The Art Of Scrummaging!

Pretty spicy development in the world of the cauliflower and flat ears today as ex Argentina and Australian prop Enrique “TOPO” Rodriguez releases his book called “The Art of Scrummaging” …

Yes, my friends, it is an art, and a beautiful one at that … “In the sense that it is a skill acquired through practice and observation as in the art of conversation. The art of war is another example as the scrum also requires strategy, tactics and techniques of assembly and engagement” Says TOPO …

TOPO Rodriguez was born in Concordia, Argentina in 1952. He started his rugby career as a 19-year-old playing for the University of Cordoba while studying psychology. He played wing, centre, and flyhalf, and after giving the back row a go as well, he finally found his home in the front row – one of the very few comfortable in all three positions.

TOPO started playing for Argentina in 1978, quickly establishing himself as one of the best tight head props in the world.  His legendary force in the scrum earned him the nickname TOPO, which means ‘mole’ in Spanish. In the next six years he was capped 15 times for Argentina before deciding on a move with his family to Australia in 1984, where he earned 26 caps for the Wallabies, including playing in the first ever RWC.

He continued to play at club level for Warringah Rugby Club in Sydney until 1992 before finally calling it a day at the age of 40. TOPO also captained the Barbarian Football Club in their Centenary Celebration tour of Scotland and Ireland (1991).

How The ART of Scrummaging was born …

TOPO was playing for Warringah RC in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.  After the game he entered the clubhouse to find everyone in shock at the news that the match between Sydney University and Western Suburbs had been interrupted and a helicopter had airlifted Grant Harper, Wests’ tight head prop with a suspected neck injury. That was the moment that changed his approach to the safety of the scrum

TOP had also had his own brush with quadriplegia in 1981 at the age of 29 … Argentina played England in Buenos Aires and drawn the second Test – which they treated like a win! It was a Saturday night and they celebrated hard! TOPO got to bed about 7.00 AM, slept for 4 hours, then went to the airport to catch a flight to Cordoba, where his club Tala RC was playing a top of the ladder clash against Palermo Bajo RC. A car was waiting for him at the airport, he got changed inside the car and arrived at Tala RC five minutes before kick off.

About 20 minutes into the second half, a scrum was awarded to Tala. TOPO was playing hooker and for some reason dropped his head to look at the lock’s feet. The other pack anticipated the engagement cutting off TOPO’s time to get back to a safe position. The whole opposition pack hit him on the back of the neck, causing hyperflexion of his neck muscles. He brushed it off and continued playing!

As he hit the dressing room he started feeling unwell and went home. Two hours later, he was at home in bed unable to move most of his body.  A doctor friend came to see him, administering a mountain of anti-inflamatories, vitamin B1+B6+B12 injections and an order to do absolutely nothing.

Consequences and advice in TOPO’s words: “Two weeks off training, and a loss of strength in the arm and shoulders which lasted some 12 months before I started to get back to normal. My advice would be that backing up from a Saturday to a Sunday is not a smart option! The risk is far too high. My injury occurred due to exhaustion. I was being “invincible” spurred on by my team mates. If I had a little bit of sense I would have left the field. My judgment was very much at fault on that occasion”

Fast forward to 2003. The Rugby World Cup is being played in Sydney. It’s the semi-final between Australia and New Zealand. Ben Darwin goes down injured. All precautions are taken. Doctors and ambulances arrive. Those that were already concerned about safety in scrums had their fears confirmed. The others now had something to worry about. It formed a seminal moment for the IRB which TOPO puts down to them “Managing their own liability”.

The ART of Scrummaging was born. Other activities precluded TOPO from taking a full time role but the CROUCH-TOUCH-PAUSE-ENGAGE innovation was another light bulb moment: “Having seen the destruction created by this thoughtless strategy, instead of pulling all my hair out I decided to dust off my old Scrummaging Manual for Coaches, and team up with a writer. 18 months later here we are. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: The ART of Scrummaging” says TOPO.

It is a 225 page thesis on scrumming, and very technical. And while TOPO does spend a bit of time blowing smoke up his own arse, it is an amazing read that will give anyone with an interest in rugby an extremely thorough understanding of the scrum. I love his notion that the CPTE call is causing problems, and agree fully that the skew feed is causing the scrums to collapse because teams no longer hook the ball, so have no need to be high …

For more on the book, and to buy it, head to

Topo Rodriquez

One Comment

  1. Agree 100% on the skew ball at scrum time – amazing that refs can pick up the 1mm forward pass but cant see the 1m skew put in to the scrum.

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