Rugby World Cup Jargon Buster: Know your Piano Shifters from your Pine Riders

Mary Hannigan gets some help rucking her way through rugby’s myriad of puzzling lingo

Tadhg Furlong knows his way around and through the Corridor of Power on a rugby pitch. Photograph: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Rugby, as we know, has a language and a set of phrases and terminology with which most of us are unfamiliar.

It’s hardly alone, though, in the world of sport, cricket has googlies, doosras, jaffas and dibbly-dobblies, for heaven’s sake.

But during this World Cup some of us have felt decidedly excluded from the chat, not even Google Translate being able to help, so we consulted a rugby aficionado to help us understand 10 bits of lingo that left us flummoxed.

He, understandably, chose to remain anonymous, for fear we’d confuse his definitions of piano shifters with pine-riders and leave him mortified.


1 Group-flow

Jamie Heaslip said of Ireland and their performance against Scotland, "all those reps are paying off, they're in a state of group-flow there".

What did he mean?

“No idea. Next.”

2 Intellectual Rugby Property

And during the same game, Donal Lenihan told us that Rob Kearney and Keith Earls had "180 caps of intellectual rugby property".

Could he just have said ‘they’re very experienced’?

“He could, yes.”

Eddie O’Sullivan knows right well you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

3 Eddie-isms

And would it be better for Eddie O’Sullivan to say things like ‘there’s no going back’, rather than “you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube”?

“Perhaps, but that would make the world a duller place. Would you really have wanted him to say, ‘lads, our rucking was so poor it made it tremendously difficult for Stringer to locate the ball’, rather than, “lads, if you’re going to ruck like that, Stringer may as well be looking for a Mars bar in a bucket of shit”?

Fair point.

4 Piano Shifters

Okay, on with the puzzling rugby lingo. Are piano shifters just big lads?

"Pretty much. The phrase was coined by former French international Pierre Danos to describe forwards, as opposed to backs who he called the 'piano players'."

Offensive to forwards?

“Very – but most of them can’t read so you’re safe enough to use it.”

5 Riding the Pine

White water rafting?

“No, just a reference to a sub sitting on the bench. The expression began life in the world of baseball, but thanks to the likes of Eddie it has snuck its way in to rugby, among other sports.”

6 Escorts

Not the lads at the Rose of Tralee, presumably?

“What do you think? No, an escort is a player who tries to impede – in a legal way – players who are chasing box kicks and the like. If they stand their ground, forcing the runner to circumnavigate them, then they’ve committed no crime.”

7 Pick and Jam


“No, it’s when a player picks up the ball and runs with it around the side of the ruck – it’s all about trying to keep possession.”

8 Green Grass

Why do commentators always refer to the grass as being green, what other colour would it be?

“Well, brown for the winter months, or all year around if you own a beagle. Green grass is just space, often where the outhalf will attempt to kick it.”

9 Groundhog

Would that chiefly be an openside flanker who does his best work on the ground by battling gamely to remove the ball from the opposition and win it for his colleagues?

“You’ve been reading the Google, haven’t you?”


10 Corridor of Power

Wherever Tadhg Furlong walks?

“Kind of – it’s all about getting over the gainline through brute force around the fringes of the ruck.”

We thank Anonymous for his help, but it paled next to Conor Murray’s efforts to explain the maul to the unknowing when Life Style Sports asked him to do so “in terms of a barbecue when there’s only one burger left and there’s a bunch of hungry people”.

“There’s one burger at the back of the barbecue,” said Conor, “half of the hungry men have it, then the other half of the hungry men come to the barbecue. The guys with the burger have a shield of men in front of the burger, and the other men come in and try and beat them up to get the burger and eat it. I think.”

That one, you’d suspect, went to the TMO.