A sport capable of describing the act of kicking as ‘putting boot to ball’ is capable of over-complicating anything, writes Larry Ryan.
Long ago, there were only rucks and mauls, and maybe grubbers and goosesteps.
The odd winger would pin back his ears, an imaginary gain line was drawn, and there was physicality at the breakdown.
That much was known.
But a sport capable of describing kicking as ‘putting boot to ball’ is capable of over-complicating anything.
The cynical will suspect sinister reasons for the great rise of rugby jargon, for this insistence that something very sophisticated is taking place before us.
The rugby lads, after all, wouldn’t be strangers to keeping things exclusive.
But all we can do is crocodile roll with it. So here is your guide to a selection of Rugby World Cup jargon.
As, hopefully, you know, a ruck involves a heaving mass of participants pawing at one another on the ground, unable to take much interest in the ball, due to some arcane law about handling when off your feet.
Into this conversation butts the ‘missile’; a first responder, if you like.
The missile’s thankless role is to propel himself headlong into the melee to clear a little space in the wreckage, so that his colleagues can begin to excavate the ‘pill’.
The missile will need to have a strong ‘collision focus’.
Seemingly an endangered species, due to World Rugby’s tinkering with the rules to encourage some sort of spectacle to break out.
This predator operates at the ‘breakdown’, following up a tackle by looming menacingly over his victim, before, ideally, relieving him of the ball.
A word of warning: if the jackal — AKA the poacher — is still rooting at his prey when reinforcements arrive, he can expect to feel the brunt of a missile, who will be looking to win the ‘shoulder battle’.
Hence, there is some concern for the safety of jackallers, with retired exponent Sam Warburton pleading for some sort of preservation order.
Much of this stuff could be filed under ‘heavy lads wrestling for the ball’, the kind of carry-on they despair about in the ‘Gah.’
The ‘can opener’ is carried as back-up, should the missile prove ineffective at creating sufficient carnage with his initial lunge.
Operating at an ‘attacking ruck’, the can opener is charged with twisting a defending player, so the next man in can help himself to the imperishable foodstuffs buried in the mass of humanity.
While the temptation must be there to play dead and hope this all goes away, when you are felled at the feet of a dozen 19-stone forwards, that sort of negative thinking is discouraged.
Instead, you are required to be ‘active on the ground’, rolling around in an effort to ‘break contact’ with any would-be assailants.
Again, all this housekeeping is carried out with a view to facilitating an easier ‘clean out’.
TRUCK AND TRAILER
It is that age-old existential poser that everyone has asked themselves at one time or another in life: When does a maul become a truck-and-trailer shepherd?
This is the rugby equivalent of stopping your tractor in the middle of the road to have a friendly chat with a passer-by, while a line of traffic builds up behind.
‘Screening’ at a maul — blocking tacklers from reaching the ball carriers — is not strictly allowed.
But if two or three players bind together around the ball in a ‘truck and trailer’, anything goes.
DRESSING THE RUCKS
See all those fellows loitering at the fringes, not jackaling or crocodile rolling, or can-opening, or missiling.
It could be argued they are fulfilling no useful function at all. Some would argue they are just ‘dressing the rucks’.
This is the counter-movement jump. Skipper Peter O’Mahony’s counter-movement jump is the best in the Ireland squad, Jamie Heaslip once assured us.
It’s 63cm from a standing start, seemingly, “a testament to his leg power and flexibility”.
If you wanted a simpler term, you could probably get away with the word ‘jump’.
Look, you’re at nothing unless you get your latches right.
Also known as leeching, the latch involves clinging onto your mate with the ball, providing some sort of impetus, physical or philosophical, on his way towards the mythical reward of the gain line.
Sounds handy enough, though comes with a litany of instructions.
At a ‘dynamic maul’, you can ‘latch and smash’. If momentum is lost, the latcher should release his ‘grip and strip’.
Some suggest Jean Kleyn has been called up for Japan, at the expense of ‘Big Dev’, for his ability to latch onto ‘vulnerable carriers’, which, hopefully, sounds more sinister than it is.
PBQ (Poor ball quality)
No needlessly complicated lingo would be complete without a string of acronyms. See also KBA (Keep ball alive).
There are probably unis that offer a PhD KBA to proficient offloaders.
Have you got the line speed to breach that promising territory between the centres? If not, you may need to find a soft shoulder.
You will be aware of the great regard, within rugby union, for the noble art of kicking the ball up in the air.
Once, it was all about the Garryowen, the up-and-under, the bomb. Accuracy never seemed to be a requirement of this staple of Ireland’s gameplan.
Instead, it was assumed that opponents would be incapacitated with wonder at the altitude of the kick.
The box kick is the modern precision equivalent, if you consider hoofing one 30 yards down the field to be precise.
Launched skywards by the scrum-half from the back of a ruck, the box kick is programmed to detonate at an appointed location, known as the landing strip.
Or ‘warriors of the sky’, as they’ve also been called. No use scheduling a flight to the landing strip unless there is someone there to meet it.
As former Munster hooker Duncan Casey put it, “combine a good box kicker with powerful air marshals and you have the recipe for a cocktail of calamity on the receiving side”.
Your winger’s route to the landing strip is unlikely to be straightforward.
Expect him to fall victim to the distraction techniques of the opposition’s ‘escorts’.
This article appears in Friday’s 40-page Irish Examiner Rugby World Cup preview magazine.