by Bernard Jackman
The scrum contest will be a key part of Saturday’s Irish provincial derby between Munster and Leinster and, as I wrote yesterday, fans and players can expect a much better contest than in the past.
It is hard to predict exactly who will have the edge but what is hugely positive is that we are starting to see the emergence of the next generation of young Irish props.
These are the players who look like giving Joe Schmidt strength in depth as he starts his preparations for the Six Nations and the Rugby World Cup in 2015. This is great news for Irish rugby as good quality props have historically been a scarce resource.
Leinster have established players with the two Irish starting props Cian Healy and Mike Ross in their squad. Healy has only played 95 minutes this season so far having returned from his ankle injury suffered on the Lions tour. In contrast, Ross has 214 minutes of game time under his belt with two starts.
The players coming through are Jack McGrath and Martin Moore, and they have had valuable gametime already this year. Both players have been impressive.
Talent emerging at Leinster
McGrath has been touted for a while and is a really bright prospect. He is a loosehead by trade and the departure of Heinke Van Der Merwe to Stade Francais has bumped him up to second choice behind Healy. He has not disappointed either as a scrummager or ball-carrier in his outings so far.
Moore is only 22-years-old and over the last two seasons has only had five substitute appearances and they only added up to 74 minutes in total. But the former Castleknock schoolboy has built up a big reputation as a scrummager from the live sessions at training. Ross has taken him under his wing and believes that he can have a huge future in the game.
That is very good news for Leinster and Ireland.
Munster had already brought through Dave Kilcoyne last season, and he has broken through into the Irish squad. James Cronin has also really impressed and is a dynamic and aggressive ball carrier in the same mould as Healy, Kilcoyne and McGrath. On the tighthead side, BJ Botha’s injury in pre-season meant gametime to Stephen Archer and John Ryan.
While Leinster have not had a scrum that was feared by the big guns in recent years they have been incredibly efficient at winning quality ball, regularly hitting success rates of 92/93 % on their own ball.
Interestingly, and I admit that four games is early days to make big assumptions, Munster are statistically far and away the most efficient Irish province. with a 95% success rate on their own ball. Treviso are the lowest ranked at 60%. The clash between the two teams has played a role in shaping that stat, but it is worth noting when assessing Munster.
Munster scrum performing for Penney
Rob Penney is now directly responsible for the Munster scrum and he will be delighted by how quickly they have adapted to the new rules. Leinster are currently at 82% which they will be focusing on improving starting this weekend.
How will it go this weekend?
The situation is still evolving – I noticed that a lot of the tightheads who were dominant under the old rules in France had found it hard to readjust, but eight games in the likes of Nicholas Mas, Census Johnson and Carl Hayman are finding their feet again.
For Leinster, there has been a similar pattern. Mike Ross has struggled on occasions to lock down the right hand side of the scrum as well as he normally does. He has been caught high and straight legged, and that has destabilised the whole scrum at times.
If he does not rectify that problem this week, Munster look primed to expose that weakness.
Having said that, Mike Ross is a brilliant tactical and technical scrummager and he is well capable of getting it right. The scrum turnaround in the Heineken Cup final against Northampton is a case in point.
Moore can also do a job for Leinster. He is the ideal shape for a tighthead - short and squatty – and he gives his back five really good body position through which they can transfer their power. That is even more important with the hit gone.
So while Munster may fancy their chances of getting some traction in the scrum battle, Leinster may just be able to fix their issues and get the stability they will need playing at Thomond Park.
Live television coverage of Munster v Leinster from 18:15 on Saturday 5 October on RTÉ Two and RTÉ.ie (Ireland only). Live radio coverage on Game On on RTÉ 2fm and RTÉ.ie (Worldwide) from 18:30.