The tighthead prop occupies the number 3 shirt in a rugby team and packs down at the front of the scrum to the right of the hooker. The tighthead is the main scrummager in the team focussing a great deal of his effort in the tight. Although the tighthead’s main focus is on shoring up the scrum, he is now also expected to be a strong ball carrier and defensive rock in the loose.
A tighthead prop will usually be a square shape and is usually the broadest member of the squad. Modern tightheads can weigh in over the 20 stone mark and will be of a strong muscular build. The position of tighthead prop is still one of the last havens for ‘chubbers’ in professional sport as it is often an advantage for the men wearing 3 to be carrying a bit of spare tyre.
The tighthead needs to be a squat kind of shape in order to hold his own against two opponents in the scrum as he looks to anchor down his side. a short, thick neck is also a massive benefit as a props neck usually takes a huge amount of pressure during a scrum.
In The Loose
As mentioned a tighthead prop will usually focus on holding his own in the scrum but with the improving fitness and physicality of modern rugby players he must now also show willing in attack and defence. Much like the loosehead, a tighthead prop will often be found defending around the base of a ruck helping to protect his own ball and give his scrum half as much time as possible. He will also be expected to put in tackles and look to win turnovers, or at least slow down opposition ball.
In attack the tighthead is an important ball carrier who will be expected to make yards (even if only a couple) with each run as he barrels through the oppositions defensive line. Although not a necessity we are seeing an increasing trend of props with good ball handling skills who are able to pass the ball on in order to change his teams point of attack rather than just looking for contact at every opportunity.
In The Scrum
The scrum is when the tighthead prop will usually come into his own and is part of the reason why a world class 3 is so highly sought after in the modern game. In recent years the tighthead has often been one of the best paid players at a club due to their importance in the scrum.
During a scrum the tighthead prop packs down on the right hand side and puts his head between the opposition hooker and loosehead prop. He will then take the majority of the oppositions hit as he looks down to anchor down his side of the scrum before attempting to drive forwards and give his team the advantage.
When his team have the put in the tighthead can focus on powering through the opposition as the ball enters on the other side of the scrum. However on the oppositions put in he must attempt to close down the gap the scrum half has to place the ball to give his team maximum advantage when trying to turn over possession.
It’s important to remember that your job at this stage isn’t to push, that’s for the guys behind, instead as a tighthead your focus should be on getting your head under the opposition loosehead and driving him up. Once into this position twist your opponent by dropping your right shoulder slightly and pulling down on your bind so that the loosehead can’t get a drive through on you.
You must however continue to drive straight at this point rather than pushing to your right or left as this would risk giving away a penalty. Once you have your man you can then begin driving forwards with the support of the pack behind you.
In The Line Out
The tighthead usually finds himself in the middle or at the end of a line-out ready to lift his teams jumper on whatever call comes from the lead.
In A Maul
The tighthead will usually be one of the key driving forces in a maul either offensively or defensively. In defence he must look to disrupt opposition ball and attempt to drive the attackers backwards. In an attack maul he needs to help protect the man with the ball whilst driving the maul forwards and will often act as a pivot when the maul switches direction.
Phil Vickery appeared in three separate World Cups, reaching the final twice and winning it once. Known as the ‘Raging Bull’ Vickery was a stout strong scrummager who never gave a yard. His ability to anchor down the English scrum helped to bring one of the most successful periods for the team in modern rugby.
If you’d like to find out more there’s a video from current England tighthead Dan Cole;