Why are the Lions' lock and flanker on the right split apart?

Why are the right lock and flanker split apart?

In parts one and two of this article I’ve looked at some of the technical issues in scrums as a way of explaining some of the things we’ve seen in the scrums in this Wallabies and Lions test series.

Today, there are no secrets of the front row but I’ll look at the impact I expect from the new trial laws to be introduced next season and the how the angles work in the middle row to show why flankers are so important to props.

Whilst the article is less about the scrum in the third test the discussion on how important the flankers are to props is very relevant to the Wallabies scrum performance.


There are three keys with the new scrum laws to be trialled next season:

  1. Props will be required to bind on their opposite prop after they have crouched into position and to maintain that bind during the engagement – the new call will be ‘Crouch, Bind, Set’;
  2. After the engagement the scrum will have to be steady with neither side pushing before the ball is allowed to be fed;
  3. The existing law that the ball be fed by the halfback in the middle of the tunnel will be enforced.

By requiring the props to pre-bind the front rows will have to start much closer. This will reduce the impact of the hit which is a safety initiative as studies have shown that most of the catastrophic injuries in scrums are caused by the hit.


The other consequence of the pre-bind and the front rows starting much closer is that the loosehead prop will not be able to ‘dive’ under the tighthead as they do now. That manoeuvre is only possible because the loosehead starts far enough away to make the ‘dive’ and swing their arm up to make their bind once they’ve gone forward. This will change the loosehead’s horizontal angle.

The result of this will be less collapses caused by the loosehead missing their bind during this manoeuvre. As the loosehead won’t be able to ‘dive’ they won’t be able to get the back of their head across and under the tighthead’s sternum so the impact point will change to that shown in the image below. This will mean the loosehead is not engaging or driving on such an angle.

The impact for the loosehead will change

The impact point for the loosehead will change

This will result in less scrum collapses and the loosehead’s vertical angle being much straighter – both positives as far as I’m concerned.

Unless they are a contortionist the loosehead will only be able to get their head under the tighthead, not their whole upper body as they try to do now. This will mean the loosehead will drive forward more and up less than they currently do.

This will benefit tightheads as it will remove the advantage looseheads currently have by being able to lift the tighthead up and destabilise them. I see that as another positive as the battle between looseheads and tightheads will be much more even. It will also make it harder for looseheads to wheel the scrum around in the natural clockwise direction as the tighthead will be able to stay lower and better resist the two v one force coming through at them.


Whilst there will be a ‘small’ hit there will a pause after that whilst the packs stabilise and get steady before the referee allows the ball to be fed. This will allow time for the front rows to adjust their position and correct any errors in technique made during the hit.

Packs currently use the hit to drive the opposition pack backwards, feed the ball immediately and drive over the top of the ball. Effectively if a team loses the hit there is very little chance for them to compete in the scrum.

The hit will no longer be able to be used in that way as even if a pack is driven back by the ‘small’ hit they will still get a chance to stabilise themselves before the ball is allowed to be fed. The ‘small’ hit may still be a tool of intimidation to show the opposition how strong your pack is but the hit will not be the focus it is today.


Currently halfbacks feed the ball towards their own second row, if not into it. The laws haven’t changed requiring a feed in the middle of the tunnel but that law is not enforced and hasn’t been for some time. As a result, hookers quite often don’t even strike for the ball.

As the hooker for the team feeding the ball there is often no need to hook the ball back into your side of the scrum because the halfback has already done that for you. As the hooker for the team not feeding the ball there is little point in trying to strike for the ball to win a tighthead as it is physically impossible to reach your foot all the way into the opposition middle row and drag it back, particularly when the opposition pack is using the momentum of the hit to drive you backwards. As a result the hooker often isn’t used as a hooker and is instead used as a third prop helping to drive the scrum forward.

With the law requiring the ball to be fed in the middle of the tunnel to be enforced again, striking for the ball will once again become a very valuable skill. There are many hookers who are going to have to re-learn the skill and others who are going to have to learn it for the first time.

Good technique from hookers may allow your team to retain their own ball and even win the opposition’s ball. The scrum will once again become a contest of skill and technique rather than just brute force.  I think that’s another great thing to come from the new scrum regime.

As hookers will be focussing on striking for the ball more they will not be as big a part of the drive forward. We will see less eight man shoves and more seven man shoves with the hooker only joining in the drive once they have either won or lost the hooking contest.


Under the current regime, where winning the hit is so important, props have to setup to engage as quickly as they can once the referee calls ‘Set’. As soon as the locks get into their setup position their weight starts to move the props forward so that they are almost tipping in to the scrum.

The props are primarily held back by the hooker’s right leg on the ground which acts like a ‘handbrake’ to stop the scrum moving forward and the number eight holding the locks back. The number eight initiates the forward movement of the scrum upon the ‘Set’ call by releasing the locks and pushing them forward. At the same time the hooker lifts their right foot to make a strike which releases the ‘handbrake’.

The force that starts from the number eight at the back of the scrum builds momentum when the forward drive of the four players in the middle row is added and increases again when combined with the drive of the props (and sometimes the hooker). The momentum generated from these combined forces drives the scrum forward and over the ball.

With the ball not allowed to be fed under the trial laws until the scrum is stationery there will be no momentum from the hit to start the drive forward. The pack will now have to generate the drive forward from a stationery position using technique and power rather than momentum.

Packs will have to generate this power through a co-ordinated drive as the ball is fed. Strong props will become even more important than they are today, however sheer grunt alone won’t be enough. A pack where all members have good technique that helps to generate and maintain power will have a massive advantage.

As I explained in part one of this article the only way force can be transferred all the way through the pack to the opposition is if the horizontal angle of the players generating the force is very close to the same angle and at the same height as you can see below from the All Blacks and the Wallabies where Ben Alexander also got into a good position.

All Blacks are very good with their horizontal angles

All Blacks are very good with their horizontal angles

A really good scrum from Alexander and the Wallabies

A really good scrum from Alexander and the Wallabies

As the hit will no longer have the influence it does today and there will be a pause after engagement allowing the front row to adjust their position, body shape / height at setup will be less important. However, the body shape / height of players before the drive is commenced and then maintaining that shape / height through the drive will be even more important than it is now.

If packs are pushing on different horizontal angles or any players don’t maintain a flat back through the drive, the power will be diminished.


Power in a scrum is primarily achieved from the force generated by the middle row – the props add their power but their most important role is to transfer the force through to the opposition. Note that in this instance I talk about the middle row, not the second row or locks. That is by design because as I’ll show you there are actually four locks in the middle row, not two locks and two flankers.

Something often overlooked in scrums is that as the hooker is striking for the ball their foot is off the ground and they are unstable. If the locks behind them push on the hooker with their shoulders they will drive the hooker’s hips forward and they will not be able to get their leg into a position to strike for the ball.

To avoid disrupting the hooker locks can’t push with their inside shoulders and they direct all of their force through their outside shoulder on to the inside of the prop they’re packing behind.

This has been less relevant over the last few years as hookers have abandoned hooking for the ball but with the re-emergence of hookers striking for the ball it will again be a critical factor.

The laws of physics mean that, if for example you are the loosehead lock (on the left side of the scrum), you will direct all of your force through your left shoulder and that force will angle across the prop in a different direction to which they are driving, forcing their hips outward as shown below. There is physically no way that all of your force directed only through your left shoulder can generate force going straight forward.

Direction of loosehead lock's force when pushing with only outside shoulder

Direction of force when lock only pushing with outside shoulder

To counter this each flanker has to push inwards on the prop. With the flanker’s force acting as a counterbalance the resulting force goes in the direction the prop is driving as shown below.

In scrums there are no flankers - there are four locks

In scrums there are no flankers – there are four locks

Each prop therefore effectively has two locks behind them and together they form a pod of three that is responsible for each side of the scrum. Whilst the whole pack still works together these individual pods of three are actually more important than how the ‘tight five’ work together.

If one side of the scrum is going backwards, it’s not just the prop who isn’t getting the job done – it’s all three members of the pod on that side.

Even though under the current law interpretations hookers don’t strike for the ball in every scrum, they still need to be in a position to strike if the opportunity arises so unless a team decides to implement an eight man shove, even today the locks shouldn’t disrupt the hooker by pushing on them.

So, whilst I’m explaining the way the pods of three work in an article talking about the trial laws for next season, this is the way teams scrummage today. Here are some overhead shots showing you how the pods work independently and on different angles under the current law interpretations.

France v New Zealand RWC 2011 Final

France v New Zealand RWC 2011 Final

England v France

England v France

As you can see in those images as the scrum drives forward the props are often driving on different angles to each other and this means that the hips of the two second rowers normally split apart. Surprising as it may seem, the two second rowers do not actually work that closely together – they work more with the flanker in their pod.

As the hips of the second rowers split apart there is nothing left for the number eight to drive their shoulders on and their primary role becomes managing the ball or getting their head up to monitor the opposition attackers if they have won the ball.

However, the flankers must stay on the scrum – they are the vital counterbalance to each of the second rowers. Once they release their pressure driving in on the prop the power of that pod is reduced as the angle the second rower is pushing on is different to the prop he’s pushing on. You can see the angle of the Lions second rower and flanker behind Adam Jones in the second test in the image below.

Vertical angles from another viewpoint

Vertical angles from another viewpoint

So even under the current law interpretations the flankers are so important to props.

Once you understand the roles of the various players in the scrum it becomes obvious that the real drive in a scrum comes from six players, as the hooker is focussing on striking for the ball and the number eight has nothing to really drive on. Those six players form the two pods of three I talk about.


I think the trial laws are very positive for scrums, which will remain a vital part of the game. To scrummage well under these laws and interpretations forwards will have to improve their skill and techniques – scrums won’t just be about grunt and the hit, although powerful props will become even more valuable so power can be transferred through to the opposition.

What I’ve explained to you in these articles are not theories – they are techniques I coach and in my experience they work.

I hope that these articles have helped some of you to understand what’s happening on the field when a scrum is packed, whether it’s on television or at your local ground.

  • Le Von Zipper

    Thank you so much for these scrum articles

    For me, they have to make sure that the put in is enforced, and the result will be that hookers are forced to do what their name alludes to

    • Dricco

      Alright Julian Bonny

  • Le Von Zipper

    With hookers having to hook, more flexibility will be needed, reducing this obsession with power, and the re-emergence of scrummaging technique for the props. I’m an ex pilier gauche and the state of current scrummaging is a major bugbear for me. Add in some kind of grip material to these tight tops they wear, and we might just see the scrum return to its best

    Said it once, will say it again, great work with these scrum articles

    • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

      “ex pilier gauche”? Care to clarify what one of these is?

      As someone that stayed well clear of scrums & forwards for that matter, less I get my jersey muddied, I’m enjoying reading Scott’s work. Mind you it means reading it over a few times until it sinks in.

      This is another great effort Scott. Especially considering that scrums are such an important and yet greatly misunderstood part of Rugby for your average fan.

      • Scott Allen

        Unless I’m mistaken, “piller gauche” is prop left, so a loosehead prop

        • Blinky Bill of Bellingen NSW

          Cheers for that Scott.

          I’ll file that away for future reference.

        • Josh Macy

          It’s the same in Spanish as well, with the pilar izquierda being the loose head and the pilar derecho naming his partner in crime.

  • ignoramus

    aside from props having to get stronger from the Darwinian forces caused by these rule changes, what other changes do you expect?

    I suspect bigger stronger flankers, given the need to have stronger stationary power in the scrums. The other is perhaps the number 8 will become more of a fetcher as the first to the ball after the scrim, given the importance of flankers maintaining their binds become more important?

    • Scott Allen

      On the number eight, that’s what I coach now in defence – eight gets his head up early and is the first off the scrum, so should be first to a breakdown off a scrum. He’s the one that can be the meercat as he’s got nothing to push on.

      In attack, eight will be busy protecting the ball for half, picking it up to run himself or picking and passing to the halfback, so probably can’t be the fetcher.

      Good point on bigger, stronger flankers. We’ve seen in this test series that Hooper doesn’t really add much weight to the prop he’s packing behind. Smith improves that for the Wallabies this week.

      • Who?

        Excellent point, although perhaps the end result will be nothing more than a rotation of players. The currently smaller openside moving to #8 at the scrum, as, if he’s meerkatting, there’s not really any point in having your wrecking ball there. It’s not an unusual thing, having the roles played by the three loose forwards rotate between the jerseys. The numbers aren’t important, only the balance between the three in handling the roles.

        • josh123

          By moving your smaller back rower to 8, you don’t carry as much of a threat with a no. 8 pickup, which is so loved by the NH. Especially with the 6 nations teams, i can imagine that there will be little change, as the 6 and 7 are still pretty big (ie Croft, Lydiate, Sean O’Brien) so have they will still have plenty of weight to add to the scrum, and the no. 8 will stay a strong ball carrier in the tight.

        • Who?

          Fair point, though if you’ve got a 7 like Hooper (whose strength is his ball running, not the shove he gives in the scrum), then he’s more useful at 8. He’s not a wrecking ball, but his footwork’s pretty handy, handy enough for him to be a handful off the scrum.

        • josh123

          Possibly, i can imagine the conditioning people at the brumbies would try to put a few more kilos on him if they wanted him to be an 8. From memory, the 2nd test against the lions, he got turned over from a few runs running into back row players. I would prefer Hooper running further out, and not into the pack, but if you worked on his technique going into contact, and got the back rowers off the scrum and into the breakdown quickly, then it would work pretty well. But i can’t imagine the NH teams putting a player like hooper at 8. They much prefer strength over speed and agility. I think the SH teams will adapt more, and try out these combinations.

        • Who?

          I hear you. Then again, the NH wouldn’t pick a bloke as ‘small’ as Hooper in the pack at all. Same with Matt Todd. Only Aussies and Kiwis seem to have the odd forward that small. It’d be interesting to know what Dean Benton would’ve done with Hooper if he’d stuck around down there this year…

        • josh123

          I think the reason why aussie and kiwi teams pick smaller forwards comes down to much discussed things like weather and refereeing ect… but it will be interesting to see all the possible permutations, and i think scott has hit the nail on the head. I can imagine coaches racking their brains, trying out all these possible combinations. The problems with the law changes are the rugby thinkers really don’t catch up with the rules for a few years. As you said, the aussies and kiwis will probably be more liberal with trying to find the best combinations. The NH teams will probably try to stick with what they have got, and see if that works.

          Great analysis from Scott. I think he knows more about rugby, than rugby knows about itself!

        • Chris McCracken

          Maybe at the defensive scrum. But even then, if your strategy for a win against the head is a #8 pickup, you’ll want to keep him there. Especially since the new rules ‘should’ improve the chances of a win against the head.

  • Matty Roth

    Another great piece of scrum analysis. That first new rule sound awful though, it will basically take away the hit. I am selfishly happy that loose-heads will have an advantage in getting their binding elbow high but the more explosive, mobile props like Sio will be punished by making the gap so small

    While watching all the scrums go down in the second test was very frustrating, they need to enforce the rules they have better (plus as Le Von Zipper said make props wear material which you can bind) instead of adding new rules which make competitive scrums almost pointless

    • Ignorance is Bliss

      This from ‘Nutta’ re synthetic material

      “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…”

    • Scott Allen

      Whether you think it’s right or wrong to remove the hit, the studies commissioned by the IRB have shown that something like 65% of ‘catastrophic’ injuries are caused by the hit. The same IRB studies have shown a nearly 50% reduction in force using the pre-bind that is to be introduced.

      If these studies are ignored, people (as in IRB, National and State Unions and Clubs) will leave themselves open to a massive lawsuit the next time someone gets injured in a scrum.

      You can imagine the plaintiff’s lawyer in court – “your own studies showed there was a massive risk, yet you chose to do nothing – as a result my client is now severely injured!” or “Your studies showed the risk, you came up with new laws that reduced the risk, you trialled them and then removed them which brought the risk back – as a result my client is now severely injured!”.

      So, I’d say it’s game over for the hit on that basis alone.

  • bill

    Back when I played as a flanker I can remember virtually entire seasons spent carrying minor groin strains because our props, and me for that matter, were just too small to allow us not to use the flankers. But it’ll be good to see the new scrum laws. Hopefully it won’t mean the end of the Hoopers and Gills though. And hopefully as well the refs start pinging the flankers holding their opposites onto the scrum ala McCaw.

  • old weary

    but what about the new photo!

  • Chris McCracken

    Scott, your recent analyses on the scrum have been absolutely enlightening. Thanks to you and to Nutta for his contribution, which was obviously very close to his heart.

  • Pasty Pom

    Scott, can I ask a q? Do you think this could result in something slightly different. Second rows staying tighter together and driving onto props who are required to stay straight(er) ie hips closer together? It will be interesting to see how many ‘hookers’ manage to transition to these laws. The setup these days doesnt even allow for a genuine strike. Do you think we may see the resurgence of smaller hookers and looseheads? Stationary before put ins then straight, bet a few quid on a lot of pens to start with!!

    • Scott Allen

      A very good point – I definitely think we’ll see straighter drives and that will bring the locks hips closer together.

      That won’t change the direction their force is going – through their outside shoulders and away from each other so they will continue to work more closely with their flanker rather than each other.

      However, one consequence of the locks hips being closer together is that the number eight may have more to push on than they do today.

      I agree with you that we may see smaller, more agile hookers who can actually move around between the two props to hook for the ball. Tom Youngs could be a prototype.

      I don’t think we’ll see smaller looseheads – will need big, strong guys to help generate and transfer the power from a standing start.

      • Pasty Pom

        The 8 coming back into it was where I was coming from ie rather than meerkatting all the time. Feels a bit like going back to school where the 8 held the second rows together to try and transfer weight from the back 5. Technique is a bit different now. I probably agree on the LH in the modern game, though as a small hooker my self I prefered shorter low scrummaging props either side. Depends on the flexibility of the hooker to some extent.I was thinking that without the dive under, or illegal bind whether we may see more Tom Smith, Thomas Domingo type LH who are simply so low the big TH cant get down to them.Maybe as a short arse I simply hark back to the days when rugby was for all shapes not just the genetic experiments!! Whatever I hope it sorts it out, I do love a proper contest and there is nothing better than an 8 man from a 5m scrum, but these penalty fest lotteries are no good for anyone. Thanks again Scott great stuff.

  • Stu

    I thank you very much for this hard work Scott. I have watched rugby for years but your analysis over many articles has improved my viewing pleasure immensely. Hat tip to you.

  • boyo

    Very informative.
    Does a prop like Benn Robinson (i.e. short legs) have an advantage over a prop like Wyatt Crockett (i.e. longer legs)?
    A bugbear of mine for some time has been crooked feeds by scrum-halves, and hookers not hooking the ball. Hopefully the new scrum laws sort these out.

  • markjohnconley

    Thanks Scott excellent

  • Who?

    Why didn’t our pack read this series before tonight? They could’ve learned so much… :-(

  • nick_bish

    Although the scrum analysis is fascinating in itself, in relation to the decisive Test of the series it was mostly irrelevant because the Wallabies never came to grips with what the Lions were really trying to do at scrum-time.

    The Lions wanted to ‘drive’ on their own put-in. This was the key. But I say ‘drive’ in parenthesis because in reality it is usually a walk-around that begins with either the tight-head or loose-head sidestepping to the side of the ‘drive’ that had been called.

    Take a look at the scrums at 10:40 of the first half and 50:30 of the second. In both examples you will see Alex Corbisiero [in the first example] and Adam Jones [in the second] taking two or three steps to the side before the ‘drive’ comes on. They are not trying to push straight, they are trying to walk around their opponent and create an angle. In both examples the front-rows end up pointing towards the side-line not the posts. It’s only the locks and number 8 who stay square, and create the optical illusion that the scrum is going straight forward. If you look at Alexander in the first example, he doesn’t go backwards so much as watch the Lions front-row rotate around him! In American Football terms, the front -row is simply trying to ‘wall off’ their opponents so that the locks and 8 can come through. If they were doing this without the ball of course, they’d be penalised for a deliberate wheel.

    So it’s actually a huge sleight of hand! In the NH where all teams use this tactic, you’ll frequently see first one side looking dominant at the scrum and winning the pen, then the other – and no-one can work out why… I feel quite sorry for the two Bens and Stephen Moore, because they’ve copped all the flak for a tactic that is basically illegal. But because no-one questioned it in the lead-up to the matches, they had to endure a very public humiliation – especially Ben Alexander.

  • drgarold

    This has been one of the Best series of Articles I have read in ages. It is enlightening to interested observers and actually useful to coaches and their players at so many levels, my congratulations on them!

    Now all you need to do is sit your Aussie Pack down and make them read the damn thing!


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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