Written by Ryan Rennaker
There have been many attempts to describe the complex roles and responsibilities of each member of a rugby team and the dynamic interactions that take place on and off the pitch. Many of these past attempts have been accurate, many have been precise, and many have been humorous. Most give entirely too much credit to the backs, despite their best intentions.
The following is a breakdown of the different positions on a rugby pitch. It is intended for educational as well as entertainment purposes. If you've never seen a rugby game before, you may be better off reading Wikipedia for a more sterile explanation.
Props: These warm, friendly chaps go through life with healthy, albeit often toothless, smiles. In general they are slightly overweight, although they prefer the term "solid." But don't let their jolly demeanors fool you: put anything too close to a prop's mouth and you may never see it again. They eat constantly to fuel their monstrous aggression in the scrums. Like many forwards, they dream of one day hitting a drop goal in a real game and practice the skill diligently in training. They are loyal and trustworthy and great friends to have around off the pitch.
Hooker: The smallest forward, a hooker is known for his crafty ways and cauliflower ears. He is not always the fastest or most athletic man on the pitch, but he manages to get the job done for the full 80 minutes. Hooking and throwing skills are essential as he is a critical part of any good scrum or lineout. The hooker’s job mandates that he have a bald patch on the top of his head, so don’t bring it up unless you want your face raked in the next breakdown.
Locks: Tall and strong, these giants round out the powerhouse that is the tight five. Also called the second row, they are known for their strength and athleticism, although not necessarily for their intellect. Most were not actually born slow; it is apparent, however, that years of jamming their heads between the front row's asses have taken a toll on their mental capacities. Nevertheless, locks remain an essential part of scrums and lineouts and are indispensable in rucking and ball possession.
Flankers: These athletic machines have all the speed, talent, and skill of backs, but would rather enjoy the brutality of the scrum than sit idly by and watch the proceedings. They are confident, although not nearly as cocky as the backs, and they take great pride in flattening opposing scrum halfs, even if the hit is late. Such an honor is reserved for flankers because they are the most versatile players on the field, capable of producing awe-inspiring runs, running smart support lines, or playing hard-nosed defense if needed.
Number Eight: Rounding out the forward pack, this man has no need for a name; rather one refers to him only by number. Sharing many of the versatile and athletic traits of the flankers, he is clearly the most valuable man on the rugby pitch. He may be seen running over opposing forwards, rucking for the otherwise helpless backs, or making booming hits in the open field. He has the speed to run around the defense, but would rather run over them if presented with the option. Although he is not as groomed as those in the back line, the number eight is one of the most handsome players on the squad.
Scrum Half: If one back must be tolerated, it is the scrum half. He is scrappy and loud, and doesn’t shy away from a fight. In fact, he starts them more frequently than anyone else on the team. This sometimes gets him into trouble because he is too small finish an altercation: usually a forward is required to intervene and save him. A good number nine will rake mercilessly and punch opposing players in the face, or worse, if they don’t release the ball. His passing and kicking skills are developed by necessity only. In reality, he is a forward trapped in a back’s body and would stick his nose in the scrums if allowed.
Fly Half: The cockiest man on the field, the fly half is never seen in the locker room without his hairbrush and French cologne. The fly half supposedly leads the backs and directs the flow of the game, but he is usually found screaming out incoherent orders and yelling at others to ruck so he doesn’t have to. His passes are rarely as pretty as his face and his flashy runs often result in a loss of yardage or a dropped pass. For his uneducated foot, the fly half enjoys kicking far more than is productive or even healthy. Off the field, he cannot be trusted; as such, any self-respecting woman should avoid him at all costs.
Centers: These players like to refer to themselves as a locomotives or “freight trains,” although their speed is often lacking and their statures less than impressive. They would do well to spend some time in the forward pack, to learn not to shy away from contact, and to embrace physicality. The inside center carries the ball far too often due to his proximity to the fly half and his inability to pass the ball further down the back line. The outside center has fewer chances to knock the ball on, but never fails to capitalize when the opportunity is presented. To their credit, they have an amazing knack for taking the ball into contact in such a way that it is impossible to win it back. It's really quite an anomaly. Off the field, they boast of breaking tackles and scoring tries, although everyone else knows better.
Wings: These speed demons hang around the outskirts of the action so as to keep their uniforms clean. Wings have great fashion sense and can be counted upon to recite tips and trends from the latest issues of GQ. On occasion, they have a chance to break for long runs and excite the crowd, although more often than not they are tackled quickly or pushed out of bounds. Their weak statures also mean they tend to be injured quite easily. Wings look more like soccer players than rugby players, and always have over-inflated egos. On the occasion the forwards provide them with an easy opportunity to score, the wings take all the credit and congratulate themselves by staunchly avoided any contact for the remainder of the game.
Fullback: The last line of defense, the fullback usually crumbles under all the pressure that is put on him. This manifests in various ways including fumbled punts, shanked kicks, and missed open field tackles. If the stars are aligned, he may put together a worthwhile counterattack with the wings, but this occurrence is far too infrequent to merit discussion. The fullback’s status as a rugby player is questionable as he spends the majority of the game spectating from afar. In fact, this personality continues off the field; at post game functions, he is often seen drinking by himself in the corner.