Side Entry: From Willie Beamen to Napoleon – the personalities that make up a rugby team

Different positions in a rugby team have different meanings and personalities. Picture: Getty Images
Different positions in a rugby team have different meanings and personalities. Picture: Getty Images

A little confession to begin with. A list like this has been doing the rugby WhatsApp group rounds this week, which made me think about what the 15 positions in a rugby team have come to mean to me from a personality perspective over the past two decades of reporting on the sport.

15 Fullback:

The one player on the field who doesn’t get why people don’t see him for the superstar he really is. Quick as the wings and sometimes as creative as the centres, he doesn’t understand why such a fuss is made of fly halves because he also deputises for them during the game.

14 Right wing:

Due to their sheer size, traditional right wingers can come across as rejected flankers who are not big enough for the loose trio, but fast enough for the backs. They can also be as grumpy as forwards (think John Kirwan and Sbu Nkosi).

13 Outside centre:

An inherently flashy sort who neither gets the recognition the back three do, nor the respect for being critical to the team both defensively and in attack.

12 Inside centre:

A frustrated fly half who thinks he’s the brains of the team like the 10 is, but is too slow, doesn’t have ice in his veins and is probably not as elegant or good-looking.

11 Left wing:

Basically a human golden retriever on steroids – so fast is he – who is also usually the team’s highest try-scorer (67 international tries would suggest Bryan Habana fits the identikit).

10 Fly half:

This guy walks around thinking he’s “Steamin” Willie Beamen from the movie Any Given Sunday because the coach, media and fans keep telling him he’s the quarterback of the team. Despite the adulation, he still over-eggs the pudding with boots that stick out (in the old days, it was the Adidas Copa Mundial boots – now it’s the most luminous pair out there).

9 Scrum half:

The smallest guy on the field also fittingly in possession of a Napoleonic complex. It’s not enough that he starts fights he expects his forwards to finish, he also runs live commentary on the game for both the opposition and the referee’s benefit (think George Gregan and Faf de Klerk).

8 Eighthman:

A conflicted soul – too big to be a back and a little on the skilful side to be considered as a real forward, so he hovers as a link between the forwards and the backs.

7 Blindside flank:

Rugby’s version of the strong, silent type. Big and strong, he has nothing but bad intentions on the field.

6 Openside flank:

What the kids call a humble bragger. He, along with his coaches, will always tell you how he does the unseen work by slowing down the opposition’s ball while buried under a ruck, before displaying the multiple broken fingers he has to show for it.

5 Lock:

Gangly but possessed with the gravity-defying athleticism and grace of a basketballer. Runs the kick-offs and line-outs to be useful in the pack, but he daydreams of doing something out wide, like loitering at outside centre or kicking for goal (think Victor Matfield and John Eales).

4 Lock:

Tall, strapping and athletic, but only interested in solving all on-field problems with violence (Bakkies Botha, Brad Thorn and Martin Johnson come to mind).

3 Tight head prop:

Surprisingly self-satisfied for a fat guy, probably because tight heads are literally worth their weight in gold for propping up the scrum. Also, they almost always have a secret skill, like the ability to play the piano, or a degree in medicine or chartered accountancy.

2 Hooker:

Honestly doesn’t see himself as a front rower forward, which may well explain why he’s always crouched over the ball like a pig farmer at rucks, or loitering with intent on the tram lines.

1 Loose head prop:

An athlete trapped in a fat man’s body, which explains the surprising amount of work they do in attack (think Os du Randt, Beast Mtawarira and Ox Nche).

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July 2020

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