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What Leinster have changed since Saracens' demolition job of their scrum

Robin McBryde explains what the province learned from that disappointing day.

Leinster endured a miserable day against Saracens.
Leinster endured a miserable day against Saracens.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

THE REVIEW OF Leinster’s Champions Cup quarter-final defeat to Saracens in September won’t slip from Robin McBryde’s mind any time soon.

He’s the man in charge of the province’s scrum and the seven penalties concessions in that area are still fresh in his mind.

Such was the scale of Saracens’ domination that Leinster couldn’t simply write this one off as a bad day at the office, so McBryde has been busy at work remedying the issues ever since.

“We all learned quite a few lessons from that game, myself included, with regard to the messaging in that game,” said McBryde yesterday.

“We’ve taken that on board and, in fairness, we’ve tweaked the odd thing regarding our own scrum and kept [IRFU national scrum coach] John Fogarty up to date regarding what we’re working on as well.”

Leinster’s frontline players are currently away with Ireland and while their scrum has looked much better in recent weeks, they obviously aren’t facing packs of the quality of the Saracens one in that quarter-final.

Indeed, Leinster may have a wait on their hands to come up against anything similar – Saracens are gone for this season – as McBryde admits that Pro14 scrum battles aren’t as intense as those in the Champions Cup.

“Always at the back of your mind you know it’s not international standard and you’re not measuring…. players have a bit more time at Pro14 level definitely.”

Nonetheless, Leinster have made changes since the Sarries game, as McBryde explains.

“The biggest thing I took from that Saracens match was that we played Munster and Ulster [in the Pro14] in the weeks previous to that match and they all scrummage in a similar fashion with the back five [players in the scrum] coming off both knees. We had dealt with that.

robin-mcbryde Leinster scrum coach Robin McBryde. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“Then, to come up against Saracens who scrummage in the same way, we thought, ‘We’ve done it the last couple of weeks, we should be OK this week’. We just didn’t rise to the occasion really.

“A French referee [Pascal Gaüzère], I’m not blaming the referee. I was on the phone for half an hour with the referee on the Sunday having a chat about everything surrounding the scrum, not just that game, and just to get his angle on it, etc.

“I wasn’t happy with the [Leinster] messaging. We had been playing around with a certain style of scrummaging, with the back five coming off their knees anyway, and now we’ve adopted that since then.

“Initially it was a trial, to get the players’ feedback about what they felt about it. We’ve gone with it. It’s put us in a better place.

“I was looking at the two semi-finals in Europe, all four teams scrummaged in a similar style really. So, the way the scrum is being refereed currently that technique seems to be paying dividends.

“We’ve made those changes, so we’ve set ourselves a standard but we’re not relying on purely the results in matches – we’re looking at our process of how we’re getting those results, breaking down scrummaging and seeing what sort of quality ball we’re getting.

“After that introduction, players have taken it on board and we’re doing OK with it.”

Indeed, a look at Leinster’s scrums against Saracens and since then show the difference.

Against Saracens, Leinster’s second rows started with only one knee on the ground, their outside leg planted in front of them in a ‘split stance’.

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Meanwhile, number eight Jack Conan was hanging off the back of the scrum initially, rather than starting with his shoulders against the second rows and with his knees on the ground. We can see those things below.

1

Since then, Leinster’s second rows have started with both knees on the ground in a ‘square stance’, as has their number eight, who starts with his shoulders against his second rows.

We can see those things below.

2

It’s easy to see above what McBryde means by “the back five coming off their knees”.

The latter set-up is generally thought to add more weight through into the front row, although the props and hooker have to work harder to balance themselves initially. 

Leinster were obviously very poor at scrum time in the quarter-final, but McBryde is also quick to praise a Saracens pack that included several high-profile internationals.

He believes that the club’s England players put a harsh lesson from the World Cup final against South Africa – when the Boks’ scrum dominance was hugely influential – into action against Leinster.

“I don’t think you come through an experience like that, having played in a World Cup final where the scrum really played a big part in the result, I don’t think you have that experience without learning lessons.

“I think they had learned a lesson there and maybe I’m wrong, but I think their match against us, that was the biggest game since the World Cup final for those individuals.

“I think they put the experience that they gained in the World Cup to good use. And they definitely rose with the occasion, something that we failed to do.”

Cian Healy, Andrew Porter, and many other Leinster forwards have been away with Ireland in recent times, meaning it’s the likes of Peter Dooley, Michael Milne, James Tracy, Dan Sheehan, and Ciaran Parker who have been busy at scrum time in blue.

michael-bent Michael Bent has been consistently good for Leinster. Source: Robbie Stephenson/INPHO

McBryde points to 34-year-old tighthead Michael Bent as a crucial influence, however, with the former Ireland international continuing to deliver consistently strong performances.

“He’s been invaluable in this period. He has led the scrum, he’s the voice that I rely on because the messages are far more beneficial coming from a player, far more powerful coming from a player.

“That’s his game, that’s what he measures his game on – his scrum. So it’s great for me as a coach to have someone like that in the ranks who can spread the word and really be passionate about that area.”

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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