Some years back I reflected on the types of folk I have met playing rugby. So in our annual dead-spot, amid thrice-re-booked Covid weddings, betwixt Office Christmas and/or New Year’s parties and before pre-season comes to spoil the parties, I thought to dust those assessments off, freshen them up a little and stick ’em up again. Thus over coming weeks I will post updated ‘Rugby Positions Revisited’ as an attempt at explaining rugby positions to the uninitiated.
To that end, I do not claim the following as original work. A lot of it is. But much has been stolen and some downright plagiarised from +40yrs of bludged insulation tape, ruck marks and facial grazing while periodically rediscovering that my hamstrings did in fact fuse to my spinal column sometime in the late 1980s. Also please consider I am not au-fait with modern rugby technique and terminology. I’m still coming to terms with 5point tries and lifting in the lineout. So I’m sorry (but not sorry) if my parlance isn’t Snappy-Chatty and doesn’t cut it with the uber-cool-kids.
But anyway, starting at the beginning, we first have the Props. For the noobs, the Props wear No1 & 3 jerseys and the real ones (not the fat-backrower imposters) are immensely proud in doing so.
The role of Prop is as straight-forward as it is unforgivingly noble: to let others shine. True Props take pleasure in the unselfish and uncool stuff as they poodle about with one sock down and jerseys untucked, trucking the short balls, spearing the pick & drives, blocking sunlight about the ruck and orbit-launching line-out jumpers which then allows others to bugger off and do glory-boy stuff while they stay behind and have a chat.
But most importantly, as inhabitants of the front-row, Props embody an ill-defined Merlin-esque mystery derived from being the practitioners of ‘The Dark Arts’. This is not some nerd-boy nod towards Harry Potter. Nor is it a reference to prodigious carnal skills learned while semi-conscious in a Liberian brothel. Rather this does homage the skills that the true Prop only masters after years imbibing deeply within the rugby Qodesh Ha-qadashim, the scrum. Wherein a veritable ton of man-flesh wet-slaps into said same, at the dizzying altitude of a Victa mower with the combined speed of a rampaging pensioners mobility scooter, to joust most mightily in near orgasmic paroxysm in the most-elemental blood and bone struggle over rights to the ball.
If you’re desiring further scrummage discourse, go ask the 4th grade Full-back. They are always FIGJAM scrum experts.
It is important to recognise there are 2 types of Props. Looseheads (no1) play on the left-side of the scrum. As front rows pack to the left, they subsequently have a ‘loose-head’ outside their opponent’s shoulder. As-such they sometimes get carried away with their comparative freedom and tend to be impulsive and free-spirited. Alternatively, Tight-heads (no3) tend to the philosophical, reflective of their comparatively confined frolicking between opposing Hooker and Loosehead. This subtle yet real difference generally manifests as a quarter-second delay in when they throw their first punch.
Occasionally you may encounter the Special Prop who can play both Loose and Tight sides. Beware of them. Frivolous assumption of such weighty responsibility indicates they are likely emotionally unbalanced. Perhaps in dreams you may encounter the fabled dragon of whom whispers opine he doth play 1, 2 or 3. Avoid such mythical beings as they either lie, or they indeed tell truth and thus exist beyond mere mortal comprehension.
It should be noted here that while behemoth Props may engender a sense of awe in the uninitiated, the wise will be particularly aware of the older, smaller and more-unassuming specimens. It is best to warn those new to rugby environments to only approach those aged ones with respectful trepidation as there are generally bloody reasons how they survived thus far. While they may seem good, jovial and harmless pub company, their ability to remain upright and continue consuming unholy amounts of distilled spirits while espousing on the lost-art of the eye-gouge, long after most mortals reverted to dribbling foetal positions, makes them problematic for those in the first flushes of a newfound rugby affinity.
Also, worthy of note and surprising given their love of dark and exiguous spaces, Props are unbelievably multi-skilled at the Faerie arts. They can side-step, pass, pirouette and chip-kick off both feet to shame the most flamboyant soccer player or French rugby Captains. But following a secret Vatican conclave in 1876, The Prop-Illuminati did sign eternal confidentiality agreements prohibiting exhibiting such gregarious gifts beyond pre-season touch-footy games so as to let Backs feel they contribute. Instead, they read Schopenhauer, compose Haiku on bus trips and anchor the Boat-race.
But most importantly, Props just accept that they really are morally, intellectually and constitutionally far superior to anyone else on the paddock. As such, Props provide the moral compass for the herd of unethical cats that make up the rest of the team. Thus it’s a long-accepted altruism that the most important person picked in any team is the Tight-head Prop and the second most important is the reserve Tight-head Prop. Then the Loose-head Prop. All others are incidental passengers ranked in order of importance by their jersey number. And at no time is this leadership role more critical than when on bus-trips, convening Kangaroo Courts or when organising the betting book over the never-ending Sisyphean fight between the Hooker and the No8 (more on that later). Given all that responsibility, it should be then unsurprising that at post-game drinks, Props are generally more accommodating towards their opposing Props than they are of many their own team-mates.
Despite the physical impossibilities of their role, there is no arch-typical physique for the Pride of the Pack beyond being a bit of a dad-bod in disguise. Everything from schooner-curling Homer Simpsons through to tin-pushing Silver Back Gorillas are quite common. However despite these physical disparities, Props are usually recognisable via unseemly reserves of hairiness on either their back or face, exuding pheromones of strength that weaken even devout females and exhibiting random episodes of sweaty nudity, karaoke compulsion and unexplained kilt wearing.
In closing, while Props are universally acknowledged as the smartest players on the pitch and unchallenged Masters of the unseen places at the bottom of scrums, rucks and collapsed mauls, they are rumoured to have one Kryptonite-esque weakness; Archaeological records do indicate with some certainty that beer, red wine and generous portions of cleavage and bacon have been mixed together in secret, subterranean caverns and then subjected to endless chanting and Sting songs thus creating a concoction so powerful that, when periodically administered via rum & karaoke, it prevents Props taking over the world. On this the modern world stakes its freedom. Fools.
Inspiration: Andre the Giant, Dain Ironfoot, Homer Simpson
Politics: Closet Anarchists
Favourite Drink: Starts on rum but moves to Champagne with bacon chasers
Motto: I do it cos I can. I do it cos you said I can’t.