Loosehead and Tighthead Prop in Rugby Union

Being a prop is not one of the glamorous positions in rugby. They are in the trenches on the rugby field. But when we look back at some of the great teams of all time, they were often headed by a brilliant pair of props who could scrummage against anyone. So this article should highlight exactly what the props do and the difference between the loosehead and tighthead props.

The Role of a Prop

The name of the position gives a little bit of insight into exactly what the position does. The name comes from the fact that in the scrum the props “prop up” the hooker in the scrum. Scrummaging is really the major role of props.

The props are the two players either side of the hooker in a scrum. The scrum is how we differentiate between the two positions. The Loosehead prop will be to the hookers left and their head will be on the outside of the scrum, or loose from the scrum.

Whereas the tighthead will be on the right hand side of the scrum and their head will be in between the oppositions hooker and loosehead prop when the scrum is engaged. This is why they are called a tighthead. The props are crucial to the success of the scrum.

A props main role is to get as much push as possible in the scrum. The scrum is a crucial contest in rugby that happens whenever there is a knock on or forward pass. Having a better scrum than the opposition is an easy way for a team to build up penalties as the opposition can’t legally stop the scrum.

The props tend to be the heaviest guys on the pitch as they need to be difficult to push back in the scrum. While it is important to be big and strong for a scrum, props also need good technique to scrummage correctly and successfully. The best props are able to push steadily with the help of the players driving them.

The technical stuff in the scrum is why you don’t necessarily see the strongest prop winning in the scrum every time. Some of the best props know how to keep their weight off the ground while driving in the scrum as well as being able to get their opposing player to concede a penalty through a number of different infringements in the scrum.

These props are built for the scrum. What you will often see is that the best props in the world are short with very broad shoulders and strong legs. This body type makes it easier for them to absorb the pressure of the locks and back row pushing them in the scrum and the powerful legs help them to drive hard in the scrum.

Scrummaging is such an important part of the game that it is considered a specialist role. That means only specialist front row players can be props and it is why we have seen uncontested scrums in the past when a team does not have enough front row specialists due to injury or cards during the game.

Scrummaging is certainly the most important role of a prop but they do have some other important roles outside of the scrum.

What do props do other than scrummage?

Particularly since rugby has become professional, the role of the prop has really expanded. One of the roles outside of the scrum that props have always done is be a lifter in the lineout. Due to being some of the strongest players on the team they are often the players lifting the jumpers in a lineout.

The timing is crucial here and props need to put the jumper in the best position to catch the lineout. This is a job that is partly there so that when the jumper lands the props can be near the front of the maul, driving it forward. It is a very important role for props that is often overlooked.

As Rugby has become more attacking and expansive, the role of props has grown massively. In attack we are seeing more examples of props being the primary ball carries for talented sides. This is partly down to props becoming faster and stronger through contact than ever before, led by some bulldozing props.

Guys like Ellis Genge, Uini Atonio and Kyle Sinckler are all great examples of modern day props who can be damaging when carrying the ball. Genge is the perfect example of this, with former England Head coach Eddie Jones using Genge in a fullback role in the 2022 Six Nations so that he could show off his brilliant destructive ball carrying.

This is something that we have partly seen because props are become better all around athletes. One of the jobs that has not changed for the props is in defence. Due to their massive size and frame, props are one of the first lines of defence for any team, particularly when the attacking team is close to the defending teams try line.

The props will be put there to stop the opposition from getting anywhere near the goal line as they are some of the biggest guys on the pitch and therefore can be the best line of defence against the opposition.

Prop Numbers

Props have designated numbers that they have to wear, they cannot choose what number they want. The starting Loosehead prop has to wear number 1, with the starting Tighthead prop wearing number 3. Quite often the props on the bench will be wearing 17 and 18.

Best Props in the World Right now

Ellis Genge- Loosehead Prop

Bristol Bears superstar Ellis Genge is arguably the best prop in the world right now. At 27 years old he is a brilliant ball carrier and incredibly destructive. Particularly over the last couple of years we have seen Genge become the primary ball carrier for England as well as for Bristol. He is the perfect example of the modern day, athletic prop.

Genge was always seen as an exciting talent and he was brought into the England set up at just 21 years old. Since then Genge has refined his game and become one of the best all around props in the world. If you wanted to see how good Genge is then just look at him running over Michael Hooper and Samu Kerevi when England toured Australia in Summer 2022.

One of his best attributes is that Genge has become a brilliant leader, captaining Leicester Tigers to the Premiership title in 2022. One of the first names on the England team sheet, Genge is a superstar on the international stage. He was the Loosehead prop for the 2022 World Rugby Dream Team of the Year.

Steven Kitshoff- Loosehead Prop

The Springboks were really driven to the 2019 Rugby World Cup title thanks to a brilliant scrummaging unit which is known as the bomb squad. This squad is really headed by Steven Kitshoff, with the Stormers prop being one of the best scrummagers in the world. Kitshoff is incredibly powerful.

Kitshoff has an incredibly powerful stature and it makes him brilliant for scrummaging and he was crucial to South Africa winning the World Cup. Kitshoff was also crucial to the Stormers winning the United Rugby Championship in 2022. Outside of scrummaging Kitshoff uses his brilliant stature in attack and defence.

The World Cup winner will be a big addition to Irish provincial side Ulster after the World Cup, a huge signing for the URC side.

Tadhg Furlong- Tighthead Prop

When you take a look at Tadhg Furlong you can see why he is one of the best props in th world. His 20 stone frame makes it incredibly difficult to move Furlong in the scrum and he has formed a formidable front row for Ireland and Leinster. Furlong is one of the best scrummagers in the world and incredibly valuable in the tighthead position.

While his power is his primary skill, Furlong is one of the worlds best because he has brilliant ball handling and smart running lines. It makes Furlong a brilliant weapon in attack, with Furlong able to make an offload after a powerful run. He is also an excellent defender and it is why Furlong has been a part of so many successful teams.

A Grand Slam winner with Ireland in 2018, Furlong also has four Pro 14 titles to go along with a European Rugby Champions Cup. He has been the Tighthead prop for the World Rugby Dream Team of the Year for the last couple of years.

Uini Atonio- Tighthead Prop

Uini Atonio is one of the biggest players in the world, with his 25 stone frame being incredibly difficult to stop. Atonio was born in New Zealand, attending the same college that produced All Blacks like Nepo Laulala, Charles Piutau and New Zealand legend Jonah Lomu.

Despite that Atonio never broke through in New Zealand and he was recruited to play for La Rochelle for the 2011-12 season. Atonio has been with the same team since and made his international debut with France in 2014 thanks to completing three years of residency. Since then Atonio has been a mainstay for France and he is in phenomenal form.

Atonio started all five games as France won the 2022 Grand Slam as well as starting in the 2022 European Champions Cup Final. He is one of the most powerful players in the world and a huge part of the La Rochelle and France team.

Best Props of all time

Tendai Mtawarira

When your nickname is “The Beast”, you have to be an excellent forward. Tendai Mtawarira is one of the best rugby players in Springboks history, making 117 appearances for South Africa, winning 65% of the games he played for South Africa. He is the fifth most capped prop of all time.

The beast played 159 times for the Sharks and his huge frame was complimented by him being one of the most powerful players in rugby. His ball carrying was incredibly difficult to stop and Mtawarira was crucial to South Africa winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup Final, being able to outdo Dan Cole in the scrums after Kyle Sinckler was substituted two minutes into the game.

Jason Leonard

Born in Barking in London, Jason Leonard did not get into rugby as a professional. He joined the sport when it was still amateur, with his move to Harlequins in 1990 not being a full time contract Leonard, he continued his side trade of being a Carpenter.

This was still the case when Rugby became professional and Leonard remained one of the first names on the team sheet for England. There have been few scrummagers as powerful as Leonard and it is part of why he made 114 appearances for England as well as five appearances for the British and Irish Lions. Leonard came off the bench for England in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final.

There were few people who could scrummage quite as well as Leonard.

Os du Randt

South Africa have been able to produce some incredible front row players and Os du Randt is one of the best they have had all time. Having broken through the Cheetahs side in the early 1990s, Randt made his international debut in 1994, starting in the 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph.

What is most incredible about his career is that Randt did not play rugby for three years in his prime due to a neck injury. Despite that, just two years after making his return to the sport Randt again started in a Rugby World Cup final, helping the Springboks to defeat England in the 2007 Rugby World Cup Final.

Randt is one of the few players to win multiple Rugby World Cup’s and the only member of the 1995 team to also be on the 2007 World Cup winning side. A World Rugby Hall of Famer, Randt is largely regarded as one of the best props of all time.

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