Prop Forwards: The Forgotten Heroes of Rugby Football

Rob GillCorrespondent IAugust 28, 2012

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND - AUGUST 04: Sharks front row during the Super Rugby final match between Chiefs and The Sharks at Waikato Stadium on August 04, 2012 in Hamilton, New Zealand.  (Photo by Steve Haag/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Gallo Images/Getty Images

In professional team sports, the play-maker receives plaudits when they do something right and conversely the opprobrium when they screw up.

In football, the quarter-back who throws the winning touchdown pass, knows on another given day, the pass could be intercepted for a 40 yard return by the defense. The center-forward soccer player that scores the winning goal retains knowledge that today he is a hero but has the potential for the next day, a chump.

Same goes for the rugby out-half, who drops the winning goal or slots over the penalty. These professionals know only too well the capricious nature of sport. The rewards, the plaudits, are huge.

Prop forwards are in the front-line of the ultimate collision sport. Tight-head prop is the most physically demanding position on the rugby pitch and possibly in any team sport.The force generated when two international packs engage (for the scrum) is akin to two family hatchbacks colliding at 25 mph.

After the physical strain of a scrum, a prop is expected to hit rucks, make tackles and carry the ball. The tight-head for example is effectively scrummaging against two players – the loose-head and the hooker.

Anyone who watched the Lions V South Africa Series 2009 – will remember the sight of a broken Phil Vickery on the sideline during the first test. Arguably Vickery’s poor scrummaging performance in the first test cost the Lions that game. Vickery was savaged by the beast - coughing up three penalties in the first half for dropping his bind.

He was psychologically broken after the first scrum, when he was driven up and out of the scrum. However Vickery got his chance for redemption in the final test (due in part to injuries caused by the attritional nature of the second test) and gained parity at scrum-time against the Beast.

The only test the Lions won in the series.

Scrummaging is quite a technical skill – and technique can triumph over brute strength.

Paul Wallace of Saracens, Ireland and British and Irish Lions was considered small in stature (for a prop forward) but was an excellent technical scrummager. A skilled tight-head prop will try to bring his opponent as low to the ground as possible.

Unfortunately the technical side of the game is not receiving enough attention from coaches in countries like Ireland, England and Wales. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of the role of the prop by professional coaches. It is time for more appreciation for the prop forward and for the important game changing role that he plays in modern rugby.

In contrast, countries like South Africa, Argentina, Italy and lately France place considerable emphasis on scrummaging to great success. Despite the importance of the scrum – many teams don’t practice scrummaging in training.