Playing lock forward is something I can at least pretend I know a smidgen about. When I was first asked (well, when I say “asked” I really mean “told”) to play rugby, I envisaged turning out as a swashbuckling, socks-rolled-down, attacking fullback in the JPR Williams mould. Being a gangly 6 foot plus 14 year old, however, I was immediately consigned to the second row. After a short apprenticeship I did manage to graduate to the back row, but the irony is that my rapidly declining pace will probably mean that, if I do play again, there’ll be pressure on me to move back into what is affectionately known as the boiler room.
Back when I last played rugby, a lock forward had two primary functions:
- push in the scrums (which I was lousy at); and
- jump in the lineout (which I wasn’t bad at).
These days, locks are still required to do a bit of pushing at scrum time but the latter skill has been rendered entirely redundant by the fact that lineout jumpers are now lovingly hoisted into position by their props and back row.
So, is being a big bloke who can shove a bit in a scrum all that’s now required to play second row?
Well, yes it is, but for anyone thinking “that sounds easy enough”, there are a few additional things you might want to consider:
- you must have no moral or ethical objection to spending large parts of your season with your head stuck between the thighs of your prop and your hooker. It always helps if they have generously upholstered rear ends but the chances are that at least one of them will have an unfeasibly bony hip resulting in you having severe facial chaffing and at least one mangled ear. Set up a standing order with Boots the Chemist so that you’re kept well stocked with gallons of vaseline and yards of sticky tape (or invest in one of those new fangled expensive scrum caps);
- height still appears to be an advantage (or at least long arms) to reach lineout ball, but I’m afraid all that bulk you’ve acquired to anchor the scrum isn’t going to be any help in the lineout. Your props, who never need much of an excuse to grumble, aren’t going to be happy lifting you if you’re too heavy, poor lambs;
- when you’re not shoving in a scrum or being given an armchair ride in the lineout, you must be prepared to spend the afternoon seeking out rucks and mauls and charging into them blindly. Don’t expect to see the ball. The only exception to this, of course, is if you play for England in which case you’re expected to loiter about in the centres and clog up the backline.
- you must accept that, you being a hulking great nuisance charging around and crashing into people, you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb and it’s more than likely that a referee will decide for no reason whatsoever to send you to the sin bin at least once every other game. The upside, of course, is that it’s 10 minutes respite from hitting those rucks.
- if the plan goes hideously wrong and you find yourself in open space with the ball in hand, you'll need to remember to treat it like a proverbial hot potato and get rid of it quickly. It doesn’t matter how or to whom. Alternatively, seek out the nearest player (it doesn’t matter whose team he’s on) and run into him.
That’s about it I think – hope that helps.