Prop forwards have always been respected – by fans and team-mates – for their no-fear approach to the game, and often to life in general.
Operating in the most confrontational of rugby positions, these selfless pillars of the scrum stick their head in where it hurts time after time to try and give the rest of the team quality ball to play with.
But nowadays, as we’re seeing week in week out in the men’s Six Nations 2022, there is so much more to being a prop than getting your head down and pushing as hard as you can.
Being a modern-day prop demands not only bravery but technique, strength, resilience, flexibility as well as skills that used to be the preserve of other rugby positions. It is no longer a requirement to have a beer belly, however.
We’ve picked out a few examples that underline how this most revered of rugby positions has evolved in the Six Nations. Needless to say, Joe Marler’s lineout throwing isn’t one of them!
ELLIS GENGE’S PASSING
Where better but to start with the loose-head’s floated left hand pass that put in Jamie George for his second try against Italy last weekend?
George showed his bullock-like strength to power over the line but the try belonged to his front-row partner who delivered a pinpoint accurate ball that cut out two defenders as if he had a number 10 on his back.
George, no mean footballer himself, was clearly impressed by the work of his colleague. “It was an unbelievable bit of skill and not many looseheads in world rugby would be able to do that. It’s great to be able to finish it off,” he said.
“It’s an evolution in the game. Everyone’s getting bigger, faster, stronger. But at the same time, they’re developing skills like that.
“We’re really lucky to have all our front row forwards who are very comfortable with the ball in hand. To be able to show that on the biggest stage is great.”
TADHG FURLONG’S STEPPING
Furlong is one of the best tight-heads in world rugby now, but he is much more than that. He is a stepper, a mover and all-round footballer who’s as modest as he is skilful.
There doesn’t seem to be anything that the Leinsterman cannot pull off, as we saw in round one of this year’s Championship with his deft offload against Wales. But his most outrageous piece of skill to date has to be the double sidestep against Scotland in the Six Nations 2021.
Receiving the ball inside Ireland’s 22, Furlong left hooker George Turner on his backside with a sidestep that Brian O’Driscoll would have been proud of, Finn Russell then got the same treatment, before the ‘Wexford Bull’ expertly got the ball away while under pressure from Jamie Ritchie.
Furlong is quite simply an embarrassment to all other tight-heads!
DILLON LEWIS’ JACKALING
Props are no longer just strong at the scrum engagement but also over the ball in the crucial battle of the breakdown, as Wales replacement Dillon Lewis showed in last Saturday’s 20-17 win over Scotland.
After an exhaustive passage of play defending phase after phase of opposition attacks, Lewis still had enough gas left in the tank to pull off a wonderful late turnover that finished Scotland off.
When Lewis is playing it is like having another back-rower on the pitch.
What next for props … a drop goal or touchline conversion?
Never before in the history of the Six Nations has a prop won the Player of the Championship award, but maybe that’s about to change in 2022.