Scrum Strong Origins

Waratahs scrum vs Suntory with Paddy Ryan and Hugh Roach

Hi scrum legends, my name is Sam Needs, founder of Scrum Strong. This post is to give you a little bit more background on myself, and what Scrum Strong is all about. Although I'm no longer playing professionally, I'm loving playing back at an amateur level with the Warringah Rats.

The whole concept of Scrum Strong was born out of frustration at how the scrum was being coached at my team in Japan, and so I began jotting down these frustrations, and potential ways they could be overcome. After a while there was a 30 - 40 page word document, and that's when my mindset changed. Now I was thinking "if the scrum was to be built from the ground up, focussing on the fundamentals, what would that look like", and before too long, there was 120 pages. Essentially it was a combination of what I've learned and continue to learn throughout my career from world class scrum coaches, as well as my own experiences. It was now a 120 page word document riddled with typos and grammatical errors, that needed a catchy, yet straight forward title. Scrum Science was one of the first names we came up with, and thought it had a good backstory that could be seen as contradictory to the old saying that scrummaging is a 'dark art'. There's also some science involved ;)

Packing down for the Kamaishi Seawaves with fellow Australian, hooker, Matt Mafi

My own scrummaging journey began when I made the switch from one end of the team list at fullback in the U13's, to the other end at hooker in the U14's. I had no idea what to do besides 'push'. Thankfully I don't have any scrummaging footage of my time at hooker over the next 4 years, because it would have been terrible. There was no book for me to learn about the correct body shape, or how to strike for the ball in order to improve. There was only the "push harder" calls coming from the coach.

After these school years I played down in Canberra for the Gungahlin Eagles, under former Wallabies and Brumbies hooker Marco Caputo. I still had no real idea what I was doing at scrum time, and this was still in the "crouch, touch, pause, engage" days, and so when you lost the hit, you generally lost the scrum. Playing with guys like Patricio and Esteban Noriega (sons of former Wallaby and Argentinian international prop, Patricio Noriega, now coaching at Racing 92), I began to understand the passion of scrummaging, and how it can influence the game.

At the end of my third season with the Eagles and some representative games with the Brumbies academy, I linked with Eastwood Rugby club in the Shute Shield where I was now playing both tighthead and loosehead. After a series of injuries I found myself playing a few seasons in third grade, with the odd appearance off the bench in second grade. At the back end of the 2014 season I made the decision that this was going to be my last attempt at trying to 'crack it' with rugby. If I was to get somewhere I had never been before, I had to do something I'd never done before. And this was working on the fundamentals of scrummaging. With some players at Eastwood moving on to higher honours, there was an opportunity for me to try and play first grade in the 2015 season.

Most of my spare time was spent scrummaging against a post, doing body shape drills or working solo on the scrum machine (which is a pain in the ass to move on your own, in and out of a confined space! All those extras had payed off when I made my starting debut for Eastwood first grade in round one of 2015. I was playing loosehead and up against a tighthead who'd just finished a preseason with the Waratahs. I learned a lot of valuable scrummaging lessons (some the hard way), and was lucky to have won the Shute Shield Premiership in my first season of first grade. After playing the whole club season at loosehead, I then played the entire NRC for the Greater Sydney Rams as tighthead. I wasn't ready to play tighthead, especially at this level. However, the lessons I learned from getting punished by looseheads each week, had set me up for future successes. At the time, I couldn't see this, and it sucked. I made sure that I analysed the crap out of every scrum clip so I could pin point why it went wrong, how I could fix it, and then find drills that I could practice to overcome it.

Just before Christmas in 2015 I got a message from Cam Blades (then NSW Waratahs forwards coach) to come in as part of a tight 5 program they were putting together with club players. I couldn't believe it - a year before I was playing 3rd grade for Eastwood, and now I was getting texts from the NSW Waratahs. The Jaguares head coach, Mario Ledesma (then Wallabies scrum coach) would attend these sessions which focussed on the basics of scrummaging. Lots of these drills were not new to me, but the way to perform them was.

During the 2016 preseason there was injuries in the Tah's front row and I got a call to come in and pack some scrums in the main squad. It was a dream come true. I was packing scrums with and against some of the best scrummagers in the world like Tatafu Polota-nau and Sekope Kepu. This went on for a few weeks where I'd head in twice a week just to pack scrums. My only focus at this time was to do whatever it took to get in there full time. Practising my scrummaging on a Saturday night, tick. Training my neck at the end of every gym session, tick. Continue writing down my rugby goals every single day just like the previous 18 months, tick.

Midway through the 2016 season I signed my first professional contract with the NSW Waratahs. The 2016 season saw me playing primarily hooker for Eastwood, but then just like the year before, I found myself playing tighthead in the NRC, this time for the NSW Country Eagles. Getting more experience at tighthead during the NRC was exactly what I needed, because I was still relatively new to this position, and hadn't played it in over a year. A niggling groin injury sidelined me for most of the Super Rugby preseason, and so I had to keep chipping away for my new club, Warringah Rats in the Shute Shield, where I was playing tighthead, week in week out. Whilst the Tahs were touring South Africa for a few weeks, I made it my mission to work on solo scrummaging drills before and after each day of training that the non-touring players were doing.

The video below is just one of the hundreds of clips I would film during this time to keep improving. Consistent repetition of my set up, hit etc over time started to show up in the form of more dominant scrums at both Waratahs training, and at club level.

I won my second Shute Shield Premiership in 2017 with the Rats, and then got an opportunity at the end of the season to play for the Melbourne Rebels in a match against Toyota Verblitz in Japan, and then signed a contract with Japanese club, Kamaishi Seawaves for the 2018 season.

Now you can rewind to the beginning of this post as to how my scrummaging experience with the Seawaves was. *Please note that my scrummaging experience in Japan is not a reflection on how every team in Japan scrummages, but only on the experience I had at my club, with the coaches at that time. The fundamentals of scrummaging that I'd been working on both individually and as a forward pack over the past few years were almost non-existent.

To put it bluntly, the 'scrummaging drills' we were doing, and the way they were being done were very outdated to say the least. My frustration at this reached a boiling point where I had to vent to someone who wasn't my wife, and that someone was my Macbook Air. I knew that if this was happening here, then it was definitely still happening around the world, where clubs/coaches were stuck in the 70's, 80's, 90's and even early 00's era of scrummaging, and doing the exact same drills that they did. With all due respect to these people, the scrum has changed and you must adapt or get left behind.

Based off my own journey from playing 3rd grade for club in 2014, to signing a Super Rugby contract in 2016, and what I did in between to accomplish that, I knew that I could pass this information on to others who are aspiring to become either professional players or coaches. So I started dissecting the scrum into all of it's unique components and then breaking those down into even simpler parts, each of which need to be worked on for a scrum to dominate.

Packing down against Wallaby Harry Johnson-Holmes in the Shute Shield Grand Final 2019

All those frustrations essentially produced what you now know as Scrum Science: Forward Thinking. Since then we've created Neck Protech, a neck safety program for all rugby players to help reduce the risk of a life-changing spinal injury. We've just released our biggest project yet, Scrum Strong Coaching Accreditation.

Over the past 18 months I've coached dozens of teams with in-person workshops, and online video sessions, as well as improve my own skillset as a coach, completing my Level 2 Accreditation, and more recently my World Rugby Educator Accreditation.

One thing that has been highlighted across all the clubs I have worked with, is the complete lack of easy to access scrum and neck safety coaching resources provided by the governing bodies.

Our aim is to enhance the safety and performance of scrums that are being packed. This starts with coaches coaching the right things and players taking the initiative to do the extra drills, many of which can be done on their own in order to improve. There's few things more heartbreaking than a huge front rower who is a phenomenal ball carrier, tackler, jackler etc, but gets folded in half at scrum time because of their inability to scrummage. We want to change that. We want to help all players and coaches develop the necessary skills required to dominate at scrum time. If we can play our part in the education around all facets relating to the scrum, then we know the quality of scrums around the world will improve.

Well that's pretty much my life story as it relates to scrummaging, and from here on out, there will be minimal content of my personal journey, and 99.9% content all things relating to the scrum.

Outside of rugby I'm an accredited Sport and Exercise Scientist and my wife and I are loving life with our 7 month old son.

Yours in scrum


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