Hooker, Rucking, Loose-head and other words that don’t mean what you think

The Rugby World Cup is underway in New Zealand (you knew that, right?) and South Africa’s Springboks are off to a good start. They beat Wales by the hair of a dragon’s nose, 17-16 (my Welsh friend Kev claims Cymru was robbed), in their opening match, and face Fiji next.

The U.S. team, the Eagles, struggled in their first contest and lost to Ireland, 22-10.

So, for those of you scoring at home, that’s adopted/ancestral homelands: 2, actual homeland: nil.*

Every Friday during the World Cup — actually, every Friday since we’ve been here — is “Bok Day.” Every South African is supposed to don a Springboks jersey or t-shirt in support of the Boks. Never mind that we are ten time zones away from the actual matches, we’re all gonna wear the same shirt on the same day. It’s kinda like Spirit Week before Homecoming. And, if you hang out on campus long enough, you’ll see Clash Day and Pajama Day, too.

No Springboks gear? No problem. Just drive anywhere in Pretoria on any day and you can buy bootleg jerseys, flags, scarves and t-shirts from enterprising vendors at the stoplights of major intersections. Fitting rooms not provided.

Springbok Lock, and possible werewolf, Victor Matfield

The problem with rugby players is that too many of them are devastatingly handsome. They are massive, mountains of men. One Springbok in particular, Victor Matfield, has a habit of distracting my wife whenever he appears on TV or even in the newspaper. She thinks he may be a werewolf, an idea that she quite fancies.

(I must remind her that the wives and girlfriends — WAGs, or Scrummies — of rugby players ain’t so bad, either.)

Another player, Schalk Burger (hey, isn’t that what the grade school cafeteria served on Thursdays?), is not as classically handsome, perhaps, but he still has legs the size of my waist. There’s a TV commercial on right now that tells the story of Schalk competing in a mountain bike race as a kid. His chain broke somewhere along the way, so he carried his bike through the rest of the course and across the finish line. He took bronze.

Despite how decidedly unmanly these big Hercules make me feel, I still proudly wear my Boks jersey on Fridays. I do not, however, wear a mullet. Or a beardo.

For those of you who’d like to check out more hunky rugby dudes, learn a bit about South Africa and/or see Morgan Freeman in the role he was born to play, go rent and watch the film Invictus. The scenes where François Pienaar (Matt Damon) visits Nelson Mandela (Morgan Freeman) in his office are in Pretoria, at the Union Buildings.

Oh, and about those words from the title (definitions courtesy ESPN Scrum):

  • Hooker – the front row forward wearing No. 2 shirt. The player is supported on either side in the scrum by props and is required to gain possession of the ball in the scrum by hooking or blocking the ball with one of his/her feet. The hooker will normally also be the forward who throws the ball into the lineout.
  • Rucking – typically after a runner has come into contact and the ball has been delivered to the ground once any combination of at least three players have bound themselves a ruck has been set. The primary difference from a maul is that the ball is on the ground.
  • Loose-head – the No.1 prop in a scrum due to his head being outside the opposition’s tight-head prop’s shoulders.

Now I just need to learn the actual rules of the game.

* While I was drafting this, the USA Eagles beat Russia in their second match, 13-6.