- Mon Oct 28, 2019 9:16 am
Following the huge world-wide response to the previous piece (well, abmatt liked it anyway) I always thought that a response was required, to deal with the other half of the team.......
WHY THERE ARE FORWARDS IN RUGBY
It came to my notice a while ago that some ex-convicts from the antipodes had been spreading scurrilous rumours about our beloved game, suggesting that the original format involved only the forwards, with the backs being added as an afterthought.
Now, we all know that rugby was invented when William Webb Ellis, while playing a game of football, picked up the ball and ran with it. This happened at Rugby School, which of course was a school for young gentlemen. It follows therefore that rugby, as first played, was specifically a game for gentlemen.
With that key fact in mind, I am now able to reveal how it came about that there are forwards in rugby.
Firstly, it is essential for the reader to understand the basics of the game as it then existed. Rugby was specifically, and exclusively, a game for gentlemen. Originally there were 7 players in a team, chosen for their lithe and sporting figures, and ability to run rapidly but with elegance. They were arranged across the pitch from side to side, with several remaining in the centre. The game was started by one gentleman dropping the ball onto his foot, and tapping it upwards to catch it, and then immediately running forward to allow him to pass the ball backwards to one of the other players. That player would in turn run forward carrying the ball, while endeavouring to avoid being tackled by a member of the opposition. It became a common tactic, to avoid being tackled, to kick the ball forward, and run to collect it as it bounced, catch it, and run on to cross the opposition goal line to score.
There was a critical problem that could commonly occur. If the ball was spilled, dropped, or otherwise not clearly in the possession of a gentleman player of either side, there could be arguments as to who should take the ball to restart the game. Worse; in trying to collect the bouncing ball, or pass it while being challenged, a gentleman player could fall over, soiling his immaculate silk uniform in the often muddy pitch. This was unacceptable, so a way had to be found of restarting the game while allowing the gentlemen players to remain elegant and unruffled.
The solution to this problem was found amongst the ruffians who would often gather to admire the grace and elegance of the game. Not considered as eligible to play, since they were unschooled and generally of the lower orders, and due to poor diet and lack of exercise were often grossly overweight.
It became common to invite a number of these ruffians onto the field to stand in front of the gentlemen players when the ball was lost forward, and they were expected to pick up the ball and pass it back so the game could restart. The obvious problem was that the opposing gentlemen players also had their cohort of ball fetchers, and frequent arguments as to whose ruffians had the right to retrieve the dropped ball occurred. Given the nature of the people involved, these disputes often became physical, and since the ruffians usually carried heavy bags with them containing food and drink (since they were by nature incredibly greedy) they would often seek to use these bags as weapons in the altercations, which thus became generally known as “handbags”.
As time passed it became evident that it would be better all round to formalise a way of restarting the games, and to organise the 2 packs of ruffians into some form of order.
It was decided that when the ball was inadvertently allowed to cross the side line, that the ruffians would be allowed to compete for possession by throwing the ball from the side line to the remaining ruffians. This gave the opportunity for the shortest and fattest ruffian to be given a go at touching the ball, and throw it in. The tallest of the ruffians would jump up to try and catch the ball, but cheating soon developed whereby the remaining ruffians would sneakily try and lift up the taller men to help secure the ball. Sadly, this cheating has continued to the modern game.
There also needed to be a way of restarting the game within the boundaries of the pitch, when the usual fight for the ball had resulted in a round of “handbags” and the ruffians had lost interest, become confused, and forgotten what the objective was.
It was agreed that the ruffians should wrap their arms around each other, (to assist them in knowing who was on whose side) and bend down and push against the other lot, while a gentleman player threw the ball into the general melee, and any ruffian who could reach the ball with his feet should try and kick it backwards towards his gentlemen colleagues. Clearly this was a dangerous place for any gentlemen player to approach, so the risky job of throwing the ball into the general melee was usually given to the smallest and most nimble gentleman player. There were also frequent delays in this process when a gentleman player directed that a melee should be formed, since many of the ruffians were unfamiliar with the term, so a new word “scrummage” was invented which the ruffians were required to learn. Interestingly, when the game reached across the English Channel to France, where the ruffians were generally better educated, the term melee remained in use.
Once the ball had been kicked back by the ruffians, (the rearmost of whom was required to pick up the ball from the ground and pass it back to a gentleman player) the game proper could continue.
At this point the ruffians usually lost interest for a while, and wandered around the pitch chatting until the next restart was required, another practice which has continued into the modern game. In order to minimise the disruption, it was decided that the smallest gentleman player, already familiar with the ruffians from his restart duties, should become the manager of the scrummage and have the duty of directing what the ruffians would next do.
In order that the ruffians could be ready for the ball to be thrown in, the thrower would count one-two-three-four, before throwing it in. The ruffians, mistaking this for a session of number counting practice, began to repeat this call, but being generally unable to remember four numbers together, usually forget the “one”, and to this day can be heard grunting “ two-three-four” when they expect the ball.
Since the scrummage was now generally known as the “scrum” (an easier word for the ruffians to remember), and since the gentleman player was usually very small, often around half the size of the average ruffian, he became known as the scrum-half. A concession was also made at some point to avoid calling the ruffians “ruffians” and after lobbying by several ruffians who had become involved in the labour union movement (another story!) it was agreed that ruffians should be known as “The Forwards”.
So there we have it, as all right minded rugby people know full well, the only reason there are forwards in the game is to undertake the messy, but necessary, business of making the ball available to the gentlemen players after an unfortunate and unplanned stoppage of the game, so that the game may resume in an attractive, open, running manner.