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By Gavin Hickie, Dartmouth, Head Coach
The Role of Lock
The ‘Big Fellas’ of the team traditionally, modern locks are now tasked with not just securing the ball for his team at lineouts and kick off, and providing support in the scrum but also act as extra Back Rows.
Mobility and versatility are essential for a lock to be successful in open play where they need to be strong ball carriers. While their height is an asset in jumping it is a distinct disadvantage in possession where their challenge is to get low to stop defender’s getting under them or where they have to work harder than everyone else to effectively hit a ruck.
Traditionally, there is a difference between the two locks. The No 4 is usually bigger and heavier. At lineouts, he is commonly jumping at the front, and in scrums he generally on the right hand side, behind the tighthead prop. The No. 5 is typically, slightly taller and more agile. He can ordinarily be found at the middle of the lineout and frequently is the team’s lineout caller. In the scrum he is on the left hand side, behind the loosehead prop.
The ideal locks pairing sees players with a blend of skills that complement each other.
Skills required to play lock
The primary job of the locks [second row] is to win the ball at the lineout and kick offs. Their next task is to support their props and push in the scrums. After their set piece responsibilities, locks are expected to be strong ball carriers and support players in attack. Defensively, locks must make their tackles and lots of them.
To achieve their primary objective of winning the ball at lineouts and kick off, locks need to work on their aerial and catching skills.
Jumping at the Lineout
Usually, one of the locks has the responsibility of calling the lineout but both second rows are expected to be able to jump to contest for the ball. Explosive and powerful, a lock needs to work on their jump and timing with their lifters to ensure they are in the right place at the right time to catch the hooker’s throw.
Kick offs & Restarts
In order to catch the ball at kick offs and lineouts, it is very important that locks work on their catching skills in order to secure possession of the ball for their team. Practice catching the ball, under pressure at training will help to build confidence in this area.
Locks are in the second row of the scrum, behind the props and hooker. They contribute to the power of the scrum by optimising their pushing profile, in support of the front row
Locks’ role in attack
Second rows have similar roles to the backrows in attack. Their main duties in attack are to support the ball carrier and hit rucks, low and hard, to clear out any threats from the opposition. Locks are also expected to be mobile ball carriers, helping their team get over the gainline.
High work rate is a theme with all players but the range of responsibilities for the lock at set piece when coupled with their role in general play, means athleticism and stamina are both crucial if they are to remain effective throughout the game.
Locks’ role in defence
The locks’ high work rate in attack is matched by their requisite roles in defence, specifically their high tackle count. Locks need to slot into the defensive system and make tackles, come off the line hard and try and put pressure on the attack.
Five tips for playing lock
Jamie Cudmore, Canada: “The 4 is on the Tighthead side of the scrum and he is a bit heavier, a grinder who pick and goes, getting over the gain line, a real rock behind the Tighthead Prop. The 5 is more of a rangey player, longer, good lineout sense, good ball handling skills.”
Devin Toner, Ireland: “I would tell a young player to firstly work on their aerial skills, catching high balls and to be comfortable doing it. You can’t forget the defensive responsibilities and work at the breakdown, securing possession at ruck time”.
Eben Etzebeth, South Africa: “[In the scrum] focus on your low body position, keeping your feet back and then working forward in unison. Also, keep a strong bind on the prop in front of you and the lock next to you.”
Jono Gibbes, Leinster Forwards Coach and Former All Black: “You can be the most skilful lock out there but if you can’t secure possession at your own breakdown you’re no use to anyone. You need to hit rucks with intensity and aggression and just be able to move people out of the way.”
Mike Cron, All Black Forwards Coach: “Brodie Retallick and Sam Whitelock [All Black locks] have huge engines, high work rate and are athletic, big men that can get around the paddock quickly. The way the game is going it’s hard to leave a guy out there for 80minutes if you want to play at high octane level the whole time.”