Italian Rugby’s most recent Centurion, Leicester Tigers Legend and part of the Toulon Revolution, Martin Castrogiovanni talks exclusively to LineoutCoach.com about being a prop in the modern game.
Best things about playing prop?
It has always been the scrums!
I love scrummaging against an opponent but this season it has been a little frustrating trying to get used to the new scrum calls. Referees have a tough job keeping on top of everything and a lot of the time, they are not sure what is actually happening in the scrum and tend to give penalties to one team or the other. I am a little afraid that the scrums in rugby union are turning into rugby league style scrums with no pushing.
There is quite a lot of uncertainty in the scrum at the moment with a lot of penalties. A lot of international props have been scrummaging for a long time and who are now giving away these penalties. There should be absolute clarity in the laws and referees should talk with props, particularly the older players and tell them exactly what they can and cannot do. It is tough for referees as most of them have never played front row.
What are the most important skills for a young prop to learn?
It used to be all about scrummaging. Props were usually always big men, who were heavy and could use their weight and technique to get the better of their opponent. Nowadays, the way the game is evolving, props need to be big and strong but also as fit as backrow players. They need to be able to do it all, tackle, hit rucks, catch and pass and make the hard yards.
The first job and the most important is still the scrums. Young props need to work hard to strengthen their necks and shoulders and develop explosive power. This is rugby specific gym work and can help keep props safe come scrum time.
Young props also need to watch a lot of video of scrums. By watching videos of others, rugby players can learn a lot, like, good technique and timing. This is very important.
For young props they must focus on scrums. Props will always be judged on their scrummaging but really it is all about 8 players working together. Yes, props have to get into the best position and be physically strong and have good technique but if he does not have 7 other players beside and behind him working just as hard, he will not do well. The prop is is the player who transfers all that power from behind him into the opposing scrum. He needs to be as square as possible and as low as he can to transfer that power. He needs to win that engage, get his bind over his opposite prop as early as possible and get settled into a powerful position as quickly as possible. His legs need to be underneath him and not too far back, otherwise he will not be able to produce the pushing power. As a tighthead, he cannot attack the inside too early or else he gives the loosehead an opportunity to get under him. The tighthead must stay low. This is where a props core strength will be tested, so it is very important to work hard in the gym!
Biggest difference between loosehead & tighthead prop
The tighthead has two people in front of him in the scrums, the opposite loosehead and hooker and they are looking to attack you. This is why a tighthead must be as strong as possible and be able to defend himself against two opposite players.
As a loosehead, you have a shoulder free and this allows you to work more with a little more freedom. He is looking to get under the tighthead prop and drive him up and backwards.
A loosehead must have a strong back, whereas a tighthead is more about having strong shoulders and neck.
Advice for young props?
Do not get frustrated. I do not know many props who dominate others from a young age. Props tend to get stronger as they get older and through experience develop technique.
If you are not prepared technically, mentally and physically, it can be damaging. When I was 20 years old in the Rugby World Cup 2003, I was 110kg and running around and playing well, but my scrummaging was not at its best because I was too young. Scrums are a science, you need to be in the best shape but you also need to have the right mindset. Speaking with older props is very important. They have been through the same experience. Remember to stay patient and continue to learn and develop. There have been very few dominant props at 22 years of age. Props come into their best at 27 – 32 years old. Now, the game is seeing younger players so a prop might start to develop at about 25 or 26 years old.
Working on your mental strength and watching as much video as possible while getting advice from older props is all part of the development stage and needs a lot of work.
If you start playing rugby all over again, what position would you play?
That’s easy – prop!
It’s a tough position but it is the best. Scrummaging against another prop is a sport within a sport. It is another game within the game.
In my first game of rugby, I played in the second row and I did not like it. I was sore and my scrummaging was terrible! After the game, my coach told me that I should play prop because I had the physical attributes of a prop of the future. Turns out – he was right! Players should always listen to their coaches and seek advice from them.
There are two of them. I have not played much against Marcos Ayerza because we were both at Leicester Tigers but now that I am in Toulon, I may play against him more. I think he is the best loosehead in the world. I do not think he gets the recognition he deserves but if you look at the last Rugby Championship, he was very good.
Tony Woodcock of New Zealand would also be up there. He has been there for a long time and is a very tough opponent. He has lots of experience.
Watch Woodcock scores for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup Final in 2011
That’s tough to answer while you are still playing the game. I have been very fortunate to have good coaches throughout my career to date. Former Italian coach, John Kirwan picked me for my first Rugby World Cup in 2003 and showed a lot of belief in me. He developed me as a prop and really helped me.
Another former Italian coach, Nick Mallet really helped me. He is a very passionate coach and this inspires the players.
LineoutCoach Rugby Positions Series:
Martin Castrogiovanni Profile
Played for Argentina at U19 and u21 but played Senior level for Italy, winning his 100th against Fiji in 2013 Autumn Internationals.
First Prop and Italian to win Guinness Premiership Player of the Year, won in his debut year in the English top division.
Joined Leicester Tigers from Calvisano in 2006 and won 4 Premiership titles with the Tigers (07,09, 10 and 13).
Martin Castrogiovanni Test Career Statistics
|IRB Rugby World Cup||2003-2011||12||10||2||5||1||6||6||0||50.00|
Martin Castrogiovanni English Premiership Stats
Stats from ESPN.com