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Analysis: Two impressive scrums will make for an intriguing Pro12 final

Both Leinster and Connacht are tough to get the better of at scrumtime.

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.

2 - Loughney form

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.

4 Loughney bind

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.

4 Loughney head

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.

5 McGrath head heigth

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.

6 McGrath shape

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.

6 hooked against head

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.

6 opposite angle

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.

3 Aki at 8

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.

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3 full scrum

And later in the half, we’re treated to another example of quick ball from the Connacht pack. Again, it’s worth noting the position of John Muldoon at eight, packed down to the left of the second rows, for the quick first channel ball.

7 full quick scrum

Against Ulster, Leinster had the dominant scrum as the game developed, but in the early stages, they did struggle to get the ball out swiftly.

On both occasions, it appeared to slow down at the second row, getting trapped under the legs of Mick Kearney, and giving Reddan a lot of work to do at the base.

On the opening scrum of the day, we can see the ball getting caught inside, and with Ulster holding form, Leinster couldn’t push over it, with Reddan having to burrow in and pick it out. While they were never under pressure, it served as a precursor for the following scrum.

1 ball trapped.gif

On the following scrum, everything looked in order initially. Everyone was driving straight, and roughly at the same height.

2 initial

However, again the ball got caught in the second row, and the knock-on effect was felt. Heaslip had to try rake the ball back, and because he had to concentrate on that, it meant Leinster lost power in the drive.

Eventually it all became unstable, and Ulster were able to pounce on Reddan, and turn over possession.

2 trouble at the back

The height of Devin Toner’s drive can also be questioned. Once the Ulster shove comes on, he allows himself to get way too high on Mike Ross, with the red line showing how much lower he should have been.

In this case, he’s driving over his prop, and not through him.

2 Toner high

However, both sides eventually got second half dominance.

AJ MacGinty was able to extend Connacht’s lead to five points from the tee, thanks to this penalty. With Glasgow frustrated and desperate, Ryan Grant foolishly and clearly angled across Bealham, which was spotted by the referee.

9 full scrum

If we break it down, we can see the point at which Grant starts to drive in.

Here’s the initial view, with Grant and Bealham square and straight to each other.

9 initial

But Grant then turns in and pushes off his left leg, forcing Bealham’s body to buckle. Keep an eye on Grant’s left leg, as he pushes off it each time.

9 low angle

Likewise Leinster also picked off a second-half penalty courtesy of a dominant scrum.

After their early struggles getting the ball back to Heaslip’s feet, this time they got a quick hook, and once the ball was ready at the back, it allowed them to attack, safe in the knowledge that the ball was protected.

7 quick ball

Tadhg Furlong was fresh off the bench, and managed to get a good drive on Kyle McCall.

With McCall going backwards, eventually he turned inside, trying to halt the drive, but it was spotted by referee Ian Davies.

7 McCall

What’s impressive is the reaction of Reddan. With the scrum half mic’d up for the game, he could be heard screaming “Advantage! Advantage! Advantage!” at his players, as soon as he saw Davies put his arm out, letting them know they could keep ploughing on.

And when we watch it back in full, we can see how well Furlong did, sending McCall back until he had no option but to turn in.

7 reverse angle

On paper, there’ll be around 150 test caps in the difference between the two sets of six front row players tomorrow in Edinburgh.

Don’t expect that gap to be clear.

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About the author:

Neil Treacy

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