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Meet the SaberCats’ most reliable teammate: The scrum machine

The machine lets players practice a little safer, without the wear and tear on their own bodies.

HOUSTON — They’re locked and loaded. Then, it’s plant, chant and drive.

During a Houston SaberCats training session, you can’t miss it: the padded scrum machine. Instead of knocking shoulders with teammates, the machine is a safer way to practice scrummaging, which is rugby’s method of restarting play.

“It’s definitely a dark art of rugby,” Luke Beauchamp said.

The scrum machine is like a blocking sled. The team weighs it down as much as possible and then has the guys go to work.

“It’s a show of power and possession of the ball,” Nik Hildebrand said.

The SaberCats play their last home match on June 26 at AVEVA Stadium and are 2-10 in Major League Rugby. The players estimate their machine now weighs 800 or 900 pounds.

“It's like constant pressure on your back on your neck,” Nikoloz Khatiashvili said. “When you're trying to move something heavy and your whole body's kind of shaking you feel in your head. Yeah, that's it, but it's vertical.”

In other words, its impact is felt each day.

“Do you have a love-hate relationship with that thing? No, only love. All love,” Khatiashvili said. “You got the love it if you do what we do. Does it love you back? Not necessarily.”

The scrum machine is why the Houston SaberCats' most reliable teammate is dead weight.