The renowned “scrum doctor” Mike Cron has re-signed with the NZRU, and he will continue to work with the All Black’s and New Zealand teams to ensure continued success in their set piece.
The former police detective is widely recognised as arguably the greatest scrum technician in world rugby, and his relationship with Graham Henry is one of the key reasons for the All Blacks recent modern rugby dominance.
It is difficult to award a particular scrum as being the strongest in the world, in a set piece that can be widely difficult to interpret; but the reality is that the All Blacks in this area are regarded as being the best in the world—or at least in the top three.
While he is considered amicable and an overall “nice chap”, when it comes to the scrum, he takes no prisoners, and is known as being notoriously hard to please—exacting meticulous standards from his charges.
Indeed, Cron has been known to make front rowers were bra devices with chains and wear boxing gloves to prevent incorrect bindings. He has taken apart what was previously regarded as just a single aspect of the game, and made it into a thorough and painstaking process which reaps rewards.
Against Wales last year—arguably the All Blacks toughest match of their northern tour—Cron widely regarded the work of the All Black pack as being instrumental in their second half ascendancy and pack authority over the Red Dragons.
“I really liked that. They were working like a hand in the glove and I think they really sucked the goodies out of Wales. That was a really huge influence for that opening 20 minutes in the second half when our work took the legs out of them.” Cron remarked.
In the same manner that repeated defence can tire a team, the pressure of close to one tonne of eight forward’s weight pressing at extreme force against each other takes more out of opposition packs than anything else.
"Wales then became slower and less effective at cleanouts in other parts of the field and all that psychology adds up," he said. "The pack's scrum work was a big factor as they sucked the energy out of the opposition."
Equally, Cron had a lot of work to do without Carl Hayman and Greg Somerville - two of the world’s great modern front row forwards - there to apply their craft.
But the work put in by Neemia Tialata and John Afoa clearly had impressed Cron.
"He [Tialata] had been crook all week [flu] and I thought he was world-class at tighthead," Cron said. "He has played before on both sides of the scrum but with Hayman and Somerville not here he has had big shoes to fill. John Afoa is also coming to his game and showing what a great sub he is."
Cron though is hard to please.
It is not just aspects of the scrum that concern him, but aspects such as the scrum halves delivery into the scrum as well as the shove.
The shove itself has needed to evolve with the “crouch, touch, pause, engage” call.
The guru regards the scrum as being an essential template that operates with the purpose of supplying strong possession. Under the Experimental Law Variations, this is even more important, considering that free kick penalties allow the scrum to be used as a far more applicable attacking weapon.
A look at scrum coaching with Mike Cron
The aim of the scrum: To deliver the ball so attacking options are maximised
The principles of binding
All players: Bind as a unit so that the arms are not extended to their maximum so that strength can be used to tighten up.
Front Row: Loose head binds on the hooker first. The hooker then binds on the tighthead. Head in the neutral position.
All players: Feet square, shoulders width part, weight on the balls of the feet, heels down. Movements short and quick. Shuffle and don’t cross the feet.
All players: Hips bend first, knees second. Back 5 °, to the horizontal. Hip, knee and ankle 120°, to strongest position, halfway between straight and bent as far as possible. Knees in the same vertical line as the lowest rib.
Props: Muscle Up – chest up and out. Pull stomach back. Lock gluteous maximus. Don’t teeter over the cliff as it leads to hyper extending and a loss of strength.
Number eight: Start between the locks so as not to destabilise the scrum. Split leg for an explosive drive.
Fire in (engagement)
All players: Spine in line. Maintain pre-engagement stability by gripping with the toes. Get close, it rewards good technique. Release toes to engage. Sink and extend. Win the race. Hit and chase.