies not just on getting a good strong bind but having a very strong core to lift your own body weight back up together with the weight of the tighthead driving down on top of you.

As I mentioned earlier, if the loosehead engages straight forward from their setup position the back of their head will end up somewhere between the 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock positions. To get across to the 11 o’clock or 12 o’clock positions and therefore be more effective with their drive looseheads normally setup angled in as shown below.

Yes, this requires the loosehead to angle in

Yes, this requires the loosehead to angle in illegally

This means the loosehead drives in on angle, which is of course illegal. However, this tactic is used by all top level teams and referees don’t penalise it (maybe because they don’t know what the loosehead is up to).

The use of overhead cameras reveals a lot about what happens in scrums and I’ve included some examples in the video below – here’s a screen grab from an overhead clip in the RWC 2011 match between the Wallabies and Wales.

Overhead cameras reveal so much

Overhead cameras reveal so much

The loosehead sets up this angle by bringing their shoulder in behind their hooker’s shoulder as they bind. This bind between the loosehead and the hooker is the pressure point the tighthead aims for as he engages and drives forward. As well as getting the loosehead into position to angle in this binding tactic makes it much harder for the tighthead to break their bind apart.

It also reduces the space for the tighthead to put their head into which creates the head to head arguments you see between looseheads and tightheads as they get ready to engage. You’ll often see referees pull scrums up before they engage to sort this head to head issue out.

Let’s be clear – it is the loosehead that causes this issue by angling in and the clip I’ve included of Benn Robinson in the video below shows how the tighthead and loosehead end up disputing the space – the tighthead wants the loosehead to move their head out whilst the loosehead wants the tighthead to move their head in.

It's the loosehead that causes those head to head disputes

It’s the loosehead that causes those head to head disputes

On page 2 I’ll look at the performances Alexander and Vunipola in the second test together with tactics for the third test.

Pages: 1 2

  • BOPSteamers

    I’m interested to know if you know how a tighthead counters a Loosehead boring in?

    • Scott Allen

      Now you’re into the dark arts and there are so many possibilities. Very hard to say definitively without seeing exactly how he’s boring in. For example, is he at the same height and boring into the tighthead’s side or is he under the tighhead and angling across.

      I don’t think the tactics to counter this can be properly explained in writing but I’ll try.

      Biggest thing to consider if he’s coming at the right side of the tighthead is that it’s important to limit how much of body he can see to aim at. One option is to turn outwards, meet him head on and drive him back where he came from. So when setting up loosen the bind on the hooker, left foot up a little and turn out a little.

      If he’s getting under and going across, have to find a way to get down lower. Bend the knees, get right shoulder down and block him out before he can get under. Setup with right elbow in close to own body and try to make it hard for him to make his bind by blocking his hand with right elbow as you bind.

      Another option is to attack – If he’s up high and turning inwards he’ll have to loosen his bind with his hooker. If you can drive straight and fast at the gap as you engage before he manages to turn in, you’ll split him away from his hooker and he’ll probably collapse.

      Reading that back, it doesn’t explain it very well unfortunately.

      • Parra

        Great as usual Scott – mind you, could have been written by your neighbour down the street for all I know, it’s all still a mystery to me! Scrums are just a chance for us golden boys to catch our breaths and ask our mate what our set backline moves actually are.. As a viewer it’s 90% frustration, 10% chance to get another beer.

        A couple of questions:
        – If we’re under the pump (as we have been in just about every scrum since around 2007 WC) would it be a good idea to pick up on your idea of closing the space / making the hit first, by deliberately going early on their feed? (Esp. in our half when Halfpenny’s about to knock another one over). Early engagement results in a free kick (90% of the time another scrum) but it buys you a bit of time if the scrum is reset and if not you get away with it. How many early engs. can you do before it’s a penalty?
        – Why does the team feeding mostly have the adv? (goes forwards or at least is steady).

      • BOPSteamers

        Maybe off topic, but why is it that Australia in recent times produced such inconsistent performances at scrum time, why does it seem we cannot produce at tight head who can play high quality footy and dominate scrumtime….e.g Owen Franks, Dan Cole, Nicholas Mas, Ben Afeaki, Census Johnston

    • Nutta

      Well if we are going to open up and talk about such deeply personal issues then let’s do it properly:

      Tighthead stopping Loosehead boring without any assistance from the Ref…

      If he’s a borer you have to stop him at the engage. You will start your stance even lower, kick your feet back a little further and with feet & hips angling out to the right a bit more then usual (if you know/think it’s coming). A good tip is to check your height via “The Law of Knuckles”. All this means is to ask yourself “Can my knuckles comfortably touch the ground?” (without compromising shape). If they cannot then you are too high.

      On engagement you move quick to trap him short and high – that is be aggressive on the engage, get over the centre-line to a good body position, pin his head and arm “short” up near your shoulder with a fast and short bind up under his armpit. The bind motion here is almost a right hook punch looking to get a handful of underarm hair or man-boob through his jumper (don’t let his head or bind go “long”) and thereby prevent him space to duck under you. Your thrust is straight and “down & out through the chest” to pin his torso low towards his thighs. Then his only option (if he still wishes to bore) is to step wide and drive across the line of shoulders (as opposed to the line of chest/ribs if he “gets long”). This will open his ribs up to a shoulder from your breakaway if he’s alert to the opportunity (your own breakaway “slides up” and buries a shoulder into him). You can also counter this shoulder-line boring by bringing your binding elbow straight down thus taking away space for the loose-head to duck under and angle out from. But all this can only be done if you are 1) low and 2) quick to engage and 3) strong enough

      If you are too slow or high on the engage and get caught then the only real alternative is to drop your left shoulder to force a wedge between the loose-head and his hooker and then straighten back out again across the shoulders – forcing the hooker and loose-head to split. You may well have intended to do this anyway and so simply continue the tactic. This will allow you to move past or “beyond” his bore. This takes very good breathing and significant experience (as the power to break the bind comes more from your body positioning and expanding rib-cage then any shoulder strength) and significant drive from your lock and breakaway to wedge yourself in there initially. However if you are good enough to execute it (or their bind is too weak to stop it) it will split their scrum and leave their loosehead stranded outside the scrum. Once again you must be low and have very real power through the engage (lock and breakaway are vital – no one I ever met is strong enough to do it solo – unless his opponents are dead-set muppets) so body height and pre-engage shape is essential.

      The other way to stop it is quite brutal, takes excellent scrum coordination, but he won’t try it again… Basically, when you feel the wheel or bore come on you all (the whole scrum) take 2 short steps right and then drive straight. This has the effect of rolling the loose-head back on himself and then they will collapse under you as you change angle and shove forward. As they roll under your studs be sure to not miss the opportunity to leave an impression.

      All that being said, the basic principle of tight-head (especially on your own feed) is to get over the line low & fast and impact the loosehead in such a way as to balance him outside your right shoulder – balanced low enough that there’s no space for him to duck under and reach your sternum but high enough that he can’t make you roll under him. If the loosehead is boring it means (by definition) his line of push and thereby his hips are not in parallel to his hooker which leaves him exposed to wedging and “pushing past”. But this takes good strength and combination with lock & breakaway.

      If he gets “inside” your shoulder then basically your fkd my friend. All you can do then is try and push past him (as above) or drop the scrum and maybe ruffle their feathers with a punch or two to change the topic…

      • Scott Allen

        Nutta, that is absolutely brilliant!

        Talk about sharing secrets …

      • BloodRed

        so 5 basics principals/options for props?
        1. be lower
        2. be faster
        3. be bigger
        4. be stronger
        5. be meaner
        I remember the days when fatter and nastier was all that was required

      • Upapalmtree

        That’s bloody awesome. And eloquent. My 3 best mates are (or were….) all front rowers and all they ever talked about was beer, birds and curry.

    • Mica

      Nutta & Scott, these are the two best posts/comments ever!!! Thanks for taking the time to explain!!!

  • dave

    some more great analysis scott

  • Josh Macy

    Scott, if you could find the time I’d appreciate you elaborating on why you believe the loose head should be (or normally is) the shorter one.

    • Scott Allen

      If you have your shorter prop on the loosehead side they are lower to the ground which should make it easier for them to to get under the tighthead and lead an attacking scrum.

      The alternative view could be that you put your shorter prop on the tighthead side which would be better defensively as you may be able to stop the opposition loosehead getting under your tighthead to attack you.

      The other point is that the taller prop is normally heavier and that helps on the tighthead side to resist the 2 v 1 force coming through that side.

      Of course the height issue is irrelevant if your shorter prop is inflexible or unfit and can’t get down lower than your taller prop.

      Differences in the technical ability of your props may also make size less of an issue where you choose to pack your best technical prop on the side that needs their skills most.

      So as I said, that is normally what happens, but individual circumstances can change that. Does that make sense?

      • Jivin

        There’s also the “shorter levers” view, which means a short loosehead is better able to straighten up after the dive to get under the tighthead. Their shorter back provides less leverage for the opposition to use against them. Which isn’t as big a deal for a tighthead who makes no dive. As I understand it.

      • Josh Macy

        Makes total sense. I tend to see it as a length of lever issue, but if they can’t scrummage it’s all for naught. I’m from the USA and I just watched our prototypical tall tight head get worked over for no less than a dozen penalties this season. Of course, this may all dramatically change this coming year with the new cadence!

        • Nutta

          A lot of this is historical too. When I first started it was usual to have your lowest tank on the tight side. You wanted your bigger lad on the loose side. Why? Because the TH wanted/needed to pin down to resist the pressure of 2 vs 1 whilst the LH actually wanted to stand up a bit to allow his hooker an easier strike on the ball. But as time passed and scrumming became more about the power of the hit then about the shove on the feed and striking for ball we started to see front-rowers becoming similar (take Daly/Kearns/Link or McDowell/FitzPatrick/Loe as examples) to get a more measured pressure across the front row – giving more options. Then, during the late 90’s when the scrum had a 3-part call we saw a creep back to smaller/shorter props as the scrums tried to get lower and lower pre-engage. The 4 part call with the poncy “Pause” call brought back a trend towards bigger and bigger props to get the biggest smash possible. These days it’s more about simply finding blokes who can withstand the pressure of the engage. With the coming of pre-engage binds I fear it will become a race for size as the bigger man will manoeuvre the smaller man during the bind and engage phase to wherever he wants him

  • nick_bish

    Excellent points as always Scott!

    Re: Ben Alexander, I think the bone of contention is when you go from one or two specific examples to saying that BA’s position is “poor in MOST of the scrums he packs”. Having just finished a full review of the scrum in super 15, I just can’t find enough confirmation of this… Although BA has played on both sides for the Brumbies this season, IMO he is clearly the most dominant tight-head you have in the Aussie franchises. His performance against Ben Franks in the recent ‘Canes match was outstanding.

    Having said that, it does look like the Lions are going after the set-piece as hard as they can this week with Corbisiero and Hibbard slated to start [though Corbisiero may not make it] and Romain Poite in charge. So it will definitely be Alexander’s biggest test of the series. Good luck to him! I for one do not want to see this series decided on scrum penalties handed out like candy by refs who only pretend to understand what they’re seeing. The scrum is an over-managed mess right now, and no-one in their right mind would want a Lions-Wallabies series decided on random refereeing calls.

    • Sydney Tom

      This Lions scrum frightens me. Jones, Hibbard and Jenkins were awarded loads of scrum penalties during the 6 Nations by Poite, Joubert and Walsh. Now they are adding Corbisiero, who is a far more formidable scrummager than Jenkins, who had Du Plessis and Franks in trouble in November (thankfully he was rested against us at Twickenham). Poite is the referee. Am I worrying too much?

  • Stin

    I blame Laurie Fisher. Has anyone got Andrew Blades’ number for Scott. ASAP please!

    • Parra

      Scott and one or two others had Blades on a podcast. He was one of the most boring, drawn out and useless speakers I have ever heard. The most frustrating thing of all was that he avoided the questions (and blatant, detailed analysis that the Wallabies scrum was under-performing) better than any politician I’ve every heard. Just rambled on with nonsensical crap.

      Sorry Andrew, you might be the best bloke in the world, but that was appalling.

      Scott, it didn’t work the first time, I wouldn’t try again if I were you.

  • Donk

    God front rowers are boring

    • Tony Dun

      boring in?

    • wowjiffylube

      Fuck off and watch league then :P

      • Donk

        Also funny and very angry

  • AJ

    Thanks Scott, Nutta and Nick Bish! The article and accompanying comments have been a brilliant insight.

  • Jivin

    Loving this little series, Scott! One thing I notice in many analyses of scrummaging is that the role of the hooker rarely rates a mention. Is that because he’s pretty much there just to push, like a glorified 2nd rower?

    I understand that hooking for the ball has been a thing of the past for quite a while, but when people laud various hookers as being “excellent scrummagers” (eg Hibbard) what are they talking about? Is technique a factor at all or is it brute pushing power? Do they have any dirty tricks up their sleeves?

    • Scott Allen

      Part 3 on Friday contains my thoughts on the hooker role in the scrum.

    • HSM

      Aside from the technique involved in striking for your own ball and the opposition’s, which is a big part of scrummaging at lower levels, and now seems set to regain its importance in top-level scrummaging, there is also the issue of putting pressure on the other hooker on their ball when you’re not striking for it. When I played hooker at uni, we had a move we called the “dip drive” – many teams use this, although they may have a different name for it. On engagement, I would push my opposite number’s neck and upper back down with my right shoulder, rendering him unable to see the ball, and unable to strike properly. Then I would release the downward pressure and drive straight. At the least, you sap some of his energy as he has to fight to stay up.

  • Ignorance is Bliss

    Do you think the new synthetic jersey has made it more difficult for the props to get a good bind? Nutta I love the method to change the topic GOLD!!

    • Nutta

      It depends on the level. For good props playing at good level – not really. It’s been more about the idiotic 4th call (“Pause”) making the delay prior to engage too long. This unnecessary pause allows all sorts of kinetic energy issues to cloud the issue. For park-footy props who don’t hit as hard and who relied more on the post engage bind fight to find a leverage point it is an issue only if you’re playing a fit/young/lean prop. If he’s a comfy fat-boy then grab a handful of flesh instead (amply displayed in the skin-tight top) and watch the sparks start to fly…

      What I find irritating these days is that the synthetic rubs your nipples raw once the jumper is wet (sweat/water/blood/whatever). I put bandaids on my tits these days… Gawd…

      • Ignorance is Bliss

        I wish I had known all this when i was a flanker play colts. Too late now. Will have to use my new found knowledge through the bottom of a scooner glass on Saturday night!!

  • Fatflanker

    Angling the scrum towards the tight-head…is this the tactic the French used so well against the Wallabies in that last test?

    • Scott Allen

      Can only see one scrum in that match where they went across the Wallabies towards the tighthead. In that scrum they drove straight first and then the French tighthead followed the loosehead in rather than the whole pack driving on an angle right from the start.

  • BD

    After following the game for 15 years but never having played, I’ve learnt more about scrummaging from these articles than I’ve ever learnt before. Thanks Scott (and Nutta and Nick Bish)!
    A couple of further questions: a scrum is often described as a loosehead or tighthead – is the description due to the side from which the scrum half feeds the ball or some other reason? If so (or if there is another reason), what determines the side from which the scrum half feeds the ball?

    • wowjiffylube

      The scrumhalf generally feeds the ball from the side of his loosehead prop (i.e. the prop whose head engages with the outside shoulder of his opposing prop, as opposed to the tighthead whose head slots between those of the opposing hooker and loosehead). This means that the ball only has to pass the legs of one opposition player (the tighthead) before reaching the friendly hooker, as opposed to passing the legs of the other team’s loosehead and hooker who would be able to strike at the ball and try to hook it to their own side. The loosehead side is also generally less likely to retreat, thus making it more likely that the ball will be retained. If a scrum is described as a “tighthead” it means that the ball has been won by the team who were not feeding the ball, from the fact that the tighthead prop has held steady or even advanced, allowing his hooker to steal the ball from his opponent. Somewhat convuluted, but I hope this helps.

      • BD

        Very helpful. Thanks!

  • Rodrigo Rezende

    EXCELLENT. I play lock/flanker, and just love when writters do some analysis on our techniques, specially the three macho-fatsos up front. Thank you, Scott!

  • Lyndon Kilori Tia

    Hey Scott, I was wondering if you could give me your opinion of James Slipper? I’d rather have him as a Tight-head as opposed to Dingo using him as a Loose-head.


Scott is one of our regular contributors from the old days of G&GR. He has experience coaching Premier Grade with two clubs in Brisbane.

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