Tom O’Toole ready to go extra mile for Ulster
Gone are the days when a prop was just expected to use their considerable frames to push a scrum forward.
The modern prop is still expected to dominate in the scrum, lift in the line-out, be dynamic around the park with good hands to get involved in link-up play and win the odd turnover at the ruck. While most French and South African sides still go for the mantra of big is beautiful when it comes to front row forwards, Ireland have prospered with the likes of Cian Healy and Tadgh Furlong both world class scrummagers and electric in open play.
Ulster prop Tom O’Toole - recently included in Andy Farrell’s Ireland autumn squad - believes it’s about striking the right balance between baulk and ability in the loose.
“When I was younger, I needed to put on size and bulk. I think that helped scrummaging when I got older, I think, especially with Dan (McFarland) and the way we like to play and scrummage, we’re a very technical scrum,” said O’Toole.
“We really analyse everything we do and do everything with a purpose and explain why we scrum in a particular way.
“It’s a hard one because there’s an element of being technical, but you need a side of aggression and going after teams.
“Traditionally with Irish teams, we’d be a technical scrum compared to maybe France or England or South Africa with massive, aggressive packs who maybe try and steamroll you,” he added.
“We’re not the biggest so we have to be more technical, ultimately you have to be strong but the way we like to play with Ulster, we play fast, we like to move the ball and if you put on too much weight you won’t be able to shift around the park.”
O’Toole was happy with he way Ulster stood up to the Emirates Lions’ scrum in the bonus point victory last Friday night.
“It’s something we put a real emphasis on during that week, any team that looked at the Lions would have said the same - that this was a side who get massive purchase out of their scrum.
“For us, in front of our own fans, as a front-row we knew it was going to need a collective effort against a massive pack, a lot of weight, we had to make sure we got the technical stuff right.
“There’s that internal voice that just drives you on, that competitive side where you just want to make sure that you don’t give them anything.
“I think we did that, the scrum has been a massive in for them and we knew we couldn’t give that to them, one penalty and they’re 40 yards down the piece.
“To take that away would be a massive advantage for us and we can take a lot of encouragement.
“But each week is a different challenge and as a tight-head I think I’ve found that when you start to feel comfortable that’s when you start to make mistakes.
“It’s about taking learnings from good games or bad and bringing them into next week, for me, I can’t be comfortable or happy, I have to push on.” O’Toole is glad Ulster are playing Connacht at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night and not in Galway.
“When we prepare to play Connacht, you’re usually preparing for any and every kind of weather,” he said.
“Rain, wind, you have to be ready for all the elements. Going to Dublin, we’re all in the same boat, travelling.
“Hugely exciting, there’ll be a good energy but what they’re going to bring, that won’t change. It’s the same physicality, it’s the same dangerous ball carriers. We know what to expect.”