Locks or second rows play in the number 4 & 5 shirts on a rugby field and scrummage behind their teams front row. A lock will usually be the tallest member in the team and is expected to have good all round footballing skills. As the second row consists of two locks both players will often have a differing set of skills. Whilst one might be a big powerful player who gets stuck in at the breakdown and pushes hard in the tight, the second lock might be a bit more lightweight and nimble and therefore a threat in open play and easier to lift in the line out. Increasingly so however locks are expected to be the best of both worlds. Locks are often key leaders on the field as they are usually found in the heart of the action and are therefore known to lead by example.
As mentioned players in the second row will tend to be the tallest players in the squad, some of whom are beginning to get towards the 7 foot mark. Due to their height locks will also often be amongst the heaviest players in the team, although this is more due to the increased weight associated with being several inches taller than other players than anything else. A lock will therefore be expected to be of a good slim muscular build.
In The Loose
In open play a locks job is very similar to that of a back row player. Each member of the second row will be expected to be amongst the top tackler stats during a game whilst also providing added weight at the breakdown and attempting to win turnovers. The locks form a key part of the defensive unit, often found as one of the first up tacklers to help bring down opposition ball carriers thereby allowing their back row counter parts to attempt to steal turn over ball.
In attack the locks provide a key ball carrying threat due to their size and will often be utilised when the team are trying to keep hold of the ball in opposition territory. The height of the second row means they are often key in attack inside the opposition 22 where their long reach can be key to getting the ball over the line by any means necessary. A locks long rangy strides can often make them deceptively quick and therefore they can be used as a great opportunity to change a teams point of attack.
In The Scrum
Although both locks will pack down at scrum time in a relatively similar way, their jobs and technique differ ever so slightly depending on which side of the scrum they are placed. The lock wearing number 4 packs down on the left hand side of the scrum placing his head between the hooker and looseheads hips whilst gripping his second row colleague around the waist. He will then place his left arm through the loosehead props left and grab down on the waist band of his shorts.
The lock wearing the number 5 shirt will pack down in the same way but obviously on the right hand side of the scrum with his right arm through the tightheads legs. It is important to remember at this stage that the locks are the engine room of the pack. Whilst the props will be working to out scrummage their opposite number the locks must continue to push through and provide their props with the necessary power to help push the opposition backwards.
This is the case in both their own teams put in and an opposition put in. The only difference is that on their own put in locks must be weary of the ball being hooked backwards and coming through their legs. They must therefore be wary not to stand on the ball as it comes through to the number 8.
The slight difference between the two locks occurs in that the player wearing the number 5 shirt and packing down on the right hand side of the scrum is likely to be the bigger, stronger players of the two. This is as the tighthead will be scrummaging against both the opposition loosehead and hooker so therefore requires the extra power behind him in order to help him continue to drive forwards.
In The Line Out
The line out should be the bread and butter of a locks game as they are usually the key men during both teams throw ins. Usually the line out leader will be one of the two locks who is in charge of calling out the different sequences during his own teams throw and planning a defensive strategy to disrupt opposition ball during an opponents line out.
In addition the two locks are often the primary jumpers during the line out, usually being thrown up by other members of the pack so that they can compete for the ball. In the modern game locks are now also expected to be able to lift other members of the pack in order to give his team as many options as possible when competing for the ball.
In A Maul
Locks are usually heavily involved in mauls as their power if often key to driving his teams maul forwards or slowing and hopefully stopping opposition mauls. Locks are often at the very centre of mauls having collected balls off the top of line outs only to pass them to the back of the driving maul.
The second rows heigh and reach are key when attempting to disrupt an opponents maul as they look to make a nuisance of themselves by reaching for the ball and generally grabbing at anything they can get their hands on.
Martin Johnson is often touted as one of the greatest locks to have ever played the game having led the Lions to a 1997 series victory, England to World Cup glory and Leicester Tigers to no less than 5 Premiership titles and 2 Heineken Cup triumphs. Johnson encapsulated all the key aspects of being a truly great lock showing raw power and determination, leading by example with a no-nonsense approach.