In Praise Of... The Scrum
Let's be clear from the get-go – or in this case – the feed. This is not about the half-hearted pas de deux that is the rugby league scrum. That has all the conviction of divorced parents dancing at their children's wedding. This is a liturgy of the rugby union scrum, a votive offering to a grunting entity unlike any other.
Sixteen men in the kind of intertwined proximity that to the untrained eye can appear more Mardi Gras than maul. Yes, it's brutal and primeval, a muscle game of Tetris, a grunting physics lesson in irresistible forces and immovable objects.
For those who've never been in one, scrum metaphors often end up collapsing on themselves. The best this writer can muster is traditional medieval and/or Japanese carpentry. Stay with us here.
The point is that these timber masters could and did combine myriad components without the use of nails or glue. Simply by making them fit together in a certain way, they created entities that could withstand blows that would splinter any of their individual pieces.
The flankers, hookers, eighth men and props that who prostrate themselves at the waist to crouch, touch, pause and engage are the scrum's timber and kindling.
There are those who decry this flesh pyramid as an impediment to the game, a time-chewing dinosaur in an era where every sport you care to mention is spawning a faster, shorter variant for the Twitter generation.
We have five words for you: You. Just. Don't. Get. It. The scrum is a thing of beauty – and not just in that immediate sugar-hit aesthetic of a side step, a chip and chase or an intercept try. It's a learned appreciation, a hard-won piece of beauty akin to Scotch that's been allowed to accumulate dust and time.
What makes it all the more magnificent is that it's the creation of the most battle-scarred men on the field, the human pack animals with ears boasting more cauliflower than a vegan banquet and noses that set to three or nine o'clock.
This is no place for pretty boy wingers with $100 haircuts and fancy try celebrations or fleet-footed flyhalves with more dummies than a ventriliquist's warehouse. There are no scrummers who become the face of men's grooming lines and there is its own glory in the fact.
The scrum is a place of sin and retribution, of underhanded tactics and swinging arms, of necks thicker than tyres and hanging onto the ball like it was the cure for cancer.
The scrum and its less formal siblings - the ruck and maul - are as much as celebration of motion as a mercurial dart down the blind side. Albeit it a little slower and somewhat fiercer. It's not so much a transferring of the ball but a safeguarding of energy, a mustering of equal parts heart and one last leg drive to see chalk beneath you.
If this all sounds a tad ethereal, no apology is offered. The play that is the scrum, its narrative and its actors rarely get to take bows. That's not to say, it doesn't have a spirit.
Next time you're watching one pack on TV, look about a metre above it. There you will see a cloud of steam. The physicists will tell you it’s the result of compacted sweaty bodies in cold air, but we beg to differ. To the rugby romantics, it's a chimera and spirit as holy as you'd find in any church.
Are you looking forward to the launch of this year’s winter sports? What’s your favourite footy code?