drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Friday, June 09, 2006

Essentials of the Argentinian 'Bajada' rugby scrum

Argentinian teams are renowned for the effectiveness of their scrummaging and the central importance of the scrum to their game. From an early age, Argentinian forwards are schooled in the 'Bajada' or 'Bajadita,' a radically different scrum method invented in the late 'Sixties by the legendary Francisco Ocampo.

The most obvious characteristic of the Bajada is that second-rowers bind with their external arms around the prop's hip rather than between their legs. But, as explained by Springbok coach Jake White (SARugby.com), one defining characteristic of the method is that "all the power is directed into the hooker. In other words, they scrum along an imaginary arrow drawn pointing inwards from either side of the No 8, which means all the power is directed towards the hooker."

The other defining characteristic is the "Empuje Coordinado" or "Coordinated Push." "The scrumhalf gives a three part call after the "engage". On "pressure" all members of the pack tighten their binds and fill their lungs with air. On the call "one" everyone sinks; the legs at this point should be at 90 degrees. On "two" the pack comes straight forward while violently expelling the air from their lungs. A key note is that nobody moves their feet until forward momentum is established. If the first drive is insufficient the scrumhalf begins the call again and the opposing pack is usually caught off guard and pushed back." Rugby Union from the Virtual Library of Sport

A more detailed explanation of the Bajada was recently published in the World Rugby Forum. It was written by Sergio Espector, a Level 3 coach with Club San Patricio in Buenos Aires. Sergio played for 27 years with the Club and has coached for nearly 20 years. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce his notes which I have reformatted - hopefully without too much distortion of his meaning:

Empuje Coordinado is the resultant of a lot of little details in the way that the props place their feet, the locks bind,and the flankers and the number-eight bind and push too. The eight players push at the same time and in three movements, put all the power to the center of the front row. But the most important thing is that here in Argentina we believe that the scrum is not just another way to put the ball in play.

To have a successful scrum with all eight forwards pushing in a coordinated way, the players' obligations are:

  • to respect individual techniques;

  • to respect group techniques;

  • to not initiate individual confrontations;

  • to stay in place before the opponent and focus on the task to be carried out; and

  • to undertake physical training appropriate to the demands of their position.

  • Individual skills

  • Backs to be straight

  • Heads lifted up

  • Hips lower than shoulders

  • Knees flexed to 90 degrees

  • All eight forwards must bind strongly and there must be no space between players

  • Feet placement must not change when the scrum is formed

  • All players must be able to see the ball at every moment in the scrum

  • Feet placement must be shoulder width

  • Correct body position

    Front row

  • Props bind strongly on the hooker below the armpits, and the hooker binds on the props in the same way

  • Hooker's feet in line

  • Props' internal foot in line with the hooker's feet, and external foot a little bit backward

  • Hooker determines the right distance between packs

  • At referee's signal to engage crouch and drive forward

  • Never enter diagonally or across the opponent

  • Heads should be in contact with the chest of the opponent

  • The push must be FORWARD

  • Second row

  • They bind on the other second-rower around their back

  • They bind on the prop with their external arm around prop's hip and strongly pull together the front row

  • Before engagement must have the knee of their internal leg resting on the ground

  • Internal foot a little bit backward

  • The shorter second-rower binds under the taller one

  • Heads below props' and hooker's buttocks

  • Back Row

  • Flankers bind on the second-rower below the other second-rower's arm

  • Flankers' external hands on ground

  • Number-eight binds around the second-rowers' hips

  • All must have feet in line

  • Flankers put shoulders below prop's buttocks

  • Number-eight puts head between the second-rowers' buttocks

  • Pack Technique

  • After referee's command: "Engage"

  • First command by the scrum half: "Pressure" - on this command the eight players must grip strongly with their arms and fill up lungs with air

  • Second command by the scrum half: "One" - at this time all eight players must flex their knees to 90 degrees

  • Third command by the scrum half: "Two" - the scrum half puts the ball into the scrum, or his opponent puts the ball in, and the players must expel the air in their lungs while pushing violently FORWARD, never up or down, nor to the side

  • With this all the force is transmitted to the hooker

  • Players must never move their feet off the ground until they overcome their opponents and have positive inertia - it is very important that the hooker respects this even though he has the ball under his feet

  • It is not necessary to hook the ball, but in my club we use hooking when the ball is put in by us, and all players push when the ball is put by the opponents

  • We spend a lot of time in training, developing individual and group skills to be able to scrum the way we like, because we think scrum is a strength that not only produces benefits to our forwards' minds, but equally produces collateral damage in our opponents. This is because in the first place their front-rowers and second-rowers lose energy to contribute to open play, and in modern rugby if you don't have 15 players playing all the time you are lost, and in the second place their back-rowers lose speed in defense, because they are busy pushing.


    Nick said...

    Great post Bruce. The little nuances make all the difference.

    I really notice the emphasis on head up back straight pushing and the use of abdominal pressure (drawing in of air on pressure) to enhance postural stability and bring the torso under stiffening tension (as per McGill's back programme).

    The knee bend at 90 degree is good as they will quickly move to the strongest range at around 110 to 140 degree as the push comes on.

    The hips lower than head and heads up on front row will result in a slightly upward drive on the opposition, which is good.

    Interested in the no hooking statement.

    Oranje_Orakel said...

    Any ideas on the Bajada counter?

    Bruce Ross said...

    Like you, Nick, I am very impressed by the sound biomechanics of the Bajada scrum and its consequent efficiency of force delivery.

    There are a number of aspects of Argentinian scrummaging that could be profitably adopted in other countries. In particular the principle of the "Empuje Coordinado" underlines the necessity for synchronised action both with respect to timing - "The eight players push at the same time and in three movements" - and also limb positions - "all eight players must flex their knees to 90 degrees."

    Having all players initially adopt 90 degree flexion at both hips and knees gives the lowest possible effective pushing position and, as you state, prepares them to "quickly move to the strongest range at around 110 to 140 degree as the push comes on."

    I also strongly agree with the injunction that "nobody moves their feet until forward momentum is established" or alternatively "Players must never move their feet off the ground until they overcome their opponents and have positive inertia." The nonsense of trying to shuffle forward the instant that weight is applied is a reflection of a lack of understanding of the biomechnics of force delivery. I believe that this emphasis on "chattering feet" stems from players learning scrum technique with scrum machines which, unlike live scrums, conveniently slide forward and do not push back.

    Another stipulation that could be worth adopting is that "All players must be able to see the ball at every moment in the scrum." This automatically keeps the head up and the spine in proper alignment for pushing. I know that this is something that you emphasise on your own site, Nick, for example when you mention "players making tackles and entering contact in rucks and mauls with their heads down, which has the effect of rounding the cervical and upper thoracic regions of the spine." Contact Conditioning Coach Keeping the ball in sight also means that players know exactly when the ball has left the scrum.

    I haven't given any thought to how the Bajada might be countered, oranje. One thing that comes to mind is that if all the force is being concentrated onto a single point, i.e., the hooker, their scrum might be vulnerable to an application of the judo principle. By not attempting to resist them at that point, but instead directing our own power to the loosehead side, it might be relatively easy to rapidly wheel their scrum.


    Oranje_Orakel said...

    I wonder If balie Swart and the other "kleva" fellows in green have read this

    Carlos said...


    Very interestng for me, being an Argentinean prop, and playing in a club where this technique is used (because it is not used by all the clubs, only the clubs that pay tibute to Ocampo`s playing style).

    I`d like to add 3 comments to complement your information:

    1 &This terchniques were created by Francisco Ocampo , a rugby educator for many years. He saw that the bigger strongerr fowards of France, SA and Brtish Lions ,the first international teams touring Argentina, destroyed smaller argentinean fowards , and decided to find a way to counter this. He was inspired in the rowers coordination, as he lived in Bella Vista, near Bs As, where this sport was practiced in the Reconquista River. His legacy was continued in the San Isidro Club by "Veco Villegas" with great results locally, and Internationaly (this club draw with the Gazelles 18-18, and also many years later equalled the score with the Wallabies, including a pushover try. We are talking about a club).

    2It is interesting to note that the learning and training of the bajadita, is done without scrum machines at all. This devices are directly taken away from the clubs with this scrum technique. The scrum training is always individual first, and then pack against pack.

    3 Oranje, question how to caounter this . We have seen that this technique is not used in a pure way by Pumas, as not all the fowards have it incorporated. Any way there are some traces of it in the Argentina national team . The strength an power of the international packs, and the , quick explosive push we see nowadays is a good way to counter it, as the bajada requires different timing. If one pack, anticipates the other with a quick powerful drive, the other will recieve the weight and won`t be able to make the sequence of the coordinated push. The bajada was tremendously succesful in the 70`s when most of the teams tried to hook the ball. Any way , I would lioke to see if 8 international fowards apllying the bajada in a pure way nowadays to see what happens. Because as Ocampo said,"5 fingers and a fist, the same way we don`t need 8 fowards, but a pack"

    Bruce Ross said...


    Thank you for fleshing out some more details of the Bajada scrum. One of the first things I noted was the fact that it was devised as a means for smaller forwards to counter the power of the visiting teams.

    Then there is the fact that Ocampo was influenced by the coordination of rowing crews and his mantra, "5 fingers and a fist, the same way we don`t need 8 forwards, but a pack."

    It would be most interesting to see the Bajada technique employed by a pack which matched the foreign professional teams in terms of strength development and modern training methods. I suspect that facilities are rather basic in most Argentinian clubs.