This column is by Andy Richards and has been reprinted with his permission. Richards is Head Coach at Virginia Tech.
In November 2009 I listened to a podcast talking about the scrum and then wrote an article in which I talked about the influence New Zealander Mike Cron has had on the scrum in the modern game. I wrote about the fact that in Bill LeClerc, the Eagles had a 'Cron Disciple.' Someone who would surely work the same magic for our national team as Cron has done for the All Blacks and many other teams over the years. Alas, Le Clerc doesn't seem to be with the Eagles anymore and our scrum is struggling.
This morning I read an article that the Canadian forwards (during the run up to RWC 2011) had been coached by Cron and that he had solved most Canadian scrum problems! Having watched the Eagles scrum struggle for several games now, the news that our arch-rivals are using Cron is galling to say the least. I'm not mad at either Canada or Mike Cron - the Canadians are doing what they need to do to be competitive in this area of the game.
In 2007, USA Rugby sent out DVD's of the sessions that Mike Cron and other New Zealand coaches conducted in San Diego for the US National team and coaches. The sessions on the line out and scrum were conducted by Cron. I was won over by both so much so, that I still use most of the techniques he showed. The thing that I find hard to understand, is why USA Rugby has not dusted out their archives made these sessions available to all coaches that want them. It’s a great resource, I wish we would use it.
Here is the original article from 2009:
I’ve not written too much about the scrum mainly because its one area of the game in the USA that we have real expertise at the top of the chain. Having listened to Bill LeClerc on ARN’s Rugbytalk 105, I am in no doubt that we have someone in place that is taking the right approach to the way that we should be coaching the scrum. Openly admitting that he is a Mike Cron disciple, made me sit up and take note right away!
I sometimes feel that coaches down at the coalface don’t get access to people like Bill; he does teach around the country in clinics, but he’s never going to get to everyone. So I wanted to write an article that listed some of the things he was talking about that really are at the core of the Mike Cron doctrine where the scrum is concerned.
A correct mental attitude towards scrum time is wrapped up in what he calls ‘Social Loathing’. A way to demonstrate this is to get your players in a circle and start clapping one after the other as hard as they can. Go round the circle quickly until they are all clapping then get them to stop. Asking the first guy you got to start clapping if he was clapping as hard at the start as an individual as he was as a part of the group at the end, visually explains social loathing. Statistics show that some players look upon the scrum as a rest; challenge your players not to be social loathers and your scrum will improve right away.
Make sure your players understand the principles of the scrum:
1. 8 people working in the same direction at the same time.
2. The back 5 exploding their power through to the front 3.
3. The front 3 win the race over the centerline.
Set up and body position are so important. Don’t be in a hurry to build your scrum until everyone has good body awareness. Keep the feet narrow, knees behind the shoulders, shallow back and keep the scapula locked. It is important to tilt the pelvis back before getting down into position. If possible, get the players into the right position then get them to practice the set up in front of a mirror. After you have checked their set up, get your players to now go against each other in pairs, going up and down with one hand on the floor for support to start with.
The pressure to keep a purchase on the ground comes through your body; keep the pressure through the balls of the feet and curl the toes. A good drill to get better purchase pressure is have your players on their knees, bind and come up together on their toes only – do it with one arm on the ground again, then as they get better, bind with both arms.
When we start to come together as a unit, the coach needs to make sure the sequence with which we do it, is drilled home and happens the same every time. It starts with the loose head binding on the hooker; the hooker then binds on the tight head. The hooker binds on the props shoulders; try to avoid the swept-wing airplane wing effect by binding too far back. The hooker takes control and should run every scrum – he’s the one that ensures distance and alignment. The pack binds in 3 groups, front row, middle 4 and then the No 8. Get the pack practicing this sequence by moving around the field from cone to cone. Get the hooker to make the referee’s calls.
I like to work on a two-cadence in all aspects of the scrum. On every engagement at the hit, we ‘sink then load’. When the opposition puts the ball in, the hooker calls ‘and now’. On our put in, as the hooker’s foot comes forward for the strike, our players sink, and then drive as the ball comes in.
Many teams like to put the ball in as the engagement is made. This might work for the first few scrums but the other team will soon figure this out. A better way is to sink and load as normal, but instead of load, we drive because that is when the ball comes in. So it becomes, hit, sink and drive.
One of the best methods to increase a player’s strength in a scrum is to get him to brace his tongue in the roof of his mouth. Some players will give you a strange look when they first hear this but there is a great way to demonstrate the difference it makes. Get a player to lean forward in a strong position and then push him back on his forehead. You can do it with just one finger. Then get him to brace his tongue in the roof of his mouth and then try again to push him back - your players will be convinced.
It’s very hard to write a short article that covers everything people like Bill LeClerc and Mike Cron teach. If you cannot get to one of their sessions, fear not, there are many of Mike Cron’s video’s on You Tube.