MIKE ROSS LOVES scrums.
We’ve heard about his study of the set piece, his enjoyment of the art of battling against opposition loose heads and his detailed pre and post match analysis of the intricacies involved in scrummaging.
So who better than the Leinster and Ireland tight head prop to give us an insight into how the scrum has changed since the new trial laws were introduced at the start of the current season? In between discussions on the merits of various smartphones and the enjoyment of online gaming, Ross was more than happy to help.
One facet that has been striking since the renewal of focus on a straight feed by scrum-halves has been the seemingly weak position the attacking team is in when their hooker attempts to strike for the ball. The referee’s call of ‘Yes nine’ now appears to be a signal for the defensive team to start their shove.
Ross agrees that having the feed at the scrum can actually be a disadvantage at times.
“It can be, especially if the hooker’s foot is off the ground. That means it’s five legs against six. As soon as you lift that foot, it’s difficult. When you’re down like this (crouches into scrummaging position), try and lift your foot without raising your shoulder. You’re not really going to be able to do that. So you lift that shoulder and suddenly the tight head is straight in on top of you. So it makes a vulnerability there.
There are different tactics for dealing with it. Some teams just push over the ball. That can be risky enough, especially if the ball is sitting there for ages. It can be taxing, because it’s a slow wrestle and it’s like you’re just pushing a boulder up a hill, you know?”
Scrums in seasons past had been all about the ‘hit,’ Ross explains. Winning that massive impact meant that one front row had the scrum contest won on engagement. That suited the larger props, particularly at tight head, as their natural strength and size made it easier to win the ‘hit’.
Now though, all has changed. The 33-year-old Ireland international says smaller, more technical props are doing well under the new laws, but that it is an individual thing. His Leinster teammate Cian Healy is far from the shortest prop at 6ft 1ins, but has excelled under the new rulings.
“If you look at someone like Cian, he might have struggled with getting hit down and with people getting on top of him, but now he’s an absolute nightmare because he just gets settled down, gets his feet under him and gets in a good position for when the ball comes in.
“I think the rule changes have suited loose heads more than tight heads. I think a lot of tight heads have been training for their whole career with that hit. Now they take that away, so there’s been a big period of adjustment there.”
Ross has been one of Ireland’s most important players for some time. ©INPHO/Billy Stickland.
Ross is excited by the IRFU’s plans to fly in Mike Cron, the New Zealander scrum guru, and Enrique ‘Topo’ Rodríguez to work with Ireland on a consultancy basis this season. Cron is highly respected as one of the leading scrum experts in world rugby and Ross says he hopes “to pump him for a bit of information at some stage.”
‘Topo’ Rodríguez is a former Argentina and Australia international front row (that was allowed in times gone past), who is something of a cult hero in the scrummaging world. Ross is excited at the prospect of what Ireland can learn from ‘Topo’.
“I think he could be pretty invaluable because if you look at the Argentinian scrum, it’s been laying waste to a lot of things before it. Because before the hit came in, the Argentinians had this system called the Bajada, which is where all the pressure goes through the hooker, kind of like an arrowhead formation.
“It can work if you splinter the opposition scrum, that’s the idea. You even have the second rows binding around on the hips of the props, instead of up under, like that (demonstrates normal second row binding between the legs of the props).”
It is hard not to be encouraged by talk of such tactics, and it would be a joy to see Ireland genuinely dominating at scrum time in the near future. Longer-term, Ross is happy to see the IRFU taking a proactive approach to bringing about more coaching and discussion of the scrum.
I think there’s a strong argument for having consistency. Greg Feek for the past couple of years has essentially been double-jobbing, which is tough for him. But he’s been very good.
“I think we’re talking about fostering a scrum culture in Ireland, having a consistent message being delivered from the top. So when you come into camp, or when teams from different provinces come together, they all have the same philosophy, and they all have the same set-up, the same technique.”
It’s clear that Ross spends a lot of time thinking about the scrum and when his playing days come to an end, the IRFU would be foolish to let such a knowledgeable asset slip away. Would the 33-year-old ever consider a move into the world of coaching?
“It’s something I could see myself doing in a few years. There’s probably a bit of competition there but it’s certainly something that would interest me.”
Ireland’s scrum would be in good hands.
Mike Ross was speaking at the Irish preview of Battlefield 4, available to pre-order now and on general sale from November 1st on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC.
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