The Scrapper

Heart, balls, guts and brains

rives001He’s never the biggest, strongest or most talented player. No, and probably not the fastest either. He lives in the margins and sees the game differently. If you’re looking for a superlative then he’s the bravest, prepared to put his head where the rest of us wouldn’t put our hands or boots.

Remember Jean Pierre Rives ? The blond head of him always with a rusty patch from someone’s boot. But that’s not all. The scrapper knows the rules better then the referee or coach know them. He also knows which side “our” linesman is working and the opportunities for robbery this affords him. The opposition hate him, hurt him at every breakdown but would have him as first name down on their team, if he was their player.

Around here, sometimes we let our bias inform our opinions. We know this game; we know the players and their families. There are pictures of our brothers, fathers, uncles and grandfathers with folded arms and funny hair on the walls in Greenfields and Dooradoyle. We’ve soaked it up from the pram to the pub. We’ve met our wives and girlfriends because of rugby. We talk to our friends about every last detail, every subtle nuance, every missed kick and every dropped goal. We can’t consider a life without the game. We turn twenty-eight or thirty and try to stop playing but a yawning chasm appears and the vertigo forces us back to our clubs for one last arthritic season, when we move up to second row or out to the wing where we can do less damage, with the thirds .

BOD003And because of this immersion, this religion and passion, we think of Brian O’Driscoll as Bonoesque. We use words like… words like… well… words about the length and colour of his hair, or his accent or his recent appearance on the Late Late or his celebrity girlfriend. We invent reasons to dislike the peroxide little fucker and those funny finger triangle signs he made when he scored that hat-trick in Paris. But Drico is the arch scrapper and had he played for the red madness, there would have been another couple of European cups. This year he scored two tries for Ireland that should never have been scored, two tries no one else would or could have scored when he dived low and fast into a sea of legs and gained the last and vital fraction of an inch.

The scrapper understands inches.  He’s not much for the big applause-winning hits, the showy lifting and driving back in the centre of the field as the crowd oohs and aahs when the crash test dummies go through their patterns and sequences. He works on the inside, in that grey place where the referee can’t see and the ball is marginally on their side but still reachable. He works within the tangle of arms and legs, always knowing where the ball is and what the referee can’t see. When he leaves the field he is always marked.  His head, his arms, and his back. For him a 50:50 ball is a no brainer; he excels when the odds are against him, when the situation seems impossible.

keith woodBefore Ronan O’Gara kicked that conversion to beat Saracens at the death, that last match before the fire chief reduced the capacity in Thomond Park from 18,000 to 12,000, when Francois Pienaar brought the harrumphing Fezzes and his quarter million sterling contract to Limerick, before Ronan kicked the conversion, Keith Wood scored an impossible and implausible try. The Fezzes were defending Ballynanty from the red chaos.  Time and time again players picked and went but to no avail.  The forest of knees and thighs held out. There was a smell of wet dog around the place as we huddled against the cold, the rain and the darkness. It had become a game of inches, of centimetres, a game played in the margin. There was as much room on the suffocating terraces as there was in the never-ending sequence of rucks and mauls. The bleak Balla back wall matched the impending gloom of the final score, so near yet again.

You’ll never see how he does it. He works under the nearest available cloak,keith_wood whether that’s the referee’s blind side or the indistinguishable colours of mucky wet jerseys. Keith Wood comes up with ball, the referee has his hand in the air and the cheer goes up. We scratch our heads and wonder what the fuck, how did he get through? We never ask if he actually scored as opposed to moving the ball an inch further when the players started to celebrate a little early and we don’t care that the opposition are a chorus of indignation at the awarding of the try.  In the game of inches the scrapper is king.

The modern game makes it more difficult for the arch-messer, the fourth official with his replays and his multiple cameras, the pockets, platforms and patterns which define a strategy. But it doesn’t matter really, you’ll never stop him working the periphery, challenging the rules and playing the referee right up to the limit of his ability, experience and patience.

Rives was a classical pianist and played for the only straight rugby team who wore pink. They talk of him now as being the successful captain of a dominant French team but they forget the frustration and torment this non-conformist caused the opposition, the way he turned a game with the flick of a wrist or slowed progress by just being in the wrong place.

Sunady morning scrappers

If you look close enough on Sunday mornings, you’ll see the scrapper out there among the hundreds of other kids learning the game in fields around Ireland. He won’t be the one putting his hand up with a question; he won’t be wearing gloves or shoulder pads either. He won’t be winning sprints or being the best at drills, but if you wait for the game at the end and look even closer, he’ll be fabricating a game of inches where winning the ball from an implausible situation is the only thing and then, feeding it to a fast kid when there’s another more obvious recipient that he knows is slower. We’ll cheer the fast kid as he dives over for “his” try, but we’ll also know that we have a real one out there, a real rough diamond.



Previously by Sniffle: Neglecting the soul of rugby

40 thoughts on “The Scrapper

  1. Poor scrapper……cut and bruised…kicked and thorn…..and then off into the showers were someone pulled his langer…….and this is “the game they play in heaven”…..huh?

  2. Sula Man you really need to get a life. Rugby may be full of machismo, it is not homophobic, unlike you.

    Peter Malone, Garryowen and now Bruff, the best scrapper in the AIL.

  3. Look out for Heinrich Brussow, the new Springbok open side flanker, the guy who clean and jerked Simon Shaw off the ground in the second Lions Test. Watch out for him when they tour at the end of the year. He’s the best scrapper in the international game at the moment. Incredible ability to come out with the ball and strong as a JCB. He plays on the edge of the law, but never gets caught.

  4. No.8 I never said rugby was homophobic…….in fact I think its a celebration of the opposite.
    I….positively……think its a celebration of the opposite.

  5. You’re right on Brussouw, Sula Man, he’s the new kid on the block…and judging by Bocks post, it looks like the former ‘King Scrapper’ – Richie McCaw will be playing second row For Canterbury and All Blacks.

    Who do ye reckon Munster’s scrapper is? – without the bould Quinny obviously. It’s surely not Denis Leamy, Wallace or Ronan.
    For Ireland it has to be O’Driscoll, a man so blessed with the finer, more subtle skills a rugby player craves, that if he didn’t do all that donkey work like tackling, the turnover, hitting rucks and the intercept, he would still make the Ireland team!
    A metrosexual warrior, but that’s just a contradiction of greatness like Pierre Rives.

  6. Oops I meant “Cynical Joe” was right about Brussouw….Not Sula Man….As if Sula Man would ever let something smart pass between his chapped lips.

  7. Thanks Pappy for clearing that up…..I was basking in a compliment I didn’t understand until I saw the sexual thing at the end and figured out you were talking about rubgy

  8. Sula Man please explain your obsession of sex with rugby. Are you a closet gay man whos emotions and sexuality were kept under wraps during your macho boxing days? Did you indeed box or simply hang around the gym?

  9. Sula,still got that little penis issue going on I see, what gives man?..If what you envisage as being the epitome of heterosexuality in sport is a load of self important overpaid assholes doing a Liza Manelli swan dive everytime someone gives them a dirty look,(Don’t start me on what they get up to when they score a goal,it’s like auditions for Brokeback mountain),then that’s your sorry misconception… drag your knuckles away from the computer,get out the tweezers and do what you’re best at.

  10. Talk about auditioning for a part in Brokeback mountain.The
    player that was taken off “injured” for Harlequins v Leinster last season must have been
    auditioning for a part in The Return of the Living Dead because he was using fake blood.

    As regards cheating in sport that was a first. Hats off to Rugby Union.

  11. Lads lads lads……calm down a bit…..if a similar comment was posted in regards to different topic or sport (especially soccer) you might see the humour in it or not…..even if it was a bit crass and would most probably have been ignored but thats my point when it comes to rugby.

    I think rugby can be a good game to watch at times….when its fast moving and high scoring but I can definitely take or leave it…………..I do find it distasteful when one lad puts his studs in another lads back and even more distasteful when such a thing is celebrated as great sportsmanship.

    Yer man sniffles article was well written but in my opinion was most certainly a celebration of what I consider unsportsman like behaviour….”the blond bloke with the permanent rusty patch on his head from someones boot” for example…..

    I would concur with Pauleire regarding aspects of soccer…..the big black bloke at chelsea that spends more time on the ground then he does running around for example……but I don’t celebrate it………btw Paul I read on this site that a young lad from South Africa had signed for Munster for $300’000 a year……..if thats true is almost $6000.oo euros a week not over paid…..I think you might have a bit of a sliding scale when it comes to measuring and comparing.

    Be honest in how you would react if I got here and described David Beckam or Frank Lampard as a “metrosexual warrior”……..fucks sake.

    I think some of you lads are looking through a mirrored window from the wrong side.

    Not sure if thats positive bock….you tell me.

  12. Thanks Lads ,

    I think Munster’s current terriers are Marcus and Fla.

    We’ll have to have a close examination of this new Springbok Brussow too.

    Think I remember that Peter Malone from Garryowen.

    Here’s a thing though. Who is the most tenacious and enduring person around here? Beyond rugby. If you were to pick the narliest, the one who wouldn’t let go of a bone, who might that be ? The person you want in your corner when you’re in a spot of bother.

  13. Great post about the unsung heroes of the only game worth playing. Your man Dean Richards who you all have been recently condemning was a great scrapper in his tme, he invariably came out of a maul or a ruck with the ball even if he didn’t go in with it !! Let’s face it, fake blood isn’t all that different from deliberately being offside and using your hand to retreive the ball.

  14. Jaysus Sniffle, there’s a book in you. Another fine article. Keep ’em coming.

    Have great memories of Jean Pierre Rives one of the bravest and inspirational players of all time.

    And fair play for highlighting just what a real get down and dirty scrapper Brian O’Driscoll is, a back who doesn’t mind mixing it in the ruck and maul.How true it is had he worn red and was brought up through one of our clubs, a statue would already be on its plinth. He is and will be regarded as one of the giants of the game. Behind all the ladyboy jibes, there’s a streak of jealousy which will always ponder on just how far easier, and sooner, the Holy Grail of Europe might have been attained had he been nestling in our back division.

    Can’t let a post on scrappers go without mentioning a Young Munster back row who matched and beat the best of them who was shamefully never honoured with an international cap thanks to the old IRFU apartheid style of selection. Terry Brogan.

  15. ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh lads we all know rugby union or leauge is fuckin gay—–live with it guys

  16. Didn’t move the goalposts, Dean Richards was a scrapper (so in context). At least I din,t go wittering on about
    gay rugby players !!

  17. Yep Perfidious, Dean Richards definitely. Remember when he made his debut against us and scored a hat-trick? Brilliant grafter. And yes too, about that bloodgate thing. I couldn’t agree more. Think it was an ingenious ruse and but for that plonker giving a wink, they would have got away with it. I think union is hiding something bigger. Don’t think the drug testing regime is the most robust .

    Hey Hoof, I think I remember that Terry Brogan fella. Definitely remember him being spoken about .
    You know, I think there’ll be progress on the yellow road soon . Always thought that the bed was too big without them.

  18. Will go along with all the comments about Brogan, the bastard once trampled all over me, but he did buy me a pint
    afterwards and has done since !! That’s what this noble game is all about.

  19. Perfidious…..I don’t know anything about Dean Richards apart from the fact that when he was worried that his team was’nt going to win fairly he tried something that would help them win unfairly.

    Do you really think thats alright ? your last comment talked about nobility man.

    It would…I think….be far more noble for rugby folk to just love your game…..just that….and not be so convinced that in your love for rugby you have to hate soccer……just my opinion you understand.

  20. Sula man,I enjoy soccer but i could never watch a game of it directly after watching a game of rugby. it’s too slow and there’s not enough intensity for my liking. The equivalent for you might be watching cricket after watching soccer.
    Anyway, you’ve hijacked this fine piece of writing for your own pleasure in putting down the game of rugby with your stereotypical ‘rugby is gay’ comments. I’d say there’s some latent homosexuality going on in your subconscious if you must comment on this sport in the lowest common denominator.

  21. There’s always hope Sniffle, we’re due a Cup at least :lol:

    Although it’s a pity the way we (all) have to reflect on the coming season by wondering who’s coming to us from Thomond or Shannon or wherever, or who’s gone to Garryowen or Bohs etc. Sad that club loyalty has been one of the major casualties of modern rugby.

    Not so long ago, if someone even mentioned in jest they were thinking of jumping ship they’d find themselves ostracised by drinking buddies, have their grandmothers beating a path to the local voodoo priest with pleas for prayers of intercession from St. Frankogan (that well known Patron of turning people away from Garryowen) , find his girlfriend much less receptive to the dropped hand and have their mothers spit in their cold soup.

    Where did it all go wrong?

  22. I love to watch cricket…..anyway pappy I like you’re……..I could never eat bacon after eating steak mentality………I myself could never watch eastenders after watching coronation street…

  23. True about Malone, A scrapper of the highest order (And has the head and ears to prove it). Before he returned to where he started (Bruff) he gathered an International Club Captaincy along the way two years ago. Player/Forwards coach now passing on the scrapping tricks to the up and coming Bruffians where he learnt the trade himself, that’s what it’s all about.

    A Funny one regarding the effect of professionalism, even at AIL level. Was at a game in Dublin last season, where the President of one of the old and established was crowing about the fact that six of their starting players had come up through their underage system. He asked the question to Peter’s auld fellah Ger (Former Bruff President, with the plumbing shop on the fairgreen) and the answer he got was “Weell of the twenty two out there, there’s two…. that aren’t, the No. 7 is from Kilfeacle and the prop is a foreigner of course, he’s from the Kerry side of Abbeyfeale…….” At that the D4 president walked away. 7 of his starting side had come up playing against the Bruff lads underage, they were from Limerick…. four from Munchins.

  24. I have to say that if Dean Richards is to be admired for pulling a stunt and getting away with it then surely when Neil Back knocked the ball out of Peter Stringers hands should also be applauded. You might find that if he set foot in a Limerick Pub these days not too many lads will be queuing up to say “fair play you ould bollix that was great stuff”. I understand the sentiment in the article and agree for the most part but sport is all about perspective. The colour lenses on the day of the game dictate how these men are seen in the long run.

  25. @ Geek, Hah, Kilfeacle and Abbyfeale are faraway, godless places. I argued recently that all rugby is parochial and I meant all, even down south. The fuckers I call my pals smirked at me. I’ll tell the undeserving bastards your story.

    @ Hoof, the dropped hand. Whenever I say this out loud, the girls at work cringe and look at me in that dirty ol man way. And spare a thought for poor ol Frank, there’s a recession you know and punters just aren’t buying those 500 SL’s anymore. Saw him with his hand out, outside the Augustinians the other morning.

    @ Rob, you make a good point but I think that cheating blood thing is in the cheap seats as when it comes to the drug cheating. You know the sprinters and swimmers and cyclists and what they can do with steroids and EPO. I hope I didn’t sound dismissive but I believe that they’ve go way over the top here and that makes me suspicious.

  26. Yeah Sniffle,
    “THE HILL” could refer to either of those pagan haunts…
    Jaysus well do i remember sunday mornings on the field behind the church in Kilfeacle, the new field doesn’t have the same Windswept effect probably due to the “Bowl” on the lee side of The Hill itself, it’s become almost habitable of late with the retirement of Currie Hanly :-)
    The story above was also told to that girl who does the “against the head” reporting after a recorded AIL game when she had the neck to ask who the registered Bruff Foreign players were……. She was given the same two lads’ names and places of origin.

    PS I heard that the Bruff lads beat the Shannon crew in the meteor sevens semi-final yesterday finishing the game with five players due to a misunderstanding regarding the rules of replacement of injured players :-) And Thomond beat them in the final. Keyrist, we might have olympians yet :-)

  27. I remember a pink church, I think it was a church anyway. And yes, hard & windswept and that hill too. Caught many a complacent team out.

    Good luck to Bruff this year. That gal on “against the head”, not as bad as Tracy, no, no-one could be that bad.

  28. Frank may be down on his luck but at least he stuck by his club, unlike a certain family of very wealthy builders.

  29. Ah, so ’twas the curse of desertion from Garryowen did it for the man in 5B.

    The craven claw that brought on the recession….lol.

  30. Hoof, we never forget. Wait until Fr.Time meets the twins. Is the 5B a reference to his car reg? Frank would never allow a 05 in his company.

  31. Father Ted and the Rose type lovely, monsieur le Geek? Oh dear God, it’s her breathlessness and her adoration of Paulie and her pony and riding bootness and her privilage which drive me nuts, when I need to hear Conor whatshisface or Brent Pope tell me that I was wrong or right or something tangible !

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