Chobot at 2014 World Cup / Photo: C. Glémet/IRB.
PREFACE: I occasionally freelance for FloRugby and I just wrote a piece that is, tangentially, about the French scrum, a subject far from my expertise. So I called upon USA Eagle prop Sarah Chobot for insight. I delighted in the conversation, and would love to further dig into the mysteries of the front row, given a patient subject like Chobot. The following are outtakes from our conversation that couldn’t be used in the FloRugby piece (I only had 600 words!)
A portion of the FloRugby article concerns Chobot’s preparation for an opposing tighthead, and she draws upon the characteristics of chess pieces (queen, pawn, knight) to categorize props, which aids prep. As an example, Jamie Burke is a “queen” – versatile, saavy, patient – and thus difficult to prepare for.
During the game, as you, a loosehead, test and tweak strategies against your opposing tighthead, do you need to coordinate with the rest of your front row?
The loosehead has a little more freedom. Oftentimes looseheads are left on an island, and the tighthead and the hooker tend to work more closely together. There are a couple things you can do with your hooker. I might slide down and decide to hide a shoulder if I have a tighthead that’s really aggressively coming across and maybe pinning the hooker, disrupting my hooker. So then I’ll adjust to give her a little more space.
And then obviously it depends on what we want out of the set piece. If we want an “Up 3” – and this is where I as a player often got in trouble because I was just on attack. So a lot of times when we wanted the “Up 3” I would still attack and then it would either be a neutral ball or it would wheel to the 1. So it kind of depends on the direction we want to launch our backrow or to launch the ball.
In selecting favorite opponents, Chobot named French prop Christelle Chobet as someone she enjoyed facing.
Another fun one for me was Aldora [Itunu] from New Zealand simply because she was so much bigger than me, so it felt like climbing Everest trying to beat her. Domestically, I think Jamie Burke is the pinnacle of scrummaging.
Chobot talked about how different counties value the role of their scrums in their overall game plan. France has opted for the scrum following a penalty instead of taking the shot at goal. That’s pride and confidence. When asked about the USA:
In the 2014 cycle, we were very, very good. We were the only team that had 100% ball retention at the set piece at the World Cup. Our set piece in ’14 was very very good. In ’17 you saw a shift … but that’s OK. They had players with different skill sets.
Is the ideal to always drive the opposition off the ball as emphatically as possible?
It depends on your team. With Glendale, we’re going to always attempt to take it because we feel we have a really, really good pack. You’re always trying to disrupt, and you can disrupt in a lot of ways. You’re always looking for that turnover ball and if you can’t get the turnover ball, you’re looking to wheel them away from the direction they want to go.
Have you seen any trends in the scrum developing over the last couple of years?
The refereeing has been a little tough to overcome [domestically], especially in the set piece because you have this generic set of things. And the other problem is most of the referees aren’t tight five players, so you can’t fault them because they’ve never been in it and feel it. They don’t’ know your tricks of the trade.
And then when you have players who are trying to clearly paint a picture – it’s almost like sometimes they would rather have it be very simple, clean. “It’s Glendale’s put, Glendale gets the ball; it’s North Shore’s put, North Shore gets the ball.” Sometimes the contest around that set piece has been taken away a little bit.
What did you mean by “generic things” – sets of penalties?
For example, let’s say we have a tighthead that’s coming under pressure – and you want to relieve pressure in the front row. You’re getting smashed by eight players coming on your shoulder and five players pushing you from behind. There’s a reason why I’ve lost an inch-and-a-half in height. It’s because you just get compressed.
And so you want to relieve that pressure somehow. So sometimes looseheads like to swim, and tightheads like to get away from looseheads, so they’ll go down and under. So if I follow a tighthead who’s attacking the hooker, and I follow her down and in, my hips have to come out. So it’ll look like to the referee that I’m coming around the scrum even though I’m just following where the tighthead went, which I should have a right to. So it’ll be a loosehead penalty even though I’m trying to stay square and the tighthead’s coming down.
Little things like that where you ask the referee, “Am I entitled to follow the tighthead down and in, or do I have to stay square and then push against nothing?” You hope you get the call but if you don’t get the call, you run the risk of your scrum getting blown up.
In this specific scenario, if you don’t get the call, what’s the consequence going forward?
If I don’t follow the tighthead down and in, and I stay square, then I drive on essentially nothing. Now that tighthead has pinched my hooker and essentially split the left side of the scrum off. So it’s really hard to get good clean ball like this.
Last year’s set piece for Glendale was quite disappointing after the year before. We were turning over 6-7 balls a game – that’s a lot of possession. That’s more turnovers than you get in the open field. So that’s why having a really good set piece [is important]. Provides you a great attacking platform, plus it’s disheartening [to lose].