Sunday, July 23, 2017

Playing Prop: A Props Guide.

By Didds - an aged and grizzled prop. (Normally left grizzling into his beer anyway)

Prop forwards are the cornerstone of a rugby team. Let there be no misunderstanding; whilst the move is towards faster play, and hence more mobile and swifter players, you cannot play rugby union as it stands today without props. However, that is in a perfect world. Or at least the case in international rugby, where coaches have in theory at least, the choice of hundreds of props down through the hierarchy of rugby clubs, and where players are very unlikely to turn down the chance of playing and getting a posh dinner thrown in for free, let alone the possibility of visiting some exotic foreign city in which to play. Or Cardiff.

On the other hand, not everyone lives in a perfect world. For many third and fourth teams in clubs throughout the land (whose 1st team themselves are languishing in something like the Rutland 3rd division alongside St. Dunstan's Blind School, the local girl's grammar school team, and the outpatients department of the local hospital. And are bottom) the situation is quite different. Some weeks they are awash with props, and so end up with a front-row consisting of three props, a fourth in the second row, and a fifth horribly drowning on the wing. Other weeks they have only one prop available, and make do with the hooker propping for only the third time in his life, or a spare centre making up the position. On these occasions a long and heated debate will take place whether the inexperienced player should play loose or tight.

Someone in the team always knows someone who knew a back that volunteered to play prop once and now spends his days mumbling into his soup and watching the birds on the lawn. The player will have a horrendous experience as by Murphy's Law his opponent will be a former international prop acting as coach to the opponents who fancied a game this week. He will consequently become disenchanted with rugby and fade out after a few more weeks and take up gardening or golf, and suffer nightmares weekly for the rest of his life.

Props are not supposed to score tries. Those that do have either cheated or fallen over in the wrong place. My brother is also a prop, but while on tour to Holland several years ago, was put on the wing and scored a hat-trick. Since that day no other prop in his club has spoken to him, and I only discourse with him about our mother's birthday present. He has been forced into exile to Australia, where for some strange reason they accept try-scoring props. Must be something to do with all those convicts and kangaroos. If by some incredible fluke of luck a prop scores, he will spend the rest of his life describing in great detail the feat. Most props telling this tale will, however, not let on that when they scored their try it was worth three points.

That is, with the exception of myself. I may well be the first Englishman to have scored a five point try - I was playing in NZ in 1992, and the day that the rules changed (and the value of a try became 5 points) we had a noon kick-off; I scored about half way through the second-half, when a maul on the oppo's line collapsed; I was holding the ball when I fell on the ground, in goal. Given that NZ is virtually the first country in the world to wake up, and that we had an early kick off, and that there won't have been that many Englishmen in NZ anyway, I claim the mantle of first Englishman to have scored a five point try. So there.

Props must be the butt of everyone's jokes. They must also have at least a bit of a beer belly. They must be the slowest runners on the pitch (with possible the exception of the referee if playing third team rugby). Everyone will take the piss out the props at every conceivable occasion. Equally, everyone will look to their props to sort out any argy-bargy, and call upon them to lead the singing. All props must be able to drink 20 pints, including three of them in quick succession, all three drunk in less than 2.46 seconds (Olympic qualifying time).

Props are born, not made. That is why the only props that are left twenty years after they finished playing are those that played their entire life in the murky underworld of front-row play. All those upstarts from the 2nd-row and back-row who got too fat and slow in old age fade away after prolonging their careers for a couple of years by the insidious ploy of taking up propping. They are the sort of people who support Liverpool because they win, and live in Torquay anyway. They are also the sort of person who started following rugby at the age of 22 back in 1989 because England started to win in less of an ad-hoc fashion.

Finally, props are wonderful people, and should be nurtured. If you are a prop, be proud in the knowledge that your trade is a hard, unsung one, where success is worn inside, in the heart, unlike these flashy back-row and fly-half types. If you are not a prop, gaze upon them henceforth with awe, for these men and women are the salt of the earth. And buy them a pint.

Devizes RFC

Disclaimer : The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. And are probably wrong anyway.

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