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Tighthead Prop - Position Guide

By Sam Smith
Tadhg Furlong is arguably the world's best tight head prop right now (Photo By Brendan Moran/Getty Images)

In many rugby circles, the tighthead prop is regarded as the most valued member of a rugby team.

Although they don’t usually do the work that a lot of casual spectators see and value, the success of most rugby teams hinges on the work that the tighthead prop does at set pieces. For example, if the tighthead prop is dominating the opposing loosehead prop in the scrum, then his hooker has a much easier job of accessing the ball.

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The tighthead prop is a strong player who relishes physical battles. Players who play in the tighthead prop position are usually at their happiest when smashing opponents in tackles, rucks and mauls. They also take great pride in their work at the scrum.

With this in mind, let’s take a more detailed look at the role of the tighthead prop.

In this guide, we’ll take an in-depth look at the position in question. We’ll look at what a tighthead prop does during a rugby match and the best tighthead props to ever play the game. We’ll also answer a number of popular reader questions.

What is a tighthead prop?

The tighthead prop is one of the three players who form the front row of the scrum. They stand on the right-hand-side of the hooker, who is on the right-hand-side of the loosehead prop.

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The tighthead prop position gets its name because this player’s head is on the inside of the scrum. In this respect, the tighthead prop is different to the loosehead, who binds with their head on the outside of the scrum.

Other names for a tighthead prop

Around the world, different rugby positions sometimes have different names. For example, the fly half is sometimes also known as the outside half, standoff or outhalf.

Thankfully, with the tighthead prop, we can avoid this confusion. This is because the tighthead prop is known by the same name by fans from all over the world.

What number is a tighthead prop?

Players in a game of rugby union wear shirts that are numbered from 1-15. These numbers are standardised, and the tighthead prop wears number 3.

This is because the tighthead prop is on the front row of the scrum alongside the loosehead prop (1) and the hooker (2).

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What is the average size of a tighthead prop?

Tighthead props tend to be strong and squat. To succeed in their job, they must be muscular, strong, tough and intimidating. Packing into a scrum is a very physically demanding job, and a short, thick and muscular neck is really useful. It can also decrease the risk of injury.

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Typically, a tighthead prop is around 1.85m (6ft1in) tall. But, along with their height, the best tighthead props are big and heavy. This is because the tighthead prop is the anchor of the scrum and needs to support the weight of both packs. For this reason, the average weight of an elite tighthead prop is 115-120kg (254-265lbs). It’s also worth saying that the tighthead prop is usually the heaviest player on the team.

What is the tighthead prop’s role?

The tighthead prop plays a vital role in a rugby union match. As the heaviest and biggest player on most teams, they act as the anchor for the side. They also play a crucial role in set pieces, such as scrums and lineouts.

With this in mind, let’s have a more detailed look at the role the tighthead prop plays, including their responsibilities in the scrum and during lineouts.

What is the tighthead prop’s role in scrums?

In the scrum, the tighthead binds onto the opposing loosehead prop by placing their right arm outside the left upper arm of the opposing loosehead prop.

The main difference between the tighthead prop and the loosehead prop is their position in the scrum. The tighthead prop has their head between the hooker and loosehead prop of the opposition. This ‘trapped’ position between the two led to the name ‘tighthead’.

When the tighthead prop’s team has the put-in at the scrum, their job is stabilisation. Their aim is to anchor the scrum and lower their body position so they are underneath their opponent. However, this is a careful balancing act. If the tighthead prop drops too low, the scrum will collapse and they may concede a penalty.

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When the opposition has the put-in at the scrum, the tighthead prop will work alongside their hooker to try and isolate either the opposition’s loosehead prop or the opposition’s hooker. In doing so, they can destroy the channel where the ball enters, or make it incredibly difficult for the hooker to effectively strike the ball.

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What is the tighthead prop’s role in lineouts?

During the lineout, the loosehead prop and the tighthead prop usually work as the team’s two lifters. As the strongest players on the team, they’re responsible for lifting the catcher, holding them in positon and bringing them down safely once they’ve caught the ball.

To function effectively in the lineout, a tighthead prop must be light on their feet. This way, they can move around to the assigned jumper and make decoy runs that will catch the opposition off guard.

What is the tighthead prop’s role in rucks?

At ruck time, tighthead props usually act as ‘the cleaner’. Their job is to ensure that possession is always protected. This means that tighthead props usually clear tacklers and other opposition players away from the ball. To be effective in this role, a tighthead prop has to move quickly.

In addition to this, as a ball carrier, the tighthead prop needs to generate some forward momentum and then use this and their weight to tire opposition defenders. It’s the job of a tighthead prop to run into weak opposition shoulders. When attempted tackles are made, they also need to drive their legs to create forward momentum.

On defence, the tighthead prop should aim to slow down the opposition ball by driving into the ruck. However, when doing this, they must abide by the rules of the ruck in order to avoid giving away a penalty.

What is the tighthead prop’s role in mauls?

The tighthead prop also plays an important role in mauls, where they’re responsible for protecting the lifted player so that the ball can be safely transferred to the back of the maul.

Once a maul has formed, the tighthead prop is responsible for driving and getting the maul moving forwards. Again, speed is of the essence here, and the tighthead prop must use their size and strength to get the maul moving before the scrum half is told to ‘use it’ by the referee.

On defence, the tighthead prop is responsible for stopping their opposite number from doing what is described above. In addition to this, they also have a very narrow window of opportunity where they can attempt to sack the maul. However, if they are unsuccessful in achieving this, their job becomes to prevent the maul from moving towards the goal-line.

Notable tighthead props

Hayman <a href=
All Blacks World Rugby dementia” width=”1024″ height=”640″ /> Carl Hayman was well regarded as one of the best tightheads ever. (Photo by Getty Images)

As part of our Hall of Fame, we asked rugby fans from all over the world who their favourite tighthead prop was. They overwhelmingly told us that legendary New Zealander Owen Franks was the best tighthead to ever play the game. It’s easy to see why, too. During his international career, he was capped more than 100 times by the All Blacks and won back-to-back Rugby World Cups in 2011 and 2015. Other popular tighthead props included Carl Hayman, Jannie du Plessis and Adam Jones.

Today, Tadhg Furlong is regarded as the best tighthead prop in the world. A superstar for Ireland and the British and Irish Lions, he’s a fierce competitor who has won almost every trophy available in the sport.

FAQs

To help you learn more about the role of the tighthead prop in a game of rugby union, we’ve answered a number of popular reader questions. So, read on to discover more about what makes a good tighthead prop, what work they do in the gym and how a tighthead prop can improve their scrummaging technique.

What makes a good tighthead prop?

To be successful, tighthead props must be strong and heavy. While the role of the loosehead prop is to understand angles and have impressive technique, tightheads instead need to be strong and able to withstand pressure.

Due to the physicality of the position, tighthead props spend a lot of time in the gym. A lot of elite tighthead props regularly squat more than 200kg.

What exercises do tighthead props do in the gym?

As we’ve mentioned, to excel in their position, tighthead props need to be incredibly big and strong. Due to their role at the scrum, tighthead props spend a lot of time in the gym working on their posterior chain. This includes exercises that focus on developing their glutes, hamstrings and lower back. However, tighthead props also complete exercises that strengthen their quads, shoulders and neck.

Exercises that are popular with tighthead props include:

  • Deadlifts
  • Back squats
  • Lunges
  • Overhead press
  • Barbell rows
  • Shrugs

Do you have any tighthead prop scrummaging tips?

The primary role of the tighthead prop is to dominate the scrum. To be as effective as possible while scrummaging, the tighthead prop must push the opposition’s loosehead prop down as much as possible. This way, the opposition’s hooker cannot see the ball and it becomes very difficult for them to strike the ball and hook it backwards.

To be effective in the scrum, a tighthead prop must get into a good position. You should be scrummaging on your loosehead’s head, not their chest. You should also have 3/4 of your chest over your toes in the crouch position.

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