02 October 2013

Bajada is back

Next weekend is the final round of The Rugby Championship and all eyes will be on Johannesburg where South Africa face New Zealand. Later that evening in Rosario, Argentina host Australia. That fixture will hardly be the epicentre of the rugby universe next Saturday. But it will be interesting to see how Australia cope with the Argentinian scrum which looks like it has returned to it’s roots with “Bajada”.

Bajada scrummaging was developed in Argentina many years ago and was the technique that helped give the Pumas their legendary status when it came to the scrum. It was used by the French to great effect in the 1980’s, but was nullified as a scrummaging technique, when the scrum engagement became more explosive in the 1990’s.

But now that the engagement has been depowered to great extent it seems the Argentinians have recognised the value in their old-fashioned scrummaging technique.

The Bajada technique has a number of defining characteristics. In simple terms it involves everybody in the scrum, except the hooker and #8, scrummaging with their inside foot forward. The hooker and #8 keep their feet square. This directs all the power through the hooker.

In the old days, teams often picked a prop at hooker to cope with the pressure. That was when hookers were on average considerably smaller than props. But now the difference in physiques between hookers and props is negligible, so hookers should be capable of coping with the intense pressure.

The next important characteristic of Bajada is the ‘coordinated push’, which requires the forwards to act on a three-part call. Firstly, all members of the pack tighten their binds and fill their lungs with air. Then everyone sinks to a point where their thighs are at 90 degrees and shins are parallel to the ground. The scrum is now ready to have the ball fed by the scrum-half.

As the ball is fed into the scrum the pack pushes straight forward while violently expelling the air from their lungs. A key aim is for no one to move their feet until forward momentum is established. Once forward momentum is established the forwards drive over the ball in unison. If the first drive is insufficient to get the scrum moving, the process is repeated, with the opposing pack often caught off guard when trying to push back.

As all the power generated by the eight forwards is channelled through the hooker it puts extraordinary pressure on the opposition scrum.

Also, in the Bajada scrum, the hooker doesn’t strike for the ball. The hooker striking for the ball has recently become the norm again since the new scrum engagement came into law at the beginning of the season. With Bajada the ball is fed into the tunnel of the scrum and all eight forwards drive over the ball.

When the ball is fed into the tunnel and the hooker doesn’t strike, why doesn’t the opposition hooker strike for the ball? That is an excellent question. The reason the opposition hooker doesn’t strike for the ball is he, and the rest of his forwards, are under so much pressure they dare not lift a foot off the ground. If the opposition hooker lifts his foot to strike the ball it is likely the whole scrum will go backwards with all three rows of the scrum getting stacked up like deckchairs.

Last Saturday, thirty minutes into the 1st half of the Rugby Championship game in La Plata, Argentina were awarded a scrum. After the two packs engaged the Argentinian scrum-half rolled the ball into the tunnel and the Argentinian pack almost effortlessly walked forward and over the ball. The New Zealand pack went backwards like they were all wearing rollerblades. The scrum wheeled, the New Zealand front-row stood up and the referee awarded Argentina a penalty.

That was Bajada scrummaging at it’s most potent.

New Zealand have always scrummaged consistently well against every pack in world rugby without too much discomfort. Even if they didn’t dominate oppositions they were always comfortable enough to win their own ball and put pressure on the opposition ball. But at scrum time last Saturday the Pumas took the Kiwis to the woodshed.

Seeing as they invented the technique, it is not a shock that Argentina have been first to recognise the value of Bajada. Once the engagement became less important Bajada is a lot easier to employ.

So can we expect to see other teams using Bajada in the near future? It is possible but unlikely. It would probably be a pre-season scrum project to convert players from the current orthodox scrum technique to Bajada. Certainly the Wallabies won’t get it done before next Saturday’s game in Rosario.

Given the way the Wallabies scrum imploded in the 3rd Test against the Lions, they could have a torrid time next weekend against the Pumas. It is certain that Argentina will see the scrum as an Achilles heel of the Australians and will likely target the scrum relentlessly.

As for everybody else, if the Pumas continue to pommel teams at scrum time, it is very likely we will see the gradual return of Bajada.