Carl Hayman's front row philosophy

March 6, 2017

All Black legend, captain of European champions Toulon and co-founder of Everything4Rugby Carl Hayman shares his advice for the three positions in the front row. Frankly, when this man talks about front row play, we listen, as it is hard to think of a more complete tight-head prop in the modern era. What he doesn’t know about front row play isn’t worth knowing.

Over to you Carl.

Tight Head Prop: This player is the anchor of the scrum and the player who takes the most amount of force through his body.  It is more technically and physically demanding than loose head due to the extra pressure. With a good tight head the team has the ability to win clean ball at the scrum, promote the right hand side of the scrum, creating a positional advantage, and to win penalties at the scrum. On opposition ball, the tight head’s role is to make the quality of ball as poor as possible by putting pressure on their loose head and hooker.  

Technical Tips for Tight Heads:

  1. Have a balanced set up.
  2. Weight balanced between feet
  3. Stay tight with the hooker.
  4. Keep your back straight and your feet planted in the turf on engagement.
  5. After engagement, stay solid through the core and lower your entire body, keeping the back parallel to the ground and advancing forward with very small steps. 

Hooker: This is a key position during a scrum because the hooker not only has the role of being a third prop but he also needs to hook the ball.  With the new regulations, hooking the ball has become increasingly difficult because the feed now has to be completely straight.  The hooker needs to be tight with his props to help exert force on the opposition and to stop the scrum from falling apart under extreme pressure.

Technical Tips for Hookers:

  1. Have a balanced set up.
  2. Weight balanced between feet.
  3. Stay tight with both props.
  4. If you are being pushed from behind by the second row and your front foot is getting farther in front of you, you need to let the second row know so that they can stop putting weight through you.  If your front leg is too far in front it has a knock on effect on your speed of engagement and also your position after impact.
  5. A good straight back is very important for the hooker, as it is for all front row positions.

Loose Head Prop: The loosehead’s main role is to try and make the opposition ball as untidy and unplayable as possible, and to work with the hooker to ensure good clean ball on their own feed. On opposition ball, their role is to stop the promotion of the opposition’s right side and make the quality of the ball as poor as possible. Staying tight with the hooker can help with a tight head who is boring in on the hookers ribs.

On his own ball the loosehead works after the feed to win either a penalty or turn the scrum to aid his team’s next phase of play. 

Technical Tips for Loosehead:

  1. Have a balanced set up.
  2. Weight balanced between feet.
  3. Stay tight with the hooker.
  4. Have a good flat back prior and during the scrum.
  5. Work closely with the hooker.
  6. Ensure you have a good strong bind.
  7. After engagement, stay solid through the core and lower the entire body, keeping the back parallel to the ground and advance forward with very small steps. 

Each position has a slightly different role but each one helps the other.  Working together as a unit is essential and let’s not forget the five players behind, who have a big input into the outcome of a scrum.

I have found during my time playing prop that if you have a set routine, and you replicate this every time you go into a scrum, it can help a lot. A golfer addressing a golf ball or a goal kicker preparing for a kick at goal have a measured approach. A front rower should also have a check list of key technical points e.g. feet, (positioning), back straight (check), sight target and speed of engagement. This is just an example, but it gives you a good reference to come back to.  If you have the benefit of video you can watch your scrums and analyse how you performed on those key technical points, then make changes when needed.  With smartphones etc, it is now so easy to ask someone to video a scrum session at training or a game and the insight you can gain by watching your scrums back can be invaluable and give you an entirely new perspective on your technique.

Scrum Drills for the Front Row.

1 v 1 static scrum 

Take a partner and form a static scrum. Focus on strong binds, straight backs and good foot positioning.  Get a third player to apply pressure to the scrum with his hands (pushing between the waist and shoulders) for around fifteen seconds. He should apply just enough pressure to make the scrummaging players work hard, but not enough to cause them to topple over

2 v 1 static scrum

The same as above but with 2 v 1, the two applying pressure to the one.

3 v 3-prop, hooker and lock v prop, hooker and lock. 

This time, work on the engagement and position after engagement. By breaking the scrum down you can really work on individual technique. Problems are easier to spot when training in this mode. If someone is handy to video it even better.  Refine technique as needed.

3v3 with a full front row

The front row set like a normal scrum. On both sides place a ball in the place of the second rows’ heads. The aim of the drill is to engage and scrum without the balls hitting the ground. The front row will have to keep there hips tight to achieve this. This is good for keeping the front row tight and working together.

Strength and conditioning for the front row.

Firstly, if you haven’t lifted before get some professional advice. The last thing you want is a bad injury in the gym, so always get some advice first if you haven’t had much weights experience.  I was lucky when I was young as I had a trainer called Matt Blair whose nick-name was “Form” for the obvious reason that he insisted on “perfect form” in every lift. He took a ribbing from the team but, looking back, I really appreciate having been being taught that form and technique. Full range at a lower weight is much more important than lifting heavy weights poorly.

We will soon be posting the strength sessions I do at Toulon, courtesy of our S and C coach Paul Stridgeon, who has worked with England and the Lions. Watch this space!

For more position-specific tips, visit our Coaching section

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