Monday 18 December 2017

Dark arts of scrum remain vital in battle within the war

David Kelly

David Kelly

Scrum (n) 1 Rugby: a formation in which players from each side form a tight pack and push against each other in an attempt to get the ball which is thrown on the ground between them.

2 informal: a disorderly struggle.

THE SCRUM – it's the battle within the war. Home to the darkest of dark arts. Historically, Argentina have been one of its proudest proponents.

A Welsh wit once suggested during the preliminaries to an international, "if there's one sight more frightening that the Argentinian front-row, it's the Argentinian front-row singing."

Today, they boast a debutant – albeit a beastly one and the heaviest player on duty (Bustos) – as well as a latecomer to international rugby (Guinazu) and a perennial understudy (Ayerza). Scelzo, Ledesma and Roncero they ain't.

Though theirs may not be the grizzled, growling front-row of old, as Argentina seek to augment their familiar graft with craft, they remain a physical unit, one keen to pay homage to their storied predecessors.


In contrast, Ireland will boast a double Heineken Cup winning combination in its vanguard of the eight.

Much focus will be on Mike Ross; outwitted by his Leinster colleague Heinke van der Merwe a fortnight ago, the Cork man has been unfairly fingered in many quarters since then.

Indispensable just a few months ago following the Twickenham debacle, it seemed, Declan Kidney last week mystifyingly started him against Fiji, hinting that he needed more game-time – even though he'd been ever-present for Leinster since the middle of September.

Former Ireland and Leinster loose-head Reggie Corrigan believes that Ross is doing very well at the moment, thank you. Besides, he also points out that there are eight men in the scrum for a reason.

Ross, as the tighthead aiming to secure the scrum, is akin to merely the right hand of a boxer; he may be possessed of speed and a deft jab, but the body, feet and left hand must be controlled by someone else, ie the rest of the scrum, particularly his front-row.

"It's not mano-a-mano, that's the common misconception, that you will try to take on your opposite man," explains Corrigan, who won 47 caps between 1997 and 2006.

"If you do that against the Argentinian front-row, you're screwed. To achieve success, the whole unit has to work together and Ireland will have an advantage because of their all-Leinster front-row.

"People talk about angles and dark arts and all that, but the role of the hooker is often overlooked. If the tighthead decides that he wants to go in at an angle on our hooker, turning our loosehead in, it's imperative the hooker realises that.

"He has to counter-drive, at an angle outwards towards the tighthead to keep things square, he can't allow everything to fall in on top of them without helping the prop.

"Also, the loosehead will try to come in on an angle and try to get underneath Mike Ross and try to drive him over on top of the hooker.

"So, Mike has to realise that and try to repel it, but the hooker also has to sense where the threat is coming from. It will either come from the left or right. It's also possible that it will come from both sides. It could come through the middle. It's hard to describe, but when you feel that pressure, you have to react to it in the short time available."

Corrigan illustrates further the pressure on the pusher by offering an easily recognised example.


"Imagine you're pushing a car. You know a good position is when you drop your knees and hips, your back is straight, your arms are straight and then you push. But if someone comes long and starts pushing their head under your belly, what happens?

"Suddenly, your a**e is cocked in the air, your legs are straight and you're not in a strong position to push the car. You're not in the same position as before.

"It's the same as the scrum. If you've someone driving you at an angle, it affects you in the drive. So you need to work yourself into an awkward position to affect his drive and maybe give yourself a little push as well.

"And the more they try to adjust, the good props can make it even more awkward for them. It might be millimetres, just enough to get your head in and completely compromise the other prop. Then the scrum is over pretty quickly."

Early on, both teams will attempt to feel the other out, butting heads and shoulders like antlers locking horns; hence that's why so many early scrums collapse and are re-set, much to the chagrin of paying spectators.

Corrigan insists that front-rows, who have done their video analysis to death, will be more eager to make their own statement at the first scrum. Getting your retaliation in first is a most effective weapon.

As for the dark arts? Stories of players nibbling the opposition and such? Corrigan once survived a gouging at the hands of Argentina, but he reckons it is more sanitised these days, even if the intensity has increased.

"Would you seriously want to lick another prop's ear?" laughs Corrigan, whose technical expertise is sadly neglected in this country.

"Sledging might happen after you've destroyed a prop. You'll give him a look, just a look. You know you have them when they don't look back at you.

"There was a lot of roaring going on, but that's a thing of the past. If you've time to do all that shouting and stuff, you're not putting it in when and where it matters."

From his position as a radio analyst this afternoon, Corrigan will await the first engagement with keen anticipation.

"I used to enjoy scrummaging a lot. But I didn't enjoy doing it 25 times in the muck and having to re-set every second time. I didn't go to bed dreaming about it though. I liked the other aspects of the game too.

"It's the challenge that you thrive on. The expectation of that first hit, not knowing how it's going to feel, knowing no two ever feel the same. Sometimes the first one is like getting hit by a baby Rhino.

"And you think 'Jeez, this is going to be a long day. But you're still looking forward to the next one ... "

Irish Independent

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