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Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Rugby Positions explained

The scrum is the foundation of rugby and is the basis from which Rugby Positions and their names have originated over the centuries.

In the early years of rugby scrums went on for over twenty minutes at a time. This so intrigued the spectators that they would take out their pocket watches to time the scrummage. In the meantime the few backs would be standing shivering in the wet waiting for the ball to emerge (which was principally their only role). The scrummages then were a solid mass of humanity, the two packs of forwards would be fifteen a side, and would form a compact circle, with those in the centre standing bolt upright.

A change in the laws resulted in faster and more spirited forward play with the long-drawn-out scrummages disappearing. Forwards also developed the arts of wheeling the scrum and dribbling the ball, which played a part in shortening the time of the pushing contests. Another development, which was far more important, was the emergence of the practice of actually heeling the ball out for players in the backs to use. This in itself was a major revolution in the development of the game and rugby positions. For it not only was previously thought to be sharp practice but also effeminate for the backs to have the ball to pass among themselves.
This development also required a major marketing effort with the spectators for they believed that the scrums and the maul, which normally preceded it, to be far more exciting then the most brilliant of runs, the cleverest dribbling, or the prettiest drop at goal.

At the time that the first standard set of rules for the game were being drawn up teams consisted of twenty rugby positions - made up of seventeen forwards and three full backs whose sole job was to fall on the ball if the opposition managed to hack it out the scrum. The next development in the game was the restriction of the number of players to fifteen and with positions fixed to ten forwards and five backs. This was written into the laws a little over one hundred years ago in 1893.One then asks:"How did the rugby playing positions get their names?"

Originally there were only two Rugby Positions - forwards and backs. It was only when the rules were first drafted in the 1870's that the full back, of which there were three, was named and his role defined. A rule change limited the position to one player on the rugby field for each team. The decision was then made that the other two players would be stationed at a midpoint between the forwards and the full backs and were to be called halfway backs. In time this was shortened to half backs. Their role and that of the full back continued to be in position to fall on the ball in the event of the opposition hacking it out of the scrum.

In 1878 at Cardiff, in Wales, they developed a short pass to one of the half backs who would then go charging ahead with the ball. He became known as the flying half back which in time was shortened to the fly half.

In addition they reorganised the scrum, developed short passes amongst the forwards and long passes amongst the backs. This lead to the need for more players to be placed in the back line between the halves and the full back so they were called quarters and the fact that three of them were put in this position led to them being known as "three - quarters". The middle player being called the centre with the two on his outside called wings.

The introduction of a fourth player into the three-quarters was to a large extent, accidental, with Wales again being allowed to take the honour. Cardiff were due to play a tough match away from home and their first choice centre was not available so they promoted one Frank Hancock from the second side in his place. Hancock was a great success scoring two vital tries. When the Cardiff selectors sat down to pick their team for the next match they were keen to revert to their original team, but they were most reluctant to drop Hancock, so they compromised by introducing a fourth three-quarter. Within two years Wales had introduced it at international level and the game became closer in postions to today.

The New Zealanders were quick to see the advantage of having a fourth player in the three-quarters. Their solution was to change the standard rugby positions by pulling a forward out of the pack and put him between the half back and the three-quarters. Their problem was what did they call the new position. Legend has it that consent was reached by deciding that the half back was 4/8ths and the three-quarters 6/8ths, so therefore the new position must be a 5/8ths, a name that has continued to this day in that country. When fly half play developed they introduced the first 5/8th and the second 5/8th.

The forwards in the early days were just a mass of players, having an important role, but having no individual responsibility. When the scrum developed into the eight man unit it operated on the basis of first there, first down. From this came the formation of the 3-2-3 or the 2-4-2 scrum formations, both of which was developed in the United Kingdom, and it was from this style of scrumming that the term back row players first originated.
Shyte Ras

good one again

very interesting
Geez Ras

Superb and very interesting

Especially the part of how the three different codes diverged

Don't they still have a three man scrum in league though?
Ras - while you researching - if you want to g back in time - search on winchester rules - a historian who bored the living crap out of me on chrstmas - gave me the whole rundown and how the WR developed in Union , Grid ion and one or two others  

I'll have a look later.

David, yes, as far as I know.
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