Why rugby forwards are better than backs
Sick of arguing whether your code is better than their code, is it more popular, more international, older, classier, tribal, Australian, whatever?
Well, step right up to an argument that has been around as long as my favourite game. Allow me to open with a riddle:
Question: What do you call guys who hang around with rugby players?
One of my favourite coaches used to refer to the backs as the ‘card board cut-outs’. While the things that are uniquely rugby are going on – scrummaging, lineouts, rucking and mauling – the card board cut outs are all lined up, socks pulled up, jerseys tucked in, hair neatly combed, noses unbroken and fingers waggling waiting for the ball.
That is the crux of the divide between backs and forwards to me – backs wait for the ball, while the forwards play rugby. If all you do is run, catch, pass, kick and tackle then what is uniquely rugby union about what you do? There is another code where you can do those things as well, but if you want proper scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls, there is only one code you can play.
Backs literally only play half the game and do not participate in the things that make union different from other codes. Forwards do get involved in the other half of the game by tackling, running, passing and even on occasion kicking – just look at John Eales, Zinzan Brooke and, dare I say it, Matt Dunning.
The relationship between forwards and backs is much like that between a parent and child. The backs are like kids who enjoy having a ball to play with, occasionally they lose the ball and start to cry and wail until the forwards go and retrieve it.
‘Daddy, the mean kids stole my ball, get it back for me’ – they aren’t just children but scared little ones to boot! At that point the forwards have to man up and go into the dark spaces to get the ball back so that the backs can ‘play’ some more.
The forward in his very nature is a giver, who fights for possession and then gives it to his little mates to play with and when they lose it he goes in to fight for it again. The back by contrast waits for the ball and will even complain if the ball given to him is messy and not served up silver service on a platter.
I feel the need to hop off the attack onto defence for a minute, forwards are often maligned and unfairly regarded as unintelligent. Just because we are big and do not necessarily have the skills of our smaller, fleeter friends does not mean we are slow between the ears. In particular front rowers are unfairly targeted with this type of discrimination but a perusal of players like Uli Schmidt, Euan Murray, Geoff Cross, Karl Mullen, Ken Kennedy, Tommy Smyth and current Boks front ranker Jannie du Plessis shows a grouping not just of front rowers but also medical doctors.
If medical boards are prepared to register these men then their intelligence should be beyond question. Further the intricacies of lineout calls are effectively a language in themselves.
The calls need to determine which jumper is jumping in what position in the lineout and which lifters will be lifting, add the option of a straight up jump, coming forward or retreating on the fade for a lobbed throw adds complexity, further add calls that determine if the ball is being used off the top, brought to ground and passed or brought to ground and driven and you start to get an inkling of the complexity of these coded calls – this is even before the short lineouts and any gimmicky trick moves are brought into play.
Forwards need to effectively learn a second language in order for lineouts to work smoothly because unlike the backs where a pass that is slightly behind might still be caught in the lineout there is very little place to hide with close marking and the referee watching for the slightest deviation in the throw.
This last point brings me to one of the most bemusing aspects of the modern game – referees will happily blow the whistle if a hooker does not manage to throw the ball straight into the lineout – the usual result being a scrum to the opposition.
At these scrums halfbacks routinely flout the law and fail to feed the ball straight into the middle of the tunnel and almost never get called for it. Why referees willfully ignore this law is something I cannot understand. I guess it is just recognition that forwards are superior and should therefore be judged against a higher standard.
Anyone from 9-15 care to respond? Please play the ball, not the man.
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