Rob Vickers open-minded on prop experiment

Rob Vickers remains open-minded about the front-row experiment which has seen the Newcastle Falcons hooker deployed at prop-forward

Newcastle Falcons player Rob Vickers
Newcastle Falcons player Rob Vickers

Rob Vickers remains open-minded about the front-row experiment which has seen the Newcastle Falcons hooker deployed at prop-forward.

The 31-year-old featured on the loose-head side for part of their victorious RFU Championship run-in, and has again popped up in the No 1 spot during their pre-season schedule.

Asked about the longer-term prospects, the former England Saxons hooker said: “To be confirmed, I think, is the best way of putting it.

“I had a half at loose-head against Bath, and that is something we are looking at as an option to see how it goes. As yet nothing more is confirmed about whether that is going to be a permanent move, a temporary move or just another string to the bow.”

Not dead-set against the experiment, Vickers added: “I have really enjoyed playing loose-head, and it has been great working with our front-row coach Micky Ward on the technical aspects of playing at prop.

“Wardy is a true Jedi of scrummaging, and he sees that there is the potential there for me. I just follow his lead and see how it works, and the more opportunities I get there – if indeed I do get them – will decide whether or not it is something we pursue longer term.”

Whether he stays at hooker or chooses to specialise at prop, one thing the Durham University graduate will have to contend with is the International Rugby Board’s new scrummaging sequence, one which forces the two front-rows to bind on to each other before impact.

Aimed to avoiding the barrage of collapsed and re-set scrums, Vickers said: “The entire project depends on the policing of it, and how the referees interpret things.

“It has been suggested that the front-rows will be much closer together before the engagement, but whether or not that is strictly enforced is the main thing.

“The put-in of the ball is going to have a big impact, as well as the referee deciding when the ball can go in, if the scrum is stationary. I really feel it is going to take time before we have a more accurate idea of whether or not the changes are working.”

With officials being told to be strict in making scrum-halves out the ball into the centre of the tunnel, Vickers joked: “Hookers might have to actually hook for the ball, as opposed to the sort of Cruyff turn we have perfected previously!

“When the ball was put into the scrum in previous seasons you just basically deflected it with a bit of a glancing blow, but it is an interesting development and a lot of people are waiting to see how it all unfolds.

“The positioning of the referee will be interesting, and to what extent his commands allow the defensive tight-head prop to really attack the scrum.

“One positive effect could be that it gives the defending pack more enthusiasm to really go for the opposition ball. You will still have to be technically strong in maintaining your own ball, but on opposition put-ins it means you might have licence to just go for out-and-out aggression.”

Now ready for the campaign after a brief gap between seasons, he added: “We were later in than normal due to the Championship final not finishing until May 29, although we had a shorter break with only getting three weeks off from the end of the season.

“The amount of work we have had to do has been about the same, the input from the coaches has been good and the players have got a lot out of it.

“We had three weeks off after the Championship final, but the coaches have been good and given us another week off in July as part of the schedule. That has freshened the lads up, and we are ready to go again.”

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