Last week I analysed the Rebels’ scrum, including a review of the correct techniques for props when scrummaging – click here if you missed it.
That analysis included some footage of Sekope Kepu playing at loosehead, which sparked a discussion on the merits of Kepu and his form for the Waratahs and Wallabies. This week I’ve focussed on Kepu’s scrummaging in my video analysis.
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I believe that selections of front rowers should be based primarily on set piece capabilities before performances around the field are then considered.
I think any player who can play both loosehead and tighthead prop is a major asset for any team but being able to play both sides and being a good scrummager in each position is another matter. If you have a shortage of props (as is often the case in club rugby) the prop that can play both sides competently becomes one of the most important players in your team but at representative level there is no shortage of props to choose from so specialist capability on one side of the scrum is more important.
The exception is the reserve prop on the bench. A player who can cover both sides is ideal and you may have to accept one who has lesser scrum capabilities than a specialist in order to gain that flexibility.
Your hooker should be primarily selected based on who has the best lineout throwing capability and your props should primarily be picked on their scrummaging capability in each position. Scrummaging capability for a hooker should be the next criteria in that position.
It’s only when you have front row players who are similar in those criteria that performances around the field should be considered. It’s hard to build a winning team without being able to win your set pieces and provide a platform for open field play, so the focus should be on giving yourself the best chance to win your set pieces first.
In my opinion the Australian selectors are weakening the Wallabies scrum by picking props out of position and placing too much emphasis on performances around the field.
I believe Kepu and James Slipper should be considered primarily as tightheads and Ben Alexander should be considered as a loosehead. Benn Robinson and Dan Palmer are obviously a specialist loosehead and tighthead respectively.
If it were up to me Benn Robinson would be a definite starter in the Wallabies pack as the specialist loosehead (and he’s one of the best in the world) and I’d go for Kepu as the specialist tighthead. I’d then choose between Alexander and Slipper for the bench position as they can both play both sides. While they perform reasonably similarly at loosehead, I think Slipper is the better tighthead by some margin, so he’d get my nod.
Stephen Moore is a clear-cut choice for me as hooker on the basis of both his lineout throwing and his scrummaging, with Tatafu Polota-Nau serving as the reserve hooker. While TPN’s lineout throwing performance is well below that of Moore, he’s comparable with the other choices on this criterion and is a better scrummager than the other challengers. I don’t think performances around the field even need to be considered as Moore is well ahead in the set piece criteria and TPN also wins out on in this area over the other challengers — although if there’s any doubt, his performances around the field are a major plus for him.
In answer to your requests, next week I’ll run through a technical analysis of the role of the back five in scrums and the technique required from those players if you’re going to have a good scrum.