Well we have arrived at the penultimate point in this mendacious meandering about the rugby field and the folk we may meet on it. And in this instance, penultimate is a well-suited word. Most folk think penultimate means peak, or the pinnacle, or something similar to reaching the top. They are to be a bit disappointed. Penultimate actually means second to ultimate, or next to greatness, or not quite there, and so a bit of a disappointment. And that describes our final position to consider wonderfully well, No15, the Fullback, a bit of a disappointment really.
A Fullback’s role, in conducting the evolving symphony of the match from the regal luxury of being a bit ‘out the back’ and so having a ‘Napoleon on the hill’ perspective over proceedings, may be generally summarised as consisting of four key elements: firstly, he will marshal the Wingers to create a roving ‘back three’ unit primarily as a kick-defensive unit that may also seamlessly morph into a counter-attacking rapier. Secondly, he will have an open commission from the coach and the confidence of his team-mates to pick the perfect moment to chime into a sweeping backline orchestral movement to split the opposing centre-defence, or over-call the No10 and mount an unexpected blind-side raid. Thirdly, he will provide a Doctor Pimple-Popper-esque, pressure-relieving, siege-gun boot, worthy of USS Missouri deployment, to launch the ball skywards and send play deep into the opponent’s half. And fourthly he is the great defender, the resident Viking of Stamford Bridge, who may be relied on to end any improbable line break or blindside raid by opposing heathens with a scything grasscutter, covering tackle.
So to be clear, the Fullback role has the potential to be truly great. And when personified in a Serge Blanco, Christian Cullen or Chris Latham type of ‘swashbuckling in from the deep’ maestro, Fullback is often the ultimate in poetic serendipity and encapsulates so much of what is wonderous about our game. Few things are as honestly breathtaking as seeing (say) the poise and power of a Matthew Burke glide into, through and out the other side of a back line at full-flight. They are probably the Medulla Oblongata of the rugby team – frequently being unobtrusively tucked away out the back and rear of the whole show, but from where they may shine as the ultimate interface between putting the ball out in-front of the higher functioning Piggies, or cleaning up after the more base autonomic, seemingly involuntary messes of mucus and vomit created by his fellow Pixies.
However, in club land, such opportunity for greatness, then mixed with the seemingly inevitable failure of the common garden variety Fullback to achieve anything even remotely near such dizzying heights, is what then universally defines them as poetic disappointments.
See if we’re winning, then the Full Back will be completely ignored. Not a single Pixie play involving him will be called all afternoon as the Fly-Half and Centres connive against him and each other to keep the pill and any glory for themselves. And his increasingly shrill attempts to get in on the action via a quick short-side raid will be derisively ignored by the Half who will scoot for himself instead. As such he will eventually retire in frustration to the backfield and so be confined to bee stings while picking dandelions uninterrupted. Thus he will be nothing but a footnote in the match report even if he’s lucky. As such, he will be quietly criticised in every corner of the pub that evening for ‘not getting himself more involved’. “Bloody Catholic” they will call him, “Clearly hates the pill!” and so “a bit disappointing.”
Alternatively, if we’re losing, he will conveniently feature in the condescending tones of the chastising match report, and likely the back page of the local newspaper most prominently (with photo)…
- Failing to single handedly stop a three on one overlap, after the opponents made their seventh line-break between our Centres and breezed through the covering efforts of Breakaways, No8 and Halfback? Still his fault. Bit of a disappointment.
- Failing to catch high ball number 27 of the day, after getting smashed into unconsciousness by the swinging arm of a wildly offside Lock, a clear three seconds before the ball arrived? Still his fault. Bit of a disappointment.
- Failing to hold a textbook Gary Ablett screamer when, after initially getting hands to his own highball, the opposing Winger scythed out his legs mid-air and he smashed face-first into the turf? Still clearly his fault. Bit of a disappointment.
But all that said, Fullback does have one clear advantage over other Pixies ; Fullbacks do tend to engender the sympathies and sometimes even the begrudging friendship and protection of the Rugby Illuminati. No one else among the Pixies collects a similar array of unexplained facial injuries, weirdly dislocated fingers, nor understands the depths of sacrifice to be made so others may shine. Nor does any other Pixie ingest such unholy amounts of distilled spirits beyond the point of rhyme or reason. As such, the Fullback inhabits a space, both at bar and on tour bus, of poetic, isolated and misunderstood tragedy that is only appreciated by The Row. Accordingly, the Fronties tend to love the passed-out idiot as a sort of begrudged Prodigal Son, to the point where the Fullback will generally be the only Faerie invited to play a hand of back seat Poker on bus trips, or when found passed-out post 4hr return bus-trip home, will be relatively gently carried off-bus and carefully deposited on the pavement (as opposed to being simply left on the bus for the Driver to find back at the depot some 20km from town).
Inspirations: On the spectrum between Benjamin Buford and Bambi’s mum sits that kid who died from a bee sting in My Girl. Any loveable loser.
Drink: Vodka. Initially in Breezers with the other Pixies, but migrating to downing it neat in increasing isolation as the night progresses. Lots of it. The tragedy and hardened liver of a proper Russian poet suits them.
Politics: Generally something poetic, tragic and doomed. They often like the Science Party, and will likely still have their Democrats membership card, but will vote for some unknown Independent (who is this David Pocock bloke?).
Motto: Bobby McFerrin – ‘Don’t worry. Be happy.’
And so I leave this series here, in keeping with the thrust of this piece as a bit of a disappointment really. I confess I’ve had fun, even if it has been shamelessly sybaritic, because if nothing else, I’ve loved being involved in this game and having a giggle about it. And when all else fails, if you’ve managed to get this far, in a series so obtusely written and on a website so targeted as to be obscure, then we self-evidently share that commonality. And so you have indulged me as only a friend would. And I appreciate that and will shout you a beer one day (or a Fruit Tingle if that’s more your go) if I ever get the chance.
But if you have held on through this barrage of hyperbolic bullshite, hoping forlornly to find the Ark of the Rugby Covenant in the midst of this agglomeration of semi-unintelligible wayfaring, then despite my cynicism, I hope you have found this experience in some way edifying. Perhaps vaguely amusing. Maybe even illuminative. And that was even before we started discussing the Backs.
But enough is enough. The party is over. It’s time to wind up the masquerade and pay the DJ. It’s been emotional.