Prop idle

August 30, 2006

So it appears that rugby’s fabled old farts are thinking the unthinkable, and considering ruling out the contested scrummage. As those of you who know me may have guessed by now, I am firmly of the opinion that this is A Bad Idea.

Those who don’t play rugby — and many of those who do — are not aware of what goes on in the admittedly murky area of the front row. As a tight head prop, I find myself in the thick of it on a regular basis. And as I mentioned the other day, I love it. And here’s why.

In Beyond A Boundary, CLR James describes his love of cricket in terms of it being a battle between individuals in the midst of a team game. Propping is perhaps microcosmic of this, but is the closest you’ll get to it on a rugby pitch. Come saturday afternoon at 3pm, I’ll line up on the pitch wearing a number 3 on my back. There’ll be someone else from the other team wearing 1. Either I’m stronger and smarter than him, or vice versa. Either way, one of us will be having a long afternoon of at times extreme discomfort. You just don’t get that playing at stand off.

With that last statement, I do not mean to diminish the contribution of the second row. To the second rows who read it (indeed — to the second rows who can actually read), let me explain. I reckon that with Martin Johnson behind me at 5, I’d scrummage better. However, if Charles Hawtrey was playing second row, I’d probably not do too badly. Conversely, even with Johnson at second row, a scrummage propped by Hawtrey would only ever go in one direction. Even with the best second row in the world, you need a good prop in order to have a functioning scrum.

It is one of the great things about rugby union that pretty much everyone can play it, regardless of their body shape (I’d put Hawtrey on the wing, by the way. And then hope that the ball never reached him. Or his opposite number). Fast, agile people can play in the back 3. Stocky, powerful runners can play in the centre. Wiry, elusive players make up your half backs. Then in the forwards, you have big, powerful, tireless sociopaths in the back row, pituitary cases at lock, and fatties up front. Everyone gets a game. To emasculate the scrummage would be to remove this unique point of rugby. Without any need for my not insubstantial bulk, why not put three more flankers into the front row? What other sport can I play? It’s too late to train to be a synchronised swimmer, and I don’t think that one can take up 3 day eventing on one of these.

Everyone scrummages with their eyes open to the possibilities, yet we still choose to do it. Mostly because there’s nothing else we can do.

I cannot imagine rugby without the scrummage (well, maybe I can). It is more than just a method by which the game can be restarted. It is a chance to launch an attacking platform, irrespective of which team puts the ball in. For me, the sight of a French loose head coming onto the pitch with most of his jersey cut off just because he was afraid of scrummaging against The Great One was a defining moment of my rugby upbringing. Although it is easy to miss the fineries, to watch the likes of Julian White, Carl Hayman, Jason Leonard, Martinleandro Castrogiovanni, Os du Randt, or Paul Rendall ply their trade — taking apart the opposition in their own quiet way — is a joy.

To sum up, I have enormous sympathy for people who have been seriously injured during a scrummage. However, by the RFU’s own admission, of the 23 serious spinal injuries sustained on the field between 1997 and 2002, seven of these were during scrummages. And that means that the other 16 were sustained somewhere else. Why victimise the scrummage?


6 Responses to “Prop idle”

  1. Three flankers in the front row? Steve Thompson and Andrew Sheridan have both played in the back row. Two out of three ain’t bad, as a potential prop once sang.

  2. MushyMajor Says:

    Sounds like a smokescreen by the RFU to get rid of (uncontested) scrums altogether in order to speed up the game.

    RFU thinking: faster game = more appeal to the masses

    Tell you what, while they’re at it, why not get rid of a couple of players from each side to open up space on the pitch and restart from a roll back after each successful tackle? Limit each side to ‘sets’ of 6 tackles, and a brand new sport is born.

    Oh, and I quite like the thought of being a tireless sociopath. KILL!!!

  3. lawrence Says:

    Although at the same time, they are trying to decrease the number of uncontested scrums. Looks like they’re confused. I, for one, am shocked.

  4. Andy Lee Says:

    My wife would be quite pleased if they got rid of the scrum. All those weekends that would not involve me and my 10 year old watching 6 nations games, all the extra jobs she could get me to do 😉

  5. Matt Says:

    Isn’t there a hidden agenda here to unite the two codes? Once you eliminate scrums from union – ostensibly on safety grounds – then there’s no need for props and they can retire to their natural habitat of chip shops and pubs. Within a few years union and league would be virtually indistinguishable and a merger then a mere formality.

  6. […] One vote, and this will signal the end of rugby union as we know it. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Scrummaging is not the most dangerous part of the game. Tackling is. However, if you remove scrummaging and tackling from the game, why not remove those dangerous pointy ends from the ball, and make it spherical. From there, you can get rid of those high posts which could easily fall down in a breeze. And why not stop the possibility of finger injuries by only allowing the ball to be kicked. […]

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