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By Gavin Hickey, Men’s Head Coach, Naval Academy

Rugby Positions: Prop

There is a lot of grind and very little glory in playing prop. Outside of their roles in the set piece, props perform a lot of the unseen work around the field, at breakdowns ensuring their team maintain their momentum in attack. Think being a prop is just about size? Think again.

The Role of Prop

As the engine of the team, props are strong, tough and technically sound rugby players, who compete in the set piece where they are called upon to display core strength, excellent balance and explosive power.  They should relish the one on one physical battle of the scrum and the technical manipulation of their opposite man which can have a major impact on the success of the team.

The naming of the props’ positions refers to their different head placements when the scrum is engaged. The No 1 is referred to as the loosehead prop, as the left hand side of his head is free, while the right hand side of his head is against the opposition tighthead prop. One side of his head is unrestricted, i.e. loose. The No. 3 is called the tighthead as both sides of his head are restricted against the opposition hooker and loosehead prop.

Aside from the technical mastery of scrummaging, props must be strong ball carriers, be prepared to make the hard yards and to get their team on the front foot. They must move and tackle like a Back Row player without being exposed for pace in defence.

Skills required to play Prop

Set piece play dominates the prop’s skillset. It is very important that props work hard to ensure they maximise their core skills but focus should be on their set piece play.

Scrummaging

The primary role of a prop is at the set piece, i.e. scrums, lineouts and kick off receipts. The most important is the scrum as this is where props can make the biggest contribution to their team. Developing the technical aspects of scrummaging, i.e. body profile, feet position and binds are vital to being an effective scrummager. These areas are essential not only for generating maximum power but also to ensure safety, which is of paramount importance. Players new to the position should build up their understanding of this specialist aspect of the game under a coach’s expert guidance.

Lifting in the lineout

In the lineout, props lift the jumpers into the air to contest for the ball. This skill requires speed across the ground and explosive strength to lift a jumper. Props need to be very strong to hold the jumper in position, before returning them safely to ground.

Physical Strength

You must have a very strong work ethic when it comes to your own physical development in the gym to play prop at the highest level. Playing prop requires dedication to build a body that can tolerate the intense pressure of the scrum. Focusing on exercises like squats and deadlifts will help to build strength in the lower body and core.

Stubborn Mindset

Requiring a mixture of aggression, competition and a desire to dominate your opponent, prop is not just a position; it’s a state of mind.

A Prop’s Role in Attack

It should be emphasised that set piece play and in particular, scrummaging is the primary duty of the prop. However, props will need to contribute to the attack, and thereby contribute to the overall success of the team.

Props are expected to have all the required core skills to enable them to contribute to the team’s success in open play. This means they are expected to be able to catch and pass the ball, run with the ball and get over the gainline. Prop’s need to ensure they are incredibly strong while also possessing very high levels of fitness to be able to get around the pitch following the set piece.

A Prop’s Role in Defence

In defence, props are usually expected to make tackles around the ruck. Props must snuff out the opposition attack in this area by doing their utmost to stop the opposing team getting over the gainline. They must also keep a close eye on the opponents’ scrum half who will look to drag props out of their defensive position by running himself and using runners off him. 

It is important that props keep their place in the defensive line where they can be of most use to their team. Keep your head up in defence and do not get isolated as you will be targeted by the more agile members of the opposition in open play.

Five Tips for Playing Prop

Marcos Ayerza, Argentina; “Lifting in lineouts, setting up mauls, clearing out rucks, running with the ball, being a good footballer – all those skills are part and parcel of what you need generically but the prop’s job all starts from the scrum. A prop should develop their technique for the scrum and get a feel for it, for safety reasons but also to gain an understanding of the formation, which is unique and so precise.”

Cian Healy, Ireland; “You learn through experience of being in tough positions over the years. You have to fight it out in bad places.”

Mike Cron, All Black’s Forwards Coach; “Props make a fifth to a quarter of your total team tackles in modern day rugby at top level. They also make a quarter of the team’s misses as well, so you have to work on that. The modern day props are running 6km in a game where they play 55-60mins.”

Owen Franks All Blacks; “Olympic movements like push press are really good for replicating lifting in lineout. Any exercise where you are using full body movements and you are using your legs and your arms at the same time will help come game time.”

Martin Castrogiovanni, Italy; “As a loosehead, you have a shoulder free and this allows you to work with a little more freedom. You are looking to get under the opposing tighthead Prop and drive him backwards.

The tighthead has two people in front of him in the scrums, the opposite loosehead and hooker and they are looking to attack you. A tighthead must be as strong as possible and be able to defend himself against these two opposite players.”