It is a little known fact that forwards in rugby union were given that name after it became obvious that every time they were presented with the ball in hand, in panic and unaccustomed to rational thought, they invariably passed the ball forward, inevitably yielding possession to their opponents.
Although having their uses on the rugby field, forwards – being of low intelligence – cannot be trusted with any move that involves more than one action.
Like dogs, they live in the present, having no foresight or strategic understanding. No prop forward with an England cap has ever acquired an academic qualification higher than GCSE Woodwork Grade E.
The pack, an apt description for a group of savage primates, can be differentiated by position, although sharing certain aspects of behaviour like grunting speech habits and excessive indulgence in alcohol.
Here is a guide to recognising the various sub-species.
Prop, like lock, is a hard, crude word. It’s monosyllabic and simple, though, as befits players who have little to do except prop or hold something up. Also, most in this position are, indeed, monosyllabic and simple. Stringing two words together is a bit beyond them. They are responsible for the large majority of scrum offences, and are not usually able to run well as their arms tend to scrape along the ground, impeding their progress. They are not as tall as locks and can be easily identified by jutting jaws and flat noses.
The hooker’s role is simple: to get out of the way when the ball is fed to the locks in the set scrum. They are generally the smallest of the forwards in height, but are often very wide. Most develop bow legs and thus find it difficult to run at more than a snail’s pace. They can be distinguished by their ears (known as cauliflowers). They have two of these each, whereas props have one only. Some hookers are missing certain other parts of their anatomy as a result of pack violence. Generally, to be pitied.
The locks are usually the tallest of the forwards, and having this basic advantage, they are required to jump for the ball at the lineout. When catching is actually achieved it is usually as a result of a complicated conspiracy of law-breaking and skulduggery. However, if it achieves its purpose of delivering the ball to the skilful backs and especially the wingers who can then win the game, then that can be justified.
The number eight
It’s odd to describe a player by the number on their back. It is probably because nobody is quite sure what a number eight does, and a general word like straggler would not be helpful. A more aggressive name like exterminator might be a little provoking for a referee though. The one obvious role a number eight has is not enviable: he is required to stick his head between the arses of the least savoury of all the forwards, the locks. This can lead to unpleasant and unbecoming altercation, which referees are often unable to resolve, as the problem is basically unresolvable, being the consequence of an innate lack of sensitivity to personal hygiene.
The wing forward
These are also known as loose forwards, for reasons lost in antiquity but possibly connected with their other appellation, flanker, a name arising in a London club originally from cockney rhyming slang. I will not bring a blush to your cheeks by being specific about the rhyme. These players are usually not quite good enough to be three-quarters, but have aspirations in that direction. However, they are really neither one thing nor the other (as Winston Churchill once described Alfred Bossom MP): not quite quick enough for the backs, and not thuggish enough to be proper forwards.
I should say, in a final note, and as a wing three-quarter, that some of my best friends are forwards, and a few are exceptions to the general rules.
I even knew one who could write once.