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.
the other hand, not everyone lives in a perfect world. For many third
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
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.
Disclaimer : The opinions expressed are solely those of the author. And are probably wrong anyway.