Written by Pat Clifton    Tuesday, 27 December 2011 21:32    PDF Print Write e-mail
If I Won the Lottery - Pat's Pro 7s Dream
Columns - Op-Eds

I think about it way too much, winning the lottery, but it sure is fun. I also think a fair amount about how professional rugby is most likely to succeed in the United States. The two lines of thought are not mutually exclusive.

I love the idea of professional 15s, as do probably most of you who will take the time to read this, but I don’t think it’s a commercially viable idea in the States just yet.

Brian Budzinski, the President of the Missouri Comets professional indoor soccer team, who came on one of our most listened-to podcasts to talk about niche pro sports, said about rugby something to the affect of: “I think there’s a market for it, but not 15s. I would pay $25 to come to a 7s tournament, but you couldn’t pay me $25 to sit through a 15s game.”

Unfortunately, I think his sentiments are shared by a large amount of the American public. Fortunately, that means I think 7s, if wrapped in the right package, is something America is ready to buy now.

So back to the title, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I would begin plans for a professional 7s circuit, and here’s how I’d start.

I’d pick about 8 cities in the United States I think would be really great places to host one of my events, based on a few factors.

We’d like each city to have a core team. If I’m in Seattle, OPSB has to commit to playing in six of my eight tournaments. Another criterion is that the city has a venue that could make money and accommodate media – like Silverback Stadium in Atlanta, Infinity Park in Glendale, Boxer Stadium in San Francisco, or Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City.

Other criteria are the city’s population and rugby awareness. The Bay Area would be a must for this hypothetical competition because it has both. Salt Lake City would be a serious contender, too. Denver would make a lot of sense.  Let’s just say these cities, for argument’s sake: San Francisco, LA/San Diego (SoCal), Denver, Dallas/Houston (Texas), Denver, Las Vegas, Atlanta, NYC/Boston/Philadelphia (Northeast).

I would offer serious prize money at each tournament. Every team plays for free, and I’d assure each tourney pays the top two teams. Let’s say it’s a $10,000 purse: $5,000 for 1st, $2,500 for 2nd, $1,500 for third and $900 for fourth.  Winning my championship is worth $25,000. Finishing second is worth $15,000 and third $5,000. That brings my grand total of payouts to $125,000.

To cover the nut of the payouts I would need to average just under $16,000 of profit at each tournament. If I charge an average of $20 a head and average, say, 2,000 fans, less than half of what the aforementioned indoor soccer team averages a home game, then my budget is $40,000 a tournament. For every extra 500 people I get at each event, or every $5 I raise my average ticket price, I expand my budget by $10,000.

Take out the prize money for each event, and I have $24,000 to work with. I think I could rent the likes of Infinity Park, Silverback Stadium or maybe a Texas high school football stadium, pay referees, stadium/event staff and properly market the event for that kind of money, plus maybe leave a little on top for me. I could quite possibly find hotels for the core teams and feed the participant teams, for that, too. I haven’t sold a nacho or a beer yet.

So, If I’m a club considering partaking in this circuit, perhaps as a core member, what am I looking at? Well, I have to pay to transport my teams to from city to city. That’s a serious amount of money. But, several teams spend serious money already. O-Club has been to Denver 7s, Glendale went to San Diego and Dallas this summer, a Pacific Barbarians team always goes to Cape Fear, etc. Plus, 16 teams every year go to San Fran for Nationals, most of which fly.

And there’s more prize money on offer than ever before.

Let’s draw some comparisons. Let’s say Belmont Shore, as national champs, mimics New Zealand’s 2010/2011 IRB 7s World Series success on my circuit – they win $49,800. Schuylkill River, mimicking South Africa in 2010/2011, would bank $32,500. Utah (England) would make $19,900.

Are teams getting rich? No. But they aren’t now, and they’re playing in inferior competitions that have no potential to earn money.

If we add an average of 500 fans paying an average of $5 more at each tournament, and put it all into the prize kitty, you could triple those figures. Imagine the average attendance at each tournament is something closer to 8,000 people after a couple of years (that’s still less than the CRC did in its first year) and it would create an extra $120,000 in revenue for each tournament, not to mention greatly increase the circuit’s ability to garner sponsors.

Does this concept sound like something that already kind of existed, but on steroids? Yes, the Club Championship Series run by USA Sevens. The CCS was a great concept. Why did it ultimately fail? Probably because teams would collect the prize money from a qualifier and not take the trip to Vegas for the final tourney, and maybe moreso because USA Sevens had other things on its mind that beckoned for more attention, like USA Sevens.

Would players get paid? Something tells me Sean Whalen in Utah, David Pope with The Woodlands Exiles and Bill Gardner, formerly NOVA’s financial backer, would see worth in a competition like this and spend enough to be competitive. Others would, too.

Plus, if successful, the circuit could expand in a million different ways. Maybe the Pat Clifton Pro 7s Circuit would contract a few guys, like Paul Emerick, Maka Unufe and Justin Boyd, and makes them the poster boys. Maybe the Utah event starts drawing upwards 10,000 fans each summer, and Whalen decides he wants to buy the tourney away from PCP7s (We’d probably have to hire a marketing person to come up with a better name), then that’s a revenue stream for his team, and he just pays a royalty to PCP7s each season.

Would it be on TV? I don’t believe TV coverage is the end-all be-all for sporting success, especially considering how far online video options have come, but, yeah, it very well could end up on the tube. I would think NBC Sports, set to enter your living rooms in 2012, would have interest.

I’m no genius, no innovator. But this makes sense to me, and I'm certain more thought, tweaking and number crunching by people far smarter than me could come up with something that made infinitely more sense. And the best part about it? It’s doable without winning the lottery.

Written by Pat Clifton    Friday, 04 November 2011 20:12    PDF Print Write e-mail
PC on the CRC
Columns - Op-Eds

Necessary disclaimer: the same people that sign my paycheck sign those of USA Sevens employees.

In the press release announcing the 15 teams invited to the third-annual Collegiate Rugby Championship, Texas 7s coach Jacob Lieberman called the CRC the pinnacle of American rugby. I couldn’t agree more. I truly believe it is.

USA Sevens in Las Vegas is still the most fun weekend a rugby fan can have on American soil, bar none. But in terms of reaching the non-rugby loving masses, the CRC is it. It’s American kids representing American colleges that people already have deep-running passions for. It’s how we can reach the key sports-watching demographic right now.

I have not sat in on discussions about who to invite to the CRC or what will make the event a success. I don’t know how those that have define success for the CRC. I’ve always thought it was a mix of television viewership and butts in seats. I still believe it is, but it’s become more evident that butts in seats are what register dollars for USA Sevens. Of course, the TV numbers are hugely important, because they keep the NBC cameras there, and the NBC cameras put butts in seats.

Teams coming to the 2012 rendition seem to fit into one or both of these two categories: (1) They’re from a school that is close enough to Philadelphia that they can be expected to land butts in seats. (2) They’re from a school that can plant eyeballs on TV screens.

Most rugby diehards seem to echo these perceived problems with the CRC: (1) How can they call it a championship if so-and-so-and-so-and-so aren’t invited. (2) They should have the best teams and best athletes.

Rebuttal to complaint No. 1: The CRC has never billed itself as a national championship, ever. USA Sevens is not using CIPP dollars to create the event, therefore it doesn’t owe every CIPP-paying school a right to be involved.

Rebuttal to complaint No. 2: I would also love to see Arkansas State, Life, BYU and St. Mary’s on NBC. I would much prefer it. There are phenomenal athletes on some of those teams, and their talents would translate on TV regardless of what jersey they're wearing. But I understand this important fact – the CRC is not about me. I love the CRC, and I will always follow it closely, but its success, ultimately, doesn’t hinge on whether or not I watch and support the event.

If the CRC is going to be as successful as it can be, if it’s going to reach the heights I believe those at USA Sevens envision it reaching, it’s got to go beyond us rugby addicts. It has to reach the masses. It has to turn the heads of casual sports fan. THAT’S A MUST.

You and I will keep watching. We will, and we should. It’s a phenomenal event. If the Atlantic Coast Invitational were on NBC, would you not tune in because Central Washington wasn’t invited? I sure wouldn’t miss it.

If I was in school at Life or Arkansas State or St. Mary’s, I’d be upset, too. I’d kill for the chance to be play on national television. That’s what will make the CRC qualifier in Las Vegas the most fun 7s tournament in the country to watch live.

It was arguably already that last year, and this year it’ll be taken to a whole new level. Great teams like Air Force, Bowling Green, Texas, Kutztown, Delaware, UC Davis and Central Washington battled it out in some of the most hard-fought 7s matches I’ve ever seen. With the CRC invitees already announced this year, well in advance of the LVI, the field should be even bigger and better in Las Vegas as teams won’t be resting on their laurels thinking they might still be floated an invite.

Add in the fact that the final will be played inside Sam Boyd Stadium Saturday during the IRB event, in front of more people than attend the CRC, and you've got yourself a hell of a prize. The teams you're mad aren't invited to the CRC, many of them have already registered to play in Las Vegas. I'm getting excited as I type this thinking about the possible match-ups.

USA Sevens has always been enough of a draw to go to Las Vegas in February, but now there’s another huge reason, and maybe one to get to Sin City a few days early for.

The CRC is what it is, and though not ideal, it's pretty darned fantastic.

Written by Pat Clifton    Wednesday, 12 October 2011 20:39    PDF Print Write e-mail
College Rugby State of the Union: Part Deux
Columns - Op-Eds

(The original version of this article inorrectly said Cal was not competing in USA Rugby's 7s championship becuase its athletic director wouldn't green light the team competing during two finals periods. Cal head coach Jack Clark says the Bears are going to play in a qualifier, California 7s, and have not made a decision on whether or not they'll compete at nationals Dec. 16-17, should they qualify.)  

If you read me or listen to our Ruggamatrix America podcasts with any regularity, it won’t come as a surprise when I tell you I have a deep affinity for college rugby. It’s my favorite sector of American rugby to watch, cover or pay attention to. I’ve always preferred college athletics to professional sports, but it goes further than that. Here are my thoughts on a few different goings on in the college game.

Disclaimer, if you want to skip my thoughts on varsity rugby, scroll past the first three subheads.

Why the varsity rugby movement is the most important in the United States
Hear me out youth and high school coaches, players and administrators. I think varsity college rugby is the key to making this country fall in love with the sport, and equally important, it’s the key to driving up youth numbers. Why? The almighty scholarship.

My mother spent tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars on soccer for me and my brother. Surely my parent’s decision to put us into competitive soccer at the age of five was made to give us a pastime and a way to run off some excess energy, but for my brother (I ate my way into football and wrestling before high school), it snowballed into a quest for a scholarship.

13 years of monthly club dues, out-of-town tournaments, the newest in cleat technology, overseas tours and numerous other soccer-related expenses became an investment in a college education, one which was cashed in at a private university. Surely, the money spent sharpening my brother’s soccer skills wasn’t matched in scholarship money received, but the illusion that it will be is the bill of goods parents are sold.

Soccer’s just one example. Basketball, baseball and volleyball work the same way.

Each Cal, Life, Davenport or Lindenwood that makes rugby varsity pushes our sport one step closer to being played in high schools and in higher numbers at younger ages.

Why varsity rugby will balloon
It’s cheap, and in some cases, lucrative. Cal nearly lost its varsity status this spring. At the epicenter of the Save Cal Varsity Rugby campaign were statistics that showed the rugby program was self-sustainable and not a cash leak for the athletic department.

In other cases, like Davenport and Lindenwood, rugby is a money maker for the university. Partial scholarships, some kit and a salaried coach are a steal in exchange for tuition, room and board, not to mention the “sports are the front porch to the university” marketing value.

There are rumors of more athletic directors looking rugby’s way, while football is being taken off campuses across the country. Gridiron coaching staffs are too large, their equipment too expensive and their rosters too long. Already numerous club teams are reaping the benefits of vacated football programs – varsity weight rooms and training grounds. The next logical step is making the sport varsity.

Athletic directors also have egos and are judged, to some degree, on wins and losses. Not only do they want to leave a legacy at each school they’re employed by, they want hardware. Come the end of May, it’s likely varsity programs will sweep the DI (Cal), DI-AA (Davenport) and DII (Lindenwood) national championships.

In the current climate, you can pretty much guarantee an athletic director that if he starts a varsity rugby program, he’ll be repaid by a final four appearance, at the very least, in the program’s first year.

Crystal ball
Cal will lose to Davenport, Life or Lindenwood, and eventually probably all three. It won’t happen this season, but it’s only a matter of time.

Using the always-accurate (sarcastic) method of comparing scores amongst common opponents, one could loosely justify saying that if Davenport were playing in DI-A’s Rugby East this spring, the Panthers would be the favorite to win. They beat Ohio State 75-0 Saturday. Last spring, Ohio State’s worst loss was by 44 to Kutztown.

College 7s
USA Rugby has hastily put together a 7s national championship. This can only be seen as a good thing, as it has already resulted in more schools playing 7s. However, vital information on the competition has been and remains to be hard to come by.

Don’t blame the collegiate competitions committee. They suggested the competition start with the 2012/2013 competitive cycle, but were forcibly tasked with creating a championship this year.

What’s the rush? There seem to be three common theories: (1) USA Rugby wants a slice of the perceived pie baked by USA Sevens called the Collegiate Rugby Championship, (2) the United States Olympic Committee has strongly urged USAR to create the competition and (3) USA Rugby wants to directly compete with USA Sevens.

What’s true? Who knows, but only one – the one involving the USOC – would seem justifiable.

It’s worth pointing out to all CRC haters it’s likely Cal and Dartmouth will abstain from participating in nationals and extremely possible Army and BYU do the same.

What’s been a major gripe amongst CRC bashers? That it shouldn’t call itself a championship because some of the country’s best teams aren’t competing. If all four College Premier Division and CRC finalists don’t play in USA Rugby’s championship, can’t the same criticism be levied?

It’s also worth pointing out the CRC qualification tournament in Las Vegas is non-discriminate. CPD, DI, DII and even a two-year school competed last year. There are some open qualifying tournaments for the USA Rugby championship, but many are closed to those who aren’t members of a traditional NCAA or DI rugby conference.  

The seasonality battle
There are two undeniable facts: (1) Fall is the best time to play rugby in the Midwest and East, and winter/spring is the best time in most of the Pacific time zone. (2) This issue needs to be resolved.

Why is Dartmouth not playing in USA Rugby’s 7s championship? Because their athletic director won’t green light student athletes competing during finals in two semesters, especially in a non-revenue sport.

That’s unacceptable.

Seasons need to be defined. No college sport has a competitive season that spans an entire academic year. If we want college rugby to be a tidy, enticing package for athletic departments, the average college sports fan and broadcasters, we need to pick a season. However, that’s not likely to happen until a broadcasting partner picks the time of the year for USA Rugby.

Why is the CRC when and where it is? Because that’s when and where NBC wants it; on the East Coast at that time of year. If ESPN or some other entity chooses to actually pay for the right to broadcast college rugby, instead of USA Rugby paying them to put it on, chances are they’ll tell USA Rugby exactly when they want it aired. That’s when our college season will be defined. Until then, the cold war over seasonality between the east and west coasts will continue.

Conference system
Been fundamentally a cheerleader for this transition from the beginning, and it's working swimmingly so far, so here's a shout out to the people behind the change, those who had to buck the system into making a necessary upgrade.

On the competition front, it's given teams something to win other than a national championship. If we're being honest, Maryland is likely never going to win a national title in rugby. But they have already won an Atlantic Coast championship, and that means something to the student athletes who commit their time to a sport they love, and it means something to their parents, peers, girlfriends and professors; a heckuva lot more than winning the Palmetto union.

College rugby has never been more visible. Instead of Local Area Union websites being updated days, if not weeks, after a match, conference websites have up-to-the minute scores and news making the game more accessible to everyone. It can be a difficult task for LAU officials to publish instant standings and scores on several different leagues and competitions, and the parceling out of such responsibility was a major factor in the realignment. It's working.

Thanks to all the webmasters, coaches and players out there who are using their websites and Facebook and Twitter pages to communicate to the modern world.   

You can follow Pat Clifton on Twitter at @Pat_Clifton

Written by Bruce McLane    Friday, 07 October 2011 16:07    PDF Print Write e-mail
We Don't Have to be Minnows
Columns - Op-Eds

After the Canada Rugby World Cup Qualification games a couple of years ago, if we were to hear the results of the RWC would be the USA losing 22-10 to Ireland, 67-5 to Australia and 27-10 Italy, with a 13-6 win over Russia, most would agree that they would have accepted those score lines willingly and considered the RWC a reasonable success. I am not saying results in the lead up, but at the Cup itself. All that said, we know we could have been better, so how do we progress?

Physically, the USA matches up versus most sides at the RWC in terms of size, strength and speed. I think a lot of the difference was in the mentality and the preparation of each individual. I think the players surprised themselves (and us as fans) with their performance against Ireland.

The greatest barriers are barriers that we impose on ourselves, sometimes unknowingly. There was a time when the four-minute mile seemed impossible, but as soon as Roger Bannister broke the barrier, it was overcome shortly after by a whole host of others. The physical makeup of these runners didn’t change, they changed their belief in what was possible. I think we can say that if our belief about the limits of what is possible change, then those limits themselves change.

I think those players showed a glimpse of what is possible in this RWC, and in RWCs prior. I believe that with some minor changes in our thoughts and our approach we can see some drastically different results.

Most coaches may disagree about the physical attributes necessary for success as players and as a team, but there is almost universal agreement on the mental attributes needed for success. Commitment to do the work is a prerequisite for success, but unless players master the art of self control and focus, they will fall drastically short of their goals. There are techniques players can be taught to accomplish this.

Are we searching for the magical athlete to take us over the edge? Should we spend more time focusing on developing the committed players we have fully?

Look at a couple of examples of really class performers for the USA in the recent past, Chris Osentowski and Mike Petri. Both performed well in the RWC, both played specialist positions, Osentowski was a tighthead prop and Petri a scrumhalf. What were the common denominators? I would say it was the individual attention and study that each did with their coaches, Osentowski with Bill LeClerc, who at the time was the USA scrum doctor, and Petri with Mike Tolkin, the USA defense coach.

Petri and Tolkin spent endless hours in the Xavier gym focusing on the skills, tactics, physical and mental makeup of a class scrumhalf. Osentowski and LeClerc were the ultimate scrum nerds, phoning each other almost daily to speak about set ups, engagements, controlling the looshead, anchoring the scrum and the mental makeup required of an effective tighthead. It was this type of one-on-one work wchich helped these players excel.

I would classify Petri and Osentowski as athletic, but certainly not elite athletes in the classical sense of having some kind of off-the-charts physical gifts that make you go “WOW”. To me, they had something much more important. They had ingredients that tilt the balance in sports: desire, determination, attitude, heart and self motivation. They also had top-class people who went the extra mile in aiding their development. What if ALL of our players in this RWC were given that level of attention, love and coaching? I think we can, and should, do more to aid in the development of our players as complete players and people. We tend to really work during assemblies but not enough is done between assemblies.

Assume we have 150 people on the radar screen for high performace development 50 High School aged, 50 college aged, and 50 older than college? Is it out of the realm of possibility to have weekly or bi-weekly skype calls, or gotomeeting.com sessions with each player to discuss their development and what is going on in their lives? Can we look at the whole player technically, tactically, physiologically, psychologically and at their general life outside of rugby? Can we guide them into work groups in their area so they can work on skills outside of training? Can we give them ideas on skill drills outside of training to work on? Can we work with their club coaches and help them to develop these HP players in the way we want them developed? Can we teach them the art of mental skills training?

You get the picture. I don’t think this is asking too much. The personal touch matters and it isn’t happening nearly enough. Showing genuine concern for players will do more for their performance than anything else, but it must be genuine. They can read through the BS. You must trust them. They will then trust you.

In this way, we can find out who is committed and who isn’t. We can’t win with the uncommitted, so we focus on who is committed and keep replenishing the pool with the committed.

Players need to know where they stand and what it will take to get to where they want to be. This is the main cause of anxiety amongst players. They can deal with reality. It is the uncertainty that drives them bananas and affects them mentally. Frequent communication will alleviate much of that anxiety.

Elite players need guidance from elite coaches in time management and goal setting. They need to know what they want to accomplish every day and at every training session. A periodic call can help this along. Videotaping sessions can make feedback on what is being done more precise. Technical issues can be addressed. This helps players learn to self evaluate and thinking players is what we are after. Each player has specific skill issues and each player has an individual mental makeup that needs to be addressed and developed.

Committing as an administration to our most dedicated players will allow us to aid elite players’ development in the physical and mental skills necessary to press on. These are the differentiators. Once we identify the talented and committed we can strive to help them attain the following basic mental skills:

  • Relaxed Focus- which doesn’t mean that the focus itself is relaxed in the sense of lacking intensity, it means that the mind is cleared of irrelevant thoughts and the body is cleared of irrelevant tensions. The focus is centered only on what is important at the moment for executing the skill to perfection. The body is relaxed but ready. The mind is calm but focused. Outside thoughts and unwanted tension are absent. “Pressure comes when you don’t know what you are doing” Chuck Noll (4 time Super Bowl winning coach)
  • Without going into heavy detail we need to help players deal with outside pressures and the demands and expectations of others. We need to teach effective goal setting in terms of process, performance, and behavioral goals that are within their control. We need to help players fine tune and use the powerful tools of mental imagery. We need to improve players’ relaxation and time management skills. We need to look at the whole person and monitor them frequently with genuine concern for their personal and rugby well being.

This is just a small guide of things that can be done to improve. We can’t change the past. We can look to the future. We can identify our prospects. We can nurture them. Continuous follow up can be done by or DOR, national team head coach, HP department, national team assistant coaches, age grade national team coaches at HSAA, U-20, College AA, club coaches of the various players. Resources must be made available to players in their regions so they can excel.

If in January of 2008 after the RWC and college bowl games, I hypothesize that if we took our pick of any 80 NCAA athletes (you can dream here on who they’d have been) that we wanted and said that was going to be the RWC pool of players for 2011 and we treated them exactly the same as the current pool of 30 were treated over that almost 4 year period, we’d be lucky if 30 of these class athletes were still playing rugby in 2011. If they were, it would be a miracle if they had any appreciable level of skill. They almost certainly wouldn’t have had the results of our current crop of players as we wouldn’t have developed them as individually as players and as a team. I say this because there is little money and even less support. Never mind that they all would have been brand new to the game while being neglected for the most part outside of assemblies.

We actually have the talent. We just need to focus on the individual. We need to take the responsibility that we have as a union to develop our elite players seriously. Done right and with organization and effort, we can press for some excellent results.

It takes real dedication to develop world class skills and mentality. It is tough in the USA because we are spread out, but it can be done and must be done if we want to get to the level we want.

There is no excuse to get this wrong again.

Written by Andy Richards    Friday, 30 September 2011 16:25    PDF Print Write e-mail
OP-Ed: Cron Scrum Ideas Still Worth a Look
Columns - Op-Eds

This column is by Andy Richards and has been reprinted with his permission. Richards is Head Coach at Virginia Tech.

In November 2009 I listened to a podcast talking about the scrum and then wrote an article in which I talked about the influence New Zealander Mike Cron has had on the scrum in the modern game. I wrote about the fact that in Bill LeClerc, the Eagles had a 'Cron Disciple.' Someone who would surely work the same magic for our national team as Cron has done for the All Blacks and many other teams over the years. Alas, Le Clerc doesn't seem to be with the Eagles anymore and our scrum is struggling.

This morning I read an article that the Canadian forwards (during the run up to RWC 2011) had been coached by Cron and that he had solved most Canadian scrum problems! Having watched the Eagles scrum struggle for several games now, the news that our arch-rivals are using Cron is galling to say the least. I'm not mad at either Canada or Mike Cron - the Canadians are doing what they need to do to be competitive in this area of the game.

In 2007, USA Rugby sent out DVD's of the sessions that Mike Cron and other New Zealand coaches conducted in San Diego for the US National team and coaches. The sessions on the line out and scrum were conducted by Cron. I was won over by both so much so, that I still use most of the techniques he showed. The thing that I find hard to understand, is why USA Rugby has not dusted out their archives made these sessions available to all coaches that want them. It’s a great resource, I wish we would use it.

Here is the original article from 2009:
I’ve not written too much about the scrum mainly because its one area of the game in the USA that we have real expertise at the top of the chain. Having listened to Bill LeClerc on ARN’s Rugbytalk 105, I am in no doubt that we have someone in place that is taking the right approach to the way that we should be coaching the scrum. Openly admitting that he is a Mike Cron disciple, made me sit up and take note right away!

I sometimes feel that coaches down at the coalface don’t get access to people like Bill; he does teach around the country in clinics, but he’s never going to get to everyone. So I wanted to write an article that listed some of the things he was talking about that really are at the core of the Mike Cron doctrine where the scrum is concerned.

A correct mental attitude towards scrum time is wrapped up in what he calls ‘Social Loathing’. A way to demonstrate this is to get your players in a circle and start clapping one after the other as hard as they can. Go round the circle quickly until they are all clapping then get them to stop. Asking the first guy you got to start clapping if he was clapping as hard at the start as an individual as he was as a part of the group at the end, visually explains social loathing. Statistics show that some players look upon the scrum as a rest; challenge your players not to be social loathers and your scrum will improve right away.

Make sure your players understand the principles of the scrum:

1. 8 people working in the same direction at the same time.

2. The back 5 exploding their power through to the front 3.

3. The front 3 win the race over the centerline.

Set up and body position are so important. Don’t be in a hurry to build your scrum until everyone has good body awareness. Keep the feet narrow, knees behind the shoulders, shallow back and keep the scapula locked. It is important to tilt the pelvis back before getting down into position. If possible, get the players into the right position then get them to practice the set up in front of a mirror. After you have checked their set up, get your players to now go against each other in pairs, going up and down with one hand on the floor for support to start with.

The pressure to keep a purchase on the ground comes through your body; keep the pressure through the balls of the feet and curl the toes. A good drill to get better purchase pressure is have your players on their knees, bind and come up together on their toes only – do it with one arm on the ground again, then as they get better, bind with both arms.

When we start to come together as a unit, the coach needs to make sure the sequence with which we do it, is drilled home and happens the same every time. It starts with the loose head binding on the hooker; the hooker then binds on the tight head. The hooker binds on the props shoulders; try to avoid the swept-wing airplane wing effect by binding too far back. The hooker takes control and should run every scrum – he’s the one that ensures distance and alignment. The pack binds in 3 groups, front row, middle 4 and then the No 8. Get the pack practicing this sequence by moving around the field from cone to cone. Get the hooker to make the referee’s calls.

I like to work on a two-cadence in all aspects of the scrum. On every engagement at the hit, we ‘sink then load’. When the opposition puts the ball in, the hooker calls ‘and now’. On our put in, as the hooker’s foot comes forward for the strike, our players sink, and then drive as the ball comes in.

Many teams like to put the ball in as the engagement is made. This might work for the first few scrums but the other team will soon figure this out. A better way is to sink and load as normal, but instead of load, we drive because that is when the ball comes in. So it becomes, hit, sink and drive.

One of the best methods to increase a player’s strength in a scrum is to get him to brace his tongue in the roof of his mouth. Some players will give you a strange look when they first hear this but there is a great way to demonstrate the difference it makes. Get a player to lean forward in a strong position and then push him back on his forehead. You can do it with just one finger. Then get him to brace his tongue in the roof of his mouth and then try again to push him back - your players will be convinced.

It’s very hard to write a short article that covers everything people like Bill LeClerc and Mike Cron teach. If you cannot get to one of their sessions, fear not, there are many of Mike Cron’s video’s on You Tube.


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