These thoughts are to help and inspire people like you and me to reach higher and strive for greater things, to stand for a cause more noble than self serving, seeing the good in others and seeking it for their sake. I unashamedly weave my faith, biblical insight and life experiences into a sporting context to illustrate my personal journey to this point - I hope in a small way, I can help you on your journey to being all you were intended to be....

There are now over 50 posts to check out, tweet, link to facebook or google+ Please feel free to share a link BUT If you use any of the illustrations please acknowledge the source as Phil Manchester, Bradford, England. You can follow me on twitter @philmanchester

Thursday, 31 January 2013

The Front Row Union

In which sport can you call someone a hooker without them taking offence? In which sport can you describe a man as being a loose head or a tight head? In which other sport does the weight and force of momentum generated by 16 men travel through the body and shoulders of 6 men locked together head to head?

In what has euphemistically been called the Front Row Union, prop forwards and hookers (the numbers 1, 2 and 3 in a rugby union team) are assigned to a unique band of men, who's task in life is to bring stability, strength and structure to set plays (scrummaging and lineouts) and who are expected to display courage, commitment and contact in open play (rucks, mauls, tackling).

Some consider the union to be a self-preservation society. A protective group for those who have been known to stray on the right side of the law occasionally. A safe haven for those practising the dark arts of worming, twisting, wheeling and boring, alongside the more conventional requirements of engaging, binding and driving. Some say the "union" is merely the creation of those who cannot comprehend these men mountains - weaker souls, who consign the front row to a corner of the training ground far from the self declared fleet of foot, who wear clean shorts and un-muddied jerseys. But with nick names like Raging Bull and the Beast who amongst us would argue a point?

Ask a cartoonist to draw a picture of a rugby player and almost without fail, they will sketch out a thick set, Neanderthal looking specimen. Said Neanderthal would be sporting mishapen ears and/or nose, possibly accompanied by facial scars and invariably a large overhanging stomach. Away from the enlightened, perception is king. In previous decades, in which there was a healthy ignorance of the techniques employed by the members of the front row union, a young player would often be consigned to the front row if his shape looked odd alongside those who could pass out of both hands or sidestep. You became a prop if you were on the slightly large side and slow.  You were a hooker if you were half decent at throwing in straight or if there were too many flankers.

However, with rule changes that have been introduced to make the scrum a place of relative safety and that have for many years permitted the lifting of lineout jumpers - the shape and pace of the modern front row forward has evolved, far from the cartoonists image. In the modern game, front row forwards have to be athletes, whose strength and stamina are unquestionable and who provide both the stability to secure possession and the prowess to regain it.

If the old adage is true: forwards win games and the backs decide by how many, then to allow the free flow of play, you must have possession. So, regardless of the decade and arguments about the greatest sides ever assembled - the requirement for front row forwards is undeniable.As long as there are scrums, rucks, mauls, lineouts - in fact rugby - who wouldn't want men of strength, courage, physicality and technical ability on their side?

The bible records a battle involving an Israeli army. The account points out that the ageing spiritual and political leader, chief justice and strategist Moses,  had set out the plan for the battle. Not unlike a tactical game plan. To support the effort on the ground, he was to keep his arms raised, with his staff held high - as a symbol, illustrating the victory that would come. The fighting was intense. The battle wore on. Though he was a great leader, Moses tired physically. His arms eventual gave way to fatigue. Without the symbol to inspire them, the battle started to slip in favour of the opposition who sensed their opportunity - until, two men came alongside Moses, to physically prop up his arms and raise again the symbol for victory - evidence of Props bringing stability and strength and re-establishing the platform for victory. Needless to say the Israeli army prevailed - because of the props.

Unless we want to retreat and leave the field of play, life requires us to engage and do battle with it. Its a fact. To advance, to make a mark for good, to secure possession of what is of value to us and prevent it being snatched away by circumstance or neglect, requires commitment and courage. Sometimes life demands that we seek out the help of others or perhaps more poignantly we see the need of others.

The battle was secured by the Israeli army because strong men stood alongside leadership to provide their support and momentum. How frequently in business, in the service of others, in the church and especially in family life, is there a need for a special breed of men to step forward. Men who will  raise a hand to be counted in. Men who will provide support, strength and stability.

The front row union is not a closed shop. It is not a collection of mis-fits. It is not a secret brotherhood. It is a band of men who will stand in the front row, who are prepared to bind together and engage directly with opposition and give everything they've got for the greater good or the bigger goal. Businesses, communities, churches and families all need support to drive through positive change for the good of all - are we ready to engage? If our rugby cartoonist was to sketch out the man that I am, would I appear as a caricature or would he be compelled to sketch out strength, stability and stature?