Rugby Bits & Bites … Fabulous Friday

Two interesting bits via one of my e-mail lists …

• An article from the London Times on how the new IRB scrum law may change how props play …

Change of rules likely to herald a new approach to prop culture
Mark Souster
The Times December 14, 2006

Teams train for adjustment to law
Intention is to make game safer

London Wasps have always relished being leaders of the pack and yesterday they were attempting to ensure that they will remain so. The three-times Premiership champions spent many hours on the training ground at Sudbury practising changes to the scrummaging laws that are being introduced at all levels of the sport by the IRB from January 1. The alterations are designed to make the game safer and to reduce the risk of “ catastrophic injury” caused during scrummaging.
In simple terms, the scrum will become a four-stage process. The front rows will crouch, touch, pause and then engage. The touch is the new element, with props having to reach out to their opponent’s shoulder, then withdraw their hand to ensure that they are no more than an arm’s length apart before the “hit”.

For years, a common sight has been front rows and packs with combined weights of three tonnes or more going at each other at full bore from more than a metre, which can generate forces of more than seven tonnes, much of which is absorbed through the neck, body and spine of the props.

Get it right and everything should be fine. In most cases it is. Get it wrong and the potential danger is obvious. The changes will ensure that the gap is no more than 14-16 inches. The logic is that the narrower the gap, the less the chance of injury.

Thankfully, serious injuries are rare, with the statistical odds estimated at one in two million. But as Paddy O’Brien, the IRB’s elite referees’ manager, said: “One neck injury is one too many. We have been looking at how we can make this safer for everyone.”

The recommendations of a four-man panel, which included Jason Leonard, the world’s most capped prop, Dr Mick Molloy, the IRB’s chief medical officer, Dr Syd Millar, its chairman and a giant among props in his day, as well as Ken Quarrie, an expert in biomechanics from the New Zealand federation, were approved by the IRB Council last month.

Craig Dowd, the Wasps forwards coach and former All Blacks prop, instigated yesterday’s rigorous schedule with full live scrums for the first time. He brought in Wayne Barnes, one of the RFU’s leading referees, to oversee the session. “What we discovered was that props who are quicker off the mark will benefit,” Dowd said last night. “The bigger, heavier prop with only a short hit will be negated — null and void. The more dynamic prop will come out on top of a bigger opponent. They can go in a better pushing position early and harness the power coming through from behind.”

In short a good little ’un with technique and craft should better a less dynamic but stronger big ’un. He believes that there will be far more pressure on the tight-head.

“You will find a lot more boring in by the tight-head on to the hooker because he will run out of options if the loose-head gets a really good hit,” he said. “It is going to open a whole new can of worms. I don’t know if it is going to make things safer. Nobody wants to go backwards [at a scrum] and they will find ways around it. I know it is being introduced for safety reasons, but scrums will still collapse.”

For the uninitiated, what is the hit like? “When it is done correctly, it is not painful,” Dowd said. “The problems occur if the prop goes (to engage) before the locks and back row are ready. You get what I call the truck-and-trailer effect. You hit the opposition but then recoil and slam back into your own locks. That is very dangerous and is the cause of a lot of the problems props have with lower-back injuries.”

O’Brien, who insisted that the scrums would not be de-powered as a result of the initiative, said: “The laws already say the front rows have to be an arm’s length apart before engagement, but until now referees had no way of measuring that. Introducing the touch before engagement makes it foolproof.”

Jeff Probyn, the former England stalwart, agreed. “It means technique is once again going to be important,” he said. “Short, squat props like me will once again rule.”

Molloy, another former prop, said: “In reducing the gap and having a gentler contact, the risks will be reduced.”

Under the new law, the referee will make four calls

Once the referee awards a scrum, the opposing front rows will crouch in preparation for the almighty collision only seconds away

Crucially, the props will be told to extend their outside arms and touch the shoulders of their rivals. They then withdraw their arms

The referee will order the two packs to steel themselves before the impact of muscle against muscle

The point at which the referee tells the front rows they may come together. It is not a command but an indication that they may engage

• And some interesting trivia on the history of numbered jerseys in rugby from the World Masters list …

The history of Rugby numbers (thanks to Tom Jones, IRB Reg Dvlpmnt Mngr for N. America/West Indies)

And finally, with thanks to Paul Dobson, and Planet Rugby

Some history of wearing numbers

Teams number their players now but it was not always so. In fact, there was a time when numbering players was frowned upon as it smacked of tawdry professionalism.

Now nobody bothers about professionalism – nobody, that is, except those who have to pay the players and the coaches and the fitness trainers and the first aid people and the PR people and the media liaison officers and so on and on, as rugby becomes the gigantic employment opportunity it never was.

Numbers have taken the place of names in referee speak. “Off-side, Number 6.” “Get onside, 8.”

Numbers have replaced the jargon of position. “Who is the best 9 in the country?” “I’m not sure whether to play him at 6 or at 7.” (Note the origin of being at sixes and sevens!)

When England first wore numbers at Twickenham, on 18 March 1922, King George V, a keen rugby supporter, turned to the secretary of the Scottish Rugby Union, the conservative J Aikman Smith, and said, “I see England have numbers. What a good idea. When are Scotland going to get numbers?”

In indignation, Aikman Smith replied: “Sire, my players are men, not cattle.” And the story has it that he refused to speak to His Majesty for the rest of the afternoon.

Numbers, it is believed, were first used in 1897 in Brisbane when the New Zealanders played Queensland. “As an experiment to assist spectators, a number will be placed on each player’s back.”

When they were brought to Sydney in 1904 players objected because it was too convenient a way for referees to identify miscreants.

On 21 January 1922 numbers were used in a Five Nations match for the first time – when England played Wales at Cardiff Arms Park. It rained. Wales won 28-6.

The Springboks wore numbers on the 1906-07 tour, though not against Scotland. Their opponents sometimes wore numbers, e.g. Yorkshire, Middlesex, Newport, East Midlands. The Springboks wore tour numbers. That means that the player always played in the number given him for the tour. 29 could play next to 3. This was common practice till well after World War II.

It would seem that the 1905-06 All Blacks did not wear numbers.

The International Rugby Board first discussed the numbering of players in 1921 when Wales and England let it be known that they intended to number their players. “The Board expressed the view that this was a matter for the several unions to decide on, having regard to the wishes of their players.”

Howard Marshall – of Haileybury, Oxford, Harlequins and the Barbarians and for years the rugby correspondent of the Daily Telegraph – wrote in 1936 in an article entitled What Rugger Means to Me: “Here I must make what is probably my last protest against the numbering of players. I remember how I resented this cattle-branding when I was playing myself, and my unholy delight when the numbered jerseys did not correspond with the programmes. Rugby football is not a game for such fripperies as numbering and programmes; it is not a game to be watched by any but those who have played it and understand it.”

In 1933 soccer players were numbered at the FA Cup Final for the first time. Everton, who won, played Manchester City. Everton were numbered 1-11, Manchester City 12- 22. Celtic still refuse to wear numbers on their backs.

Sometimes teams have worn letters – to confuse pirate programme sellers. The All
Blacks did that in 1921.

Confusing pirate programme sellers was not the only reason. There was also the belief that a single letter was less confusing than two numbers. The famous English clubs, Bristol and Leicester Tigers, used letters, from A to O, until the advent of professionalism and TV exposure. Bristol had ‘A’ at fullback, Leicester ‘O’ at fullback. When they played it looked as if a whole lot of scrabble tiles had been flung onto the field. In 1999 they changed from letters to numbers.

Some prefer not to use numbers in the pious belief that the game is a team game and no individual is so important that attention should be drawn to him. Schools especially like this as it suggests that rugby is valued as a part of education with
value in teamwork and effort, not a means of marketing an individual.

There have been times when teams have not had used a number 13 but a 16 instead, out of superstition. Then you get players like Danie Gerber who insisted on using the number 13! Bath RFC does not have a No. 13, using 16 instead. West Hartlepool no longer have a No. 5 after a lock John Haw died of a heart attack during a match in 1994.

At one stage the fullback was Number 1. The front row wore Nos 8,9,10, the locks were
11 & 12, the loose forwards 13,14,15. Or, more frequently, the front-row went 13, 14, 15, the locks 11 & 12, and the loose forwards 10, 9, 8. The number 8 has, down the years, more frequently worn 8 than any other position has stayed with a number. The loose forwards are lumped together as they were the back row in the old 3-2-3 scrum formation, and are still called the back-row even though scrums seldom have a back row in modern times. The loose-forwards are still 6,7,8 as if they formed a back-row but with the player at the back as the No.8. South Africa invented this scrum formation and developed that player’s modus operandi and call him the eighthman.

Just after World War II in the Five Nations, numbering was from 1 to 15, starting with the fullback at 1. From the beginning of the Sixties the numbering changed to what it is today. From 1966 on it became uniform in Test matches that the numbering be from 15 to 1 or, if you like, 1 to 15 where 15 was the fullback and 1 the loosehead.

The IRB, like most law making bodies, are often reactive. Something happens and then you make a law to cover it/govern it/get rid of it. They decided to order the numbering for matches under their jurisdiction.

The positions should be as follows, the numbers being for teams which wear numbers:
15 fullback
14 wing (right)
13 centre
12 centre, second five-eighth
11 wing (left)
10 flyhalf, first five-eighth
9 scrumhalf, halfback
8 eighthman, number 8, No.8
7 flank
6 flank
5 lock
4 lock
3 prop (tighthead)
2 hooker
1 prop (loosehead)

The names and numbers have been given for the positioning of a team at a scrum, for in olden days the scrum was the most important facet of play. Games in fact were almost one long scrum. Now they are important but far less so.

David Campese wore a Number 11 jersey though he played on the right wing.

In 1998 the All Blacks wore a 2 on their sleeves – a tribute to Sean Fitzpatrick who had just recently retired.

The use of replacements, first for injury and then as tactical substitutions, has led to a fairly orderly bench. There are as many as seven players on the bench, often – but not always – split 4-3 between forwards and backs.

The bench is numbered from 16 to 22 where, often but not always, 16 is a hooker, 17 a prop, and 20 a scrumhalf.

Many consider a team as now consisting of 22 players with a maximum of 15 on the
field at any one time.

Remembering back to my first few years of playing rugby in college, I don’t think we had numbered jerseys either, but got them later on when I was a senior maybe. But I can’t imagine wearing letters. Think of the fun you could have spelling …

Photo: Marshall Women’s Rugby – site’s a bit outdated, but I’ll add them to our sidebar anyway. And is this the same Marshall from that new movie? I looked and it is …

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