If you listen to rugby commentators on TV or read reports in the rugby specific publications you will come away with the belief that the sport in much more technical nowadays and intelligence is considerably more important than it ever used to be for players. It is rubbish. In fact, in a sport that is nationally renowned for daft commentators, not to mention the reporters in the daily papers having to cover fishing and Formula 1 as well, it is the most misrepresented aspect about the modern game.
Back in the days before I was tackled by two second row players because I looked as if I might have gone for the ball despite it being in touch and so injuring me to the extent that I never wanted that pain again, players had to be sharp, quick witted and intelligent if only to last until the final whistle. The modern player has it all done for him. Let’s take the front row.
I’ll let you know who does what and to whom in a later article, but I’ll cover the front row briefly here. These are the three people at the front of the scrum who go literally head to head with the opposing front row. These three positions are made up firstly of the loose head prop, i.e. the fat bloke who is nearest to the person putting the ball into the scrum. In the middle is the hooker and on the far end is the tight head (prop), the other fat bloke, whose head is between the other side’s hooker and lose head prop.
Nowadays you have to train props to prop. Before professional rugby any person could prop. We knew what to do. We didn’t need training. What’s wrong with this generation of second rows that they don’t know what the bloke in front of them’s been doing all the time? Not only that, a tight head is trained differently to a loose head.
A commentator on TV, who shall remain nameless as one shouldn’t pick on Barnes all the time, complimented a prop in a tone of voice which suggested that here was one of the greatest accolades of all time. ‘He,’ he said, his voice catching with emotion. ‘He really knows where the [goal] line is.’
I’m sorry, but it is marked by a bit of while paint and is down the other end of the field to the one they are defending. They actually look at it before they start the scrum. If they miss the paint, there is a big capital letter H along the length of it. I say big; it is 5.5 metres wide and 16 metres high. That’s big. It’s the line. You don’t have to be clever to know where it is.
The old prop would have to know where it was to ensure they went nowhere near it. Let’s face it, it was they who invented walking rugby well before the RFU thought of patenting it.
The number 10 nowadays will have been instructed what he should do in set circumstances on every training night. The scrum half (9) throws the ball to the fly half (10) who then will throw it to the right or the left depending on what he was told. He’s got it easy. 20 years ago the fly half had to carry a lot more info in his head and had to be his own boss. I accept it was because the two centres and he had not been at a training session together all season, but they didn’t need to.
One thing the fly half had to consider is how much each centre had drunk the night before. It’s no good giving a long pass to the one who’d had 20 pints. And it was no good giving any length of pass to Alan if it was raining as it fogged up his glasses.
Most vitally, the fly half had to remember whether a wing had had a run with the ball that half. If so, then they had to be considered hors de combat and must not be allowed anywhere near the ball as they might collapse. One run each half, that’s what wings were good for. It was all very technical.
Another thing that is bewildering is the chat that the ref gives the players during a scrum, ruck or maul. It just didn’t go on a few years ago, mainly because the fad of having the ref keep up with the play was not considered. It was hard enough getting a referee without demanding that they run as well.
A fine example of the ignorance of modern players was the recent England v Italy Six Nations match where there was argument about what constituted a ruck. The England captain asked the ref what the laws were. This is turning the ethos of rugby on its head. Each match was played to the home team’s laws, which the ref, who would be local, would know. So the players in the away team had to know maybe a dozen different sets of laws.
They’ve got it so easy nowadays.