ENGLAND’S drive towards the Six Nations Grand Slam is being helped by Scottish rugby ingenuity.
Scottish rugby coach and inventor Richie Gray has launched a new training machine with manufacturers Rhino and thanks to technical expertise from Heriot-Watt University. It follows the success of his Rhino Collision King, which is now being used by Test squads and leading Super Rugby and Heineken Cup sides to improve their rucking technique.
The new invention, to be launched this month, is termed the Maul King and has been in the England training camp since early in the RBS Six Nations Championship.
Graham Rowntree, the England and British and Irish Lions assistant coach, said: “The Maul King training aid is specifically designed and engineered to simulate the effects of a real time maul formation, creating an outstanding training aid to develop mauling technique before going into live practice. The way that the machine will not move unless all your players are in sync is very impressive.”
Gray revealed that he had not sent the machine to England until after they had played Scotland, however.
“It is all fair in love and war, and in business,” said the Borderer, “and England have a tie-up with Rhino, so that is why they have had first use of the ‘Maul King’. But we couldn’t have them getting an advantage on Scotland in the opening game, so they received it the week after.
“I spent a lot of time working out a concept that I hoped could seriously improve teams’ technique in the maul area, which is a key part of the game, and bring consistency to what players are asked to do and can achieve.”
Gray, a former Gala and South lock forward and coach, founded Global Sports Innovation to pioneer the development of training equipment around the advances in the modern game. The Maul King is designed to improve individual and collective roles, movement and tactical awareness.
He revealed that the latest project required mechanical engineering assistance, which is where Heriot-Watt came in.
Dr Daniil Yurchenko from the university worked with Gray over the past three years to develop scientific principles around the science of collision. His models helped Gray to analyse how a typical rugby player’s physique would respond to pressure and charges from various angles and at various strengths.
Dr Yurchenko said: “The main challenge in designing the Maul King was that, although we knew the practical reasons for making it, we didn’t have any models to base it on.”
The design project was part-funded through the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Voucher Scheme, which matches funding up to £5,000 for collaborative projects between SMEs and universities in Scotland. The end result is a 50kg machine with a 360-degree base plate that recreates the movement of a straight drive or rolling maul.
Gray still lectures at Borders College as well as being Rhino Rugby’s specialist skills coach, and he returned this week from a coaching seminar with South Africa’s High Performance Unit, where the Maul King was part of his demonstrations on improvements in the game.
He added: “That was good fun and it’s amazing how, as coaches, wherever we are in the world we are all looking for the same thing – an edge, and the ability to ensure our players get that edge consistently.
“I’m really pleased with the machine and the reaction it has got. After the way the Collision King went, I had this nagging thing about how we in Scotland, particularly, had to get better at mauling, and believe me I’ve studied the maul to a ridiculous degree.
“But the way the game is now, with guys so big and powerful, you just can’t send them smashing into each other in training every day to practise techniques without the risk of serious injury, so the machines will allow much more practice.
“But they’re just as good for youngsters as they are for international teams – I tested them out on the students at Borders College first.”
As for whether he could invent a machine to help officials referee scrums consistently, Gray added: “There are some things that might take a bit longer, but I’m already looking at where we could go next.”