THERE WAS A refreshing honesty to the scrum battles in each of last weekend’s Guinness Pro12 semi-finals.
Resets were minimal. Angles – for the most part – were straight, and on the majority of the 27 scrums over two games, the ball went in and came out with the view to starting an attack, rather than as a means to milk three points.
Both Leinster and Connacht had powerful scrums, but only went for the jugular when it was in sight. They waited for the opportunities, and pounced.
It says a lot about the strength of the Connacht scrum, that despite being without probably the second best loosehead in the country at the moment in Denis Buckley, and a test standard tighthead in Nathan White, they never struggled against the Glasgow front row.
Versatility was key for them. With Tom McCartney and Finlay Bealham able to seamlessly slot over at loosehead in the second half, they still had Rodney Ah You stiffening things up at tighthead.
And even with Ah You’s yellow card, JP Cooney was available to ensure the game wouldn’t descend to uncontested scrums.
One of their more long-serving looseheads, Ronan Loughney, has filled in the number one jersey in Buckley’s absence, and while he’s been putting in some good shifts, he understandably hasn’t been able to replace the destructive power Buckley had been thriving on. Mike Ross could take advantage of that.
In the early stages of the game against the Warriors, Loughney was putting in a huge effort to keep his side of the setpiece standing straight.
His stance was very wide, with him doing his utmost to hold his own.
Later, we could see how desperate he was to keep things together. His bind had shortened, and his body was beginning to slightly turn into the scrum at an angle.
However, the fact that he never drove across the scrum is probably an indication that he’s trying to hold his position, rather than con the referee.
But what’s also notable is how bunched his body is. D’Arcy Rae is putting him under a lot of pressure, and we can see that his head has dropped well below his hips, putting enormous strain on his neck.
To his credit, he keeps the scrum upright.
We can contrast that short bind and head position with an example of the country’s best loosehead from the last 12 months, Jack McGrath.
As we can see below, his head is just slightly below the hips, and his left arm is fully extended, getting as long a bind as he can, which shows how much confidence he has in his own technique.
In the game’s next scrum, we can see how McGrath’s technique is even better.
His head and hips are exactly in line, and once again he has a long bind, which helps in holding Ricky Lutton’s hips square, preventing him from squeezing in.
It’s an excellent eight man shove from Leinster, and is a great example of timing in the scrum.
As we can see in the video below, they capitalise on a poor feed from Ruan Pienaar to steal against the head, Richardt Strauss showing that the art of hooking isn’t lost on the modern pro.
And on the reverse angle, we can appreciate it even more. You can see the exact moment that Eoin Reddan communicated to the pack that the ball is being fed, and the collective shove does just enough to disrupt Rory Best.
Have a glance at the back of the Leinster scrum to Jamie Heaslip, giving the drive everything he can, one of the more under-appreciated rules of a good number eight.
Luckily for Connacht though, they’re quite good at the quick in-and-out.
With Buckley’s power missing from the scrum, they’ve mastered the speed.
With confidence in fast ball, they can improvise, and it’s not uncommon to see a back slotting in at number eight on an attacking scrum.
On this occasion, Bundee Aki dropped into the backrow, which allows a loose forward to be open as a potential ball carrier in midfield.
However, Aki isn’t just sitting in, he’s been well versed on how the scrum works. Rather than just throwing himself in between the second rows, Aki shifts to the left, binding on his flanker (Eoin McKeon) and a second row (Ultan Dillane), giving the option for a quick “Channel 1″ ball.
And when we watch the scrum roll through, we can see that barely one second has passed between Kieran Marmion feeding the scrum, and Aki breaking from the base.