An Idiot's Guide To Rugby (If You Don't Already Get It)
The Debrief: A guide to rugby for those who are too embarrassed to admit they don’t really know what it is
It is often said that the sport of Rugby Union is the preserve of posh southern boys. To be clear, I am all of those three things. I am male, grew up in Surrey, and I attended a disgustingly expensive school. The one thing that is a certainty in my life, is that I will never get sympathy from anyone. However, my good friend and Debrief writer Stevie Martin, is none of those three things. She’s from Liverpool, she’s a she, and she didn’t pay for her education. Despite these setbacks, let’s be clear, she’s employing me to write this (because she wants to go and watch rugby in a pub without asking loads of questions. These bracketed sentences may or may not have been written by Debrief writer Stevie Martin. Hello), and I’m delighted – because rugby is, quite frankly, the best sport humans have ever invented. It’s important that people like Stevie, (and you) understand it, because that way this great sport won’t have the dreadful stigma of being the preserve of disgusting toffs such as myself. It’s the Rugby World Cup 2015, it’s being held in England, and it’s the perfect opportunity to end all prejudices of class, gender, and geography – welcome to the party.
What is Rugby?
Let's start with the basics: Rugby is a sport with 15 players on each side, all of who spend 80 minutes fretting about the movements of an oddly shaped ball. If the ball is carried over the try line and touched down: try (noun, not verb), and five points. If the team’s designated kicker then drills the ball over the posts, that’s two more. You also get points if a team gives away a penalty, then the kicker again has a chance to boot the ball through the posts, but on these occasions it’s worth three points. Unless they miss, in which case it’s as worthless as my £25,000 a year education.
These ‘kickers’ usually play the position known as ‘fly half’ – often seen as the equivalent of quarterback in American football, and not just because they both have fractions in their name. They are the lynchpin of the team. Dan Carter of New Zealand is the most famous rugby player in the world, not only because he’s one of the best players to ever play the game, he’s also super fit – and in the homo-erotic world of rugby (I went to posh school, I know the score) – that too can go a long way.
Do the rest of the team even matter?
Rugby is the ultimate team game. Eight of the 15 players are known as the forwards; in essence, all their hours of training, coaching, strategy and practice boils down to one thing: push. Push the other team, backwards. If you’re failing to push them backwards, get back to training, and learn how to push better.
Here is a guy getting a face full of arse.
These guys are the unsung heroes of the team because what they do is less showy, but it’s brutal and it’s brilliant. Try to imagine what it’s like to be a forward for a single minute of a game: a player gets tackled, you try to push opposition off the ball, trip over the tackled player, get trampled on, lose a finger, get up, tackle someone else, spend a minute in the mud covered in bodies with your face stuffed square in a pair of bollocks, get up, fall over, get up, ‘run’ to the next tackle, grunt, push, fall over, heavy nose bleed, forget your own name, get taken off by medical staff and assessed for concussion. These guys deserve their pay-cheques.
And the other seven players?
The backs. The show ponies. The likes of the horribly talented Jonathan Joseph for England, or Israel Folau for Australia. Fleet of foot, quick runners, who dance round the opposition rather than through them. But that doesn’t mean they’re not subject to the sheer brute force of the game that is rugby’s main appeal. Imagine a fast, 16-stone man, running full pelt into the oncoming shoulder of an enormous forward, and being ‘sat down’, as the phrase goes. And I think part of what I find appealing about rugby is watching it, fascinated by the idea that these people have actually chosen to be do this. Why? It looks awful. As someone who could generously be described as a weak man, I am positive that if I was in the middle of a professional rugby game, within 10 minutes I would be dead. Stretchered off. Dead.
The good news is: nobody’s forcing you to play…
And watching it is a totally different matter. Just describing the rules to you has made me disgracefully excited about the next game. The grinding scrums, the 50 metre breaks, the tackles, the line out where men the size of fridge-freezers are lifted high into the air to compete for the precious egg-ball. And, of course, there’s Haka – New Zealand’s Maori dance that is ritualistically performed before all their International games to terrify the opposition. (It works, they are almost always ranked the number-one team).
Rugby Watching Tips
But if you’re going to join this bandwagon – this ‘sweet chariot’ if you will – you’re going to need some help with the Lingo. So here’s some things to say to make you sound in the know:
1) ‘Sit Down!’
This should be said whenever a big tackle is made on the opposition; is also useful when someone is blocking your view.
2) ‘Stand up!’
This should be said, following a big tackle on the team you’re supporting.
3) ‘Of course, it’s only a matter of time before the French team revolt’
The French are very proud of their revolutionary history. Unfortunately, it’s something they can’t let go of at major sporting tournaments, they always turn on their coaching staff – so it’s less a matter of ‘if’, more ‘when’ the wheels come off.
4) ‘I told you so’
A useful follow up to 3). (Not that anyone will have disagreed with you.)
5) ‘I’d have picked Jonny’
Jonny Wilkinson won the world cup for England 12 years ago. He retired from rugby one year ago, and retired from England rugby four years ago. He’s 36, and clearly unavailable for selection. None of this matters.
6) ‘What the Italians lack in rugby prowess, they really make up for in the Anthem’
Here’s all the explanation you need. (Note the chorus translates as, ‘We are ready to die!’)
So that’s it. It’s time to head down the pub with your horrid posh mates (everyone has at least one), and show them you know more about rugby than them. All we ever needed was this one rugby world cup tournament, and together, we can end prejudice once and for all.
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