11th March 2015
Forwards rugby isn't entertainment
Back at the beginning of the 2013/14 season I remember watching Bath grind out a 21-0 victory over Newcastle in the driving rain up at Kingston Park. It was a wet and windy day where conditions made running rugby near impossible. As such, it was Bath's pack that came to the fore, shutting out their Newcastle counterparts at the ruck and scrummaging like men possessed. One scrum led to a penalty try, while a pick and drive from a line out led to an Anthony Perenise try; the other points coming from the boot of George Ford.
I remember chatting to someone in the bar after the game who had bemoaned the lack of entertainment from the match, to which I mentioned that I was entertained. 'There were no real tries,' he responded. I pointed out that five points is five points, however they get scored, and to suggest that a flowing back move is of greater value to the spectacle than a pick and drive, is disrespectful to the forwards of the game that fight for 80 minutes on the front line.
In any sport, the key is to play to your strengths, and if you have a forward pack that can dominate, you are going to put yourselves in a great position to see the match out. A saying I am sure many will have heard before is, 'forwards win matches, backs decide by how much.' And so this continues to be true in the modern professional era of the game. If your forwards cannot win you the ball, you are going to struggle to score tries. A great example of this is England's game in Ireland last week; Ireland competed for the ball at the ruck ferociously and put England under immense pressure, squeezing them out of the game.
And therein lies the true beauty and entertainment of the forwards game. If you are a back, it is about pace, skill and flair, being able to create space for yourself and your team-mates, in order to open up the game for a try scoring opportunity. For a forward, it is doing all of the things that nobody ever sees. My father told me very early on in my playing days that the best forwards are the ones you never see, because it means they are working hard in the heart of the game; getting over the ball at the ruck, pumping their legs in the maul and the scrum, fighting for every last inch in a battle of attrition against their opposite number, trying to dominate the game so that the backs can do what they do best.
This last point is why rugby is such a fantastic sport. I touch upon the pace and flair of the backs compared to the abilities of the forwards, and this highlights what a diverse sport this is. We are all like chess pieces, with different roles and attributes, each of which contribute to the make up of the game. To suggest that one approach is more entertaining than another is to ignore the essence of what makes the game such a great spectacle. The technical abilities of the forwards without the ball are as big an influencing factor in the outcome of a game as the 'entertaining' abilities of the backs; no one factor can exist without the other.
I for one love watching the epic battles in the front lines, as mountains collide and give their last drops of blood and sweat for the cause.