Jason Ryan and Owen Franks are no longer on the same team, but that didn’t stop them banging their heads together and creating a potentially game-changing scrum machine.
Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan and Hurricanes prop Owen Franks last week launched Ironback Scrum, a machine three New Zealand Super Rugby teams have already purchased, and one already generating overseas interest.
Unlike a typical scrum machine, Ironback Scrum is suited to individual players honing their scrummaging technique, regardless of what position they play in the forwards.
“I think its point of difference is safety. Whether you're a 15-year-old school or club player, or a world leading tighthead prop that's played 100 plus tests, you can use this machine,” Ryan said.
“There’s not enough front rowers at the moment in the world. So this is something that can help."
“You can work on specifically your technique, understanding what a good strong pushing position is before you put seven or eight other guys around you on a scrum set in the middle of the park. That’s what we love about it, it’s a good coaching tool, as well as a tool that can make scrummaging safe for everyone.”
Already the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes have ordered the Christchurch-made machine, which weighs 140kg and can be loaded with up to 260kg.
Ryan and All Blacks centurion Franks want to get the product into schools and clubs, and are currently negotiating with a couple of rugby suppliers eager to become the global supplier for their creation, which they are yet to settle on a retail price for.
“If I was a young kid, or a coach coaching young kids into their first season of scrummaging, this would be a great tool. Almost like a warrant of fitness to make sure their technique can stack up,” Franks said.
“We just thought if you don’t have a good technique, it can be quite dangerous. Especially when they start pushing at 11 or 12. A kid that age, the body is growing, and you can easily screw that up with bad technique.”
Franks, the fifth-most capped Crusader (153), worked with forwards coach Ryan at the red and blacks between 2017-2019.
When the 34-year-old departed for Northampton, he left the half-ton monstrosity of a scrum machine he’d had made for himself after the 2015 World Cup in the Crusaders' gym.
Ryan and the Crusaders utilised it until Franks returned last year and repossessed his machine, prompting the pair to discuss building something similar, albeit streamlined and more practical.
With Franks rehabbing a busted Achilles, and Ryan not on tour with Fiji due to the pandemic, they teamed up with West Melton engineer Michael Fitzgerald and got to work late last year.
There was no shortage of trial and error, and plenty of thought went into everything from the name to the density of the foam in the pads.
“It's a bit different to the one I had,” Franks said. “This one is smaller, more compact...we've made the binding handles specific to the tighthead and loosehead and hookers, anyone that can push in a scrum.”
The pair, who plan to keep construction in Christchurch, had eight machines made to start, and didn’t go into the venture with any specific expectations.
However, highlighted by two rugby suppliers touching base, initial interest had “gone a bit mad”.
“There has been a lot of interest about it, and obviously the fact Owen is behind it from a playing point of view, and myself as a coach, it's the perfect sort of pair,” Ryan said.