Red Star RLC made it two wins from three in the Serbian rugby league this weekend with a resounding victory over a young Radnicki Nova Pazova outfit, though the final score line of 58-28 clearly flattered a seemingly rudderless Red Star team, who let physical superiority get in the way of carefully laid plans and spoiled the chance to play to a pattern that proved successful in patches against the top team in town.
The ying and yang of a rugby team is represented by the forwards and the backs, with the halves or pivots, generally numbers 6, 7 and 9 (stand-off, scrum-half, hooker) acting as the conductors of the team.
The forwards, collectively known as the pack, are the heavy artillery of the team. Fierce and aggressive, their job is to hit and take hits; to force the defence to bring multiple defenders into contact with a single attacker (thereby creating time and space for the pivots to release the backs) and to force errors from the opposition in defence. The forwards lay an attacking platform for the backs, whose job in attack is generally to carve open the already-battered and disorientated defence.
While the pack relies primarily on brute force and intimidation, the backs rely on speed of mind and body, coordination and, to an extent, choreography. All players ultimately require all of these skills, but the prominence is split between the ying and the yang.
If the balance is broken, however, the team will ultimately crumble as a group - both on and off the field.
Generally the pack starts a set of six and the backs end it. This varies from set to set, depending on factors like field position and game plan, but usually the pack softens up the enemy lines and the backs break them.
This means that the backs often snatch the final glory from the good work of the pack, but such is the lot of a lowly forward. Indeed, a forward has to have high tolerance and high discipline. He might be the biggest, toughest man on the pitch, but he has to follow instructions from all three pivots, his captain, his coach and the referee. His only equals on the field are his fellow forwards and he only has authority over himself and the man standing next to him if he's the lead tackler in defence. He has to tolerate foul play from the opposition and not retaliate and risk a penalty; he has to suffer illegal contact or verbal abuse in contact if the alternative means losing possession of the ball. He doesn't have it easy, but if he does his job well he's the most respected and admired player on the team and every pivot and back knows that without the pack there's no attack. And besides, it helps that he is actually required to vent his frustrations (with legal contact) on opposition ball carriers.
The pack is acutally like a pack of wild beasts that must be controlled. If the three pivots fail to control the pack, i.e. they don't just let them start the attacking set, but rather allow the forwards to dominate the entire set and prevent the ball from reaching the backs, then the game plan collapses and we end up with a team reliant on brute force and no finesse; a team with frustrated backs and arguing pivots; a team doomed to failure against physically capable opposition. A team with defensive holes caused by over enthusiasm and wasted energy in attack, coupled with a disinterested, inactive backline.
When a pack is running rampage against physically inferior opposition it is only natural that a forward will want the ball as often as possible, but it's equally natural that when he's playing against defenders who hit hard and feel like a brick wall he will seek the ball less often.
An ideal forward will put his hand up to carry the ball with the same frequency regardless of the opposition.
An ideal forward will listen to his pivots, regardless of their age or personal relationship off the pitch, carry the ball strong and hard as instructed in the direction required as often as he can and protect his pivots in defence.
An ideal forward will not complain when he feels he doesn't get the ball enough or gets the ball too much, but will instead discuss carry rotations with his fellow forwards on the field and the coach and pivots off it.
An ideal forward knows the game plan and has respect for the backline and the opposition.
An ideal forward knows when to make himself available to which pivot and when to get out of the way.
Successful teams play to the same level of intensity and discipline regardless of the opposition and always afford the opposition maximum respect by playing to their maximum.
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