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Eric Poole is a reporter and columnist for the Ellwood City (Pa.) Ledger, a small newspaper nestled near the Ohio state line in the heart of Steelers Country. He has a wife, a son and a daughter (so there will be some daddy stuff on this blog). A former steelworker and retired rugby player, Poole has a wide range of interests, which was reflected in the 2008 Pennsylvania Newspaper Association awards, when Poole won first-prize honors for best columns and best special project. His upcoming book, "Company of Heroes," due out March 17, 2015, from Osprey Publishing, tells the story of Vietnam War hero Leslie Sabo and his comrades. Sabo was awarded the Medal of Honor May 16, 2012, in a White House ceremony.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

All-time, All-Star, All-Russell-Crowe-character rugby side

For certain, the celebrity most associated with rugby in this country is Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe. Although Crowe is identified with Australia, he was born in New Zealand and is reportedly a fan of the All Blacks in rugby union. He also is majority owner of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, which won the 2014 Australian Rugby League championship.

In honor of his longtime association with the sport and the All Blacks’ first trip to the United States since 1980, here is the All-Time All-Star All-Russell Crowe Character side (Disclaimer - even though the Rabbitohs play rugby league, which has 13 players to a side, this is a 15-man rugby union team, with the numbers corresponding to the jersey numbers for each position).

(Second disclaimer - Since Crowe is still making movies, including two releases set for 2015, I reserve the right as sole selector to bump any old Crowe character in favor of a new Crowe character, should performance demand it):

Warning: Spoilers abound.

1.       Wendell “Bud” White (LA Confidential) at loosehead prop – At first glance, the loosehead prop, like White, is a cementhead, good for little but brutality. But the position, so named because it has an outside position in the scrum’s front row, requires unexpected finesse, and looseheads occasionally dream of being flankers, just as Detective White pines to solve cases with his head instead of his fists.

2.       Noah (Noah) at hooker – Fodder for bumper-sticker jokes like “Support Your Local Hooker: Play Rugby,” the position is named because he hooks the ball back through the scrum from front and center of the front row. In the scrum, the hooker’s arms are pinned over the shoulders of the props on either side of him, so he goes in face first. The hooker is not easily dissuaded from his purpose, and is a leader among the forwards – he usually throws in on lineouts and the ball goes into the scrum on his signal.

3.       John Biebe (Mystery, Alaska) at tighthead prop – Even though rugby is the link of sports evolution between soccer and American football, in many ways, it resembles hockey. Biebe, past his prime – described as a little slow of foot – knows all the tricks necessary to prevail in the scrum’s front row.

4.       Jim Braddock (Cinderella Man) at lock – This position, also called second row, provides the push in the scrum and jumps for the ball during lineouts. On the pitch, a lock moves forward relentlessly, style be damned, just like Braddock.

5.       Pearly Soames (Winter’s Tale) at lock – Anyone capable of head-butting Colin Farrell off the Brooklyn Bridge can be in anybody’s forward pack. Anytime. And one of Lucifer’s minions will certainly make sure no one on the other team will be lying on the ground at the wrong side of a ruck.

6.       Capt. Jack Aubrey (Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) – In a scrum, the blindside flanker lines up on the field’s short side – rugby’s Far Side of the World – and makes deceptive attacks on offense and stops them on defense. Given Aubrey’s use of trickery when outgunned, this would be the place for him.

7.       SID 6.7 (Virtuosity) at openside flanker – Lawrence County (Pa.) Commissioner Steve Craig, who played openside flanker at George Washington, once likened the position to being a “paid assassin,” because he gets a free run at the opposing team’s scrum half and fly half on defense. If either of them makes the slightest bobble, the openside has a chance to kill, figuratively speaking, an opposing player. SID is a rampage killer, so the other team’s fly half should watch out.

8.       Maximus Decimus (Gladiator) at number eight – Sitting at the back of the scrum, holding the ball on his foot until the scrum half lets it out at the precise moment to start the attack, sometimes deciding to pick up the ball and have a run himself, the number eight is an imposing figure. Big, strong, fast and tough. A real gladiator (sorry, couldn't resist). Team captain, by virtue of Crowe's Academy award for the part.

9.       John Nash (A Beautiful Mind) at scrum half – As the link between the backs and forwards, the scrum half must have a mathematician’s command of the game on offense and defense. On defense, he has to command all the angles. On offense, he sometimes needs to see openings even when no one else can.

10.   Cort (The Quick and the Dead) at fly half – Fly halves are the gunslingers of rugby. They decide when to kick for field position, take the ball themselves when they see an opening or let the ball out to the centres and wings. The fly halves do most of the kicking for points, either by drop kicks or place kicks. Cort is an outlaw-turned-preacher who shoots under his own arm to kill a bad guy sneaking up from behind, so there you are.

11.   Robin Longstride (Robin Hood) at wing – The wings are often a team’s fastest players – and come on, Longstride?

12.   Terry Thorne (Proof of Life) at inside centre – Centres need to have a combination of physical prowess and tactical acumen, and Thorne’s backstory as a British commando-turned corporate hostage consultant qualifies. Plus, "Proof of Life" includes an emotional attachment both on and off screen that evokes former England centre and team captain Will Carling's reported involvement with Princess Diana.

13.   Ben Wade (3:10 to Yuma) at outside centre – Wade, the leader of an outlaw band, is smart, elusive and aggressive. So are the best outside centres.

14.   John Brennan (The Next Three Days) at wing – In “The Next Three Days,” Brennan evades his opposition, takes his imprisoned wife and goes All. The. Way. – to Venezuela, just like wings are supposed to go to the goal for tries, the rugby equivalent of a touchdown.

15.   Jeffrey Wigand (The Insider) at fullback – Wigand is the last line of defense between the public and corporate corruption. Fullbacks are the last line of defense between the opposition and a try. Wigand is put under tremendous pressure by forces who would rather he kept his mouth shut. Fullbacks are under tremendous pressure from the other team when taking high kicks deep in their own end.

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