Hail Well Met Cobbers,
Again we continue the anti-climactic meandering by the never-was-so-can’t-be-a-has-been in attempting to explain the personalities that inhabit the average mud-luvin’ rugby team around the world. And today we are turning to discuss the enigma closing out the back row, tailing the rear of the lineout and locking the back of the scrum together; therefore clearly explaining why this joker is called ‘Number 8’ (No8).
Unfortunately, there’s really not much to say about this fella, as in every facet of the game they are simply excess baggage. And they know it. I mean they are so obviously redundant that no one ever bothered giving them a proper positional name. Even Wingers got a name. They just have a number. But despite that, No8s are generally good fun to have about.
For instance, No8 is traditionally supposed to be physically dynamic enough to be the go-to jumper at the back of the lineout. But given bugger-all Hookers can actually see, let alone throw that far, such pursuit is more a training-paddock oddity than any game-time reality. And it gets better because the few times the Hooker actually makes the throw, the No8 is so shocked he will fumble it. See, the truth is that conceding to the No8s insistence on practising back-of-lineout manoeuvres at training is simply a sly betting opportunity organised by the Props. And with each failed attempt (and there will be many) the No2 v No8 antipathy and mutual abuse will steadily elevate to the point of punch-on intensity. Meanwhile the Props are quietly egging the protagonists on with little whispers of “You’re not going to just take that shite from him are you?” all the while taking bets from the others on who will win the ensuing fight. So it’s good fun for everyone.
Another example of a No8’s comedy-value is that at scrums in certain field-position situations, the No8 is occasionally supposed to gather the ball at the back of the scrum and charge up field in a highly complicated, Boolean mathematical choreography with the Flankers and the No9. However, No8s seem to think this limited tactical leeway applies to any scrum from any position on the field at any time. And regardless of how far down-field or removed from reality the foray is attempted, the envisaged outcome is always for the No8 to score a try in the corner. Anyway, that’s the plan, until the No9 beats him to it and pinches the ball out of the scrum himself. Which, by the way, the No9 always does every time. The No9 does this primarily because it shits the No8 enormously and he will blow-up about it. Again, it’s good fun for everyone.
Technically No8 is a member of the backrow. This means he should be mobile and making crushing tackles along those mystical running lines with the Flankers. But given the Flankers already established plausible deniability for any and all open-field tackle accountabilities, then the added layer of No8 is a level of redundant pointlessness enough to make even the American armed services shake their heads. And again, as a member of the backrow, he should theoretically lend proper-weight and effort to the scrum prior to gallivanting off… yeh right.
Physically, No8s should be the Demi-Gods of the team. They are supposed to be the ultimate mix of tall, rugged Forward and svelte, scintillating Back. And truth is they mostly see themselves as indeed being an emulsification of Pierre Spies physique combined with ball-shattering Buck Shelford toughness when they are preening in-front of whatever shiny surface they surreptitiously position themselves near in every dressing-room (check it out – they do). But this does nothing to explain the reality that most No8s tend to be either pudgy, rotund dwarfs, or elongated, sickly, Napoleon Dynamite types, who look fit to snap in the lightest of zephyrs, to say nothing of their suitability for charging into the teeth of an opposing defensive line.
Interestingly though, No8s do tend to be the Groover of the team and may be relied on to know some trendy dance moves and the names of more modern cocktails. Thus they are generally more popular with the ladies then many of his colleagues. This can be a wee problem on standard Saturday nights at the pub, when the No8 inexplicably starts to think the Hooker’s wife has taken a shine to him, but the Hooker himself is still smarting over Thursday’s lineout blue and is happy to continue the non-verbal communication session. But it’s generally good fun for everyone else.
And again, that same general ‘groover’ vibe can be dangerous come end-of-season club Christmas Party and/or AGM BBQs, when the Psychotic Backpacking No7’s missus has sunk a Sherry or three too many and gets a wee bit frisky towards the No8 in her hemp skirt and linen crop-top. But again, the ensuing confrontation makes for good fun for everyone else.
However, the No8’s dance-floor and cocktail skills are handy come night-club time on end-of-season tours. For as predictably as sharks converge on chum, after the No8 has spent perhaps 10min gyrating about the sticky dancefloor, a recently-alerted pack of local Cougars will gather. They will circle momentarily among each other, sizing up their opponents for the obvious prey. Then, suddenly they will disperse into a wide semi-circle to maximise their own individual attack angles, and then dive-bomb straight towards the No8 in a seemingly choreographed attack-pattern. Just as the spectators cringe, anticipating the impending impact and rending of the unsuspecting No8 limb from limb, various rugby-tourists miraculously materialise mid-dancefloor and juxtapose themselves between the hitherto oblivious No8 and the closing pack of female
sharks hopefuls. At that point, a series of attack & defence-style movements unfold, reminiscent of an old-fashioned game of British Bulldog, as the tourists attempt to intercept individual sharks ladies in pursuit of an opportunistic spin-off. Time and again, experienced campaigners have seen this bizarre mating ritual both repeat and bear fruit. However, all-too-frequently at this precise moment, the Locks may suddenly blunder in from the wings, sloshing drinks around and indiscriminately pelvic-thrusting about in a way-too-close and disgraceful manner, and thus likely blow everyone’s chances.
Pub-chat with No8s tends to be a bit intense. Initially they find it difficult to accept and let go about why the Hooker gets to score lineout tries. And then they will relentlessly focus on why the 8,627 variations of Backrow scrum moves, that they rehearsed endlessly off the scrum machine on Thursday night, subsequently failed on game day. However, given the poor buggers are congenitally incapable of even remembering, let alone deciphering, the Enigma codes they themselves came up with to unlock these breathtaking scrum-ballets, then their thinly veiled accusations towards the no9 are poorly supported. But don’t tell them that. Just nod sympathetically and buy them another imported beer.
So, due to their exclusion from lineout tries and mangling of their scrum moves, No8s glory moments tend to be limited to regathering lineout ball that ricocheted off the opposing Lock’s flailing arms or pinching the occasional Labrador try off a hypothermic Winger (‘bludging on the blind’).
Inspirations: Napoleon Dynamite, Sandor Clegane, Tracey The Assistant Fairy,
Drink: Imported beers. They think it makes them look wealthy and sophisticated. But we all know they buy the cheap imported specials from Dr Dans.
Politics: They often see themselves as misunderstood Nordic Minimalist Neo-corporatists whereas team-mates see them as garden-variety narcissistic garden-gnomes. Whitlam-esque social democrats.
Motto: “Well may we say ‘God Save the Queen’, because nothing will save that f^&% Half Back.”