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A now legendary piece of Banter work was posted by one of TJs greatest ever (certainly in the Top Ten) No 8s, Stu "Lofty" Thomas, in October 2010 when another TJ legend, Bill 'WMCJ' Little was promoted to play No 8 in his absence. Stu thoughtfully and knowledgeably set out to enlighten the ageing Bill on the 4 key modules of No 8 play, read on........
Right, Bill, I'll take you through it in four easy modules.
1. General characteristics - No.8s fall into two categories. They are either strong, silent, slightly wonky-faced types a la Dean Richards, John Scott and Mervyn Davies or flamboyant ladies men - Zinzan Brooke, Nick Jeavons, Andy Powell. Its not for me to say into which you fit but you are certainly one of these and once were the other.
You must wear shorts one size too small - this is where Black always went wrong.
Ears must be ever so slightly caulied but not excessively so. If they are too knarly they've been trying too hard - again note Black's pristine lugholes.
Must be able to 'read' a game - this means being able to anticipate that the action will return to your stationary position before anyone notices you are not actualy doing anything. Black has mystic capabilities in this regard.
2. Scrumtime - I like to think of the scrum as a Roman chariot. The handsome charioteer No.8, flanked by two willing assistants, holds onto the reins of five dumb horses who pull the whole thing along as he poses for the crowd’s pleasure.
So to begin simply lean on your plump second rows and pull their spreading arses together just close enough for comfort but avoiding ear-damaging tightness. Adopt a straight back and bent knees posture to give the illusion of pushing but on no account strain yourself here - that's what the 2nd rows are for and you need your wits about you for the next bit.
Look up to follow the progress of the ball through the scrum. This requires concentration to anticipate whether you’re in for a lightning strike (Ridley obviously not playing) or a slow trundle back to your feet helped on its way by sly hands (advanced back-row technique) or hooked with feet (recommended for beginners like yourself).
If it was their scrum or we lost it (Ridley or Sticky playing) you need to pop your head up whilst still holding on to your second rows voluminous shorts. Now this also requires concentration so don’t try and push as well or you’ll do yourself a mischief.
If we won it (proper hooker playing) use your size twelves to trap the ball and swivel your body to the left to protect your scrum half. Omit this element if Lyndon is playing.
You now have a choice: 1.pick and go; 2. pick and feed; 3. let the scrum half and the rest of the backs squander your hard work.
If you choose option 3 make sure when you stand up to survey the midfield carnage you take a step or two backwards first to impede the opposition scrum half.
You are now free to enter loose play.
3. Loose play - After you’ve stood up and rued your decision not to ‘pick and go’ you need to get to the breakdown as quickly as possible whichever set of backs cocked it all up.
In most cases this will be a gentle amble to the next scrum for a knock-on or forward pass but sometimes play will continue past the point at which gentle ambling starts to look like laziness.
This is where reading the game becomes paramount and it’s not something you can teach – you either have it or you play in the front five.
However there are some techniques that will ensure any malingering goes unnoticed and basically they are all designed to capture that glory moment – a try-saving tackle, a bullocking run upfield, diving fearlessly on a loose ball, saving one of the backs from certain death – that sort of thing.
Your defensive running pattern should never be in a direct line to the breakdown but rather a looping jog 10 yards or so behind play. In attack you chose your moment to straighten and take a pop pass from a beleaguered centre and thus set up your bullocking run. If you can’t get a pass just go in a steal it off one of them – they give up quite easily. You can rest on this particular laurel for a good 15 minutes after this especially if you pick up a bit of knock whilst scattering little backs about the place, which you can bravely carry until you’ve got your breath back. In defence you should be able to, if not actually tackle, then at least heroically dive in the general direction of any oppo attacker escaping one of Mudger’s tap tackles.
So you get the general idea – loose play is essentially roaming the field looking for things to go wrong then you go in like the conquering hero and sort it all out.
4. Lineout - The lineout for a No.8 is prime glory moment territory. Plant yourself firmly at six in the line and don’t take any crap from anyone about standing anywhere else. Six in the line is your birthright.
No hooker in my living memory has been able to throw the ball in a straight line as far as number six so you won’t be bothered with the often fruitless aerial spot the ball competition. Don’t get involved with any tiresome lifting either which is just too much work for absolutely no glory.
What you are looking for here are two things:
Firstly, scrappy, tapped, dropped or fumbled ball , of which there will be many, onto which to pounce and thus win back possession for your admiring teammates and ecstatic supporters.
Secondly you will be about as close as you will ever be to the oppo scrum half at his most vulnerable. Shortly after the ball leaves the hooker’s hands check the referee’s position and steam through the line to:
a)gather the loose ball and romp over the line to score squashing scrum half on the way
b)catch the scrum half man-and-ball and squash him flat – it’s so nice tackling little blokes
c)hack it through to gain valuable yards for your increasingly admiring team and fans (squash scrum half on the way if possible).
You can’t lose. If the ball is safely caught merely retreat, hands in air mouthing sorry to the ref who will rarely penalise you.
If by some miracle we win the lineout go and steal the ball from the lucky catcher and make a bullocking run down the blindside. If they win it just loosely bind on the open and try and squash the fly half which is the greatest prize available to a back row forward. Failing that, and I suspect you will, then you’re back to loose play and glory hunting as described below.
If you don’t finish up with a couple of tries I’ll be disappointed.
Bon chance mon ami.
PS don’t be too good – I’m not interested in an exchange visit to second row land.
Amazing insight into the murky world of No 8 play - if only the front row could type
Stu "Lofty" Thomas - enlightening
Bill "WMCJ" Little - enlightened