A day for rugby, the greatest game known to man! We started with an entree of Franca vs. Italy (or the build up thereof) at 2:30pm before scooting over the water for a light main of Leicester Tigers vs. Newcastle Falcons at 3:00pm and then up to the frozen wastes of Scotland for the start of England’s 2012 Six Nations tour at 5:00pm for dessert.
A sport I can appreciate and enjoy from the aspects of playing and watching, I find the simple pleasure in rugby comes from just being a part of it. From the youngster clad in replica kit to the pinnacle of the sport on the Twickenham pitch and every level in between, rugby in a game for all. For without those hidden layers it would not be the game is still is today.
I have often been told that there are no rules to rugby and strictly speaking this is the truth. Rugby is governed by laws and as such, speaks to the uninitiated of absolutes, of pillars of truth deeply imbedded in the very fabric of the play. The fact is that the people who play the best game are those who know how to work around the laws without actively breaking them. Please, don’t misunderstand me, I don’t for a second mean to imply that you should cheat to be successful at the game! More that the understanding of the game must be so complete that you are able to dance that close to the line without setting so much as a toe across it. But rugby is more than a set of laws, 30 men, 3 officials, a smattering of support and some questionable bathing habits post match…
It is a lifestyle to adopt. Much like the football way of life with the fast cars and faster women, one step ahead of the paps and the image that sells more than the sport you play, rugby is a way of living.
From youth to pension, beginner to professional, confused to coach the game affects everyone it touches and leaves it mark. The game of rugby teaches those who have yet to love it about teamwork and sportsmanship as all sports should but it goes the extra mile and also promotes the ideas of determination, support, conduct , fair play and respect.
I have yet to see another sport send a man from the field of play for conduct unbecoming of a gentleman and ‘against the spirit of good sportsmanship’ (Law 10(m)), nor have I seen a team going so far as to stop play in order to draw an injury to the referee’s attention. With very few examples to show otherwise there is rarely a cry of wolf on the rugby pitch. The players are aware of the dangers and have often seen the resulting injuries a match can produce and do not take injury calls lightly. And if it does occur – the infamous Bloodgate incident for example – you only need to view the shock and indignity that follows to know that this type of behaviour is not, and could not become typical because of the sheer volume of people who could not bear to see it happen to the sport they love.
The expression ‘play to the whistle’ is probably used in many sports meaning, ‘don’t just stop because you think you should, the ref is in charge if he says play on; play on!’ In rugby the other meaning behind it is ‘what the ref says goes’. There are three officials on a rugby pitch – four if you’re lucky enough to playing at televised standard but the referee can overturn all of them. He is the equivalent to The Almighty for those 80 minutes and as such should be treated like it. There is no bumping, cussing, pushing, shoving, pulling, deriding, or general bullying of the referee as can frequently be seen in football matches, they are addressed as ‘sir’ at all times, and should you not be the captain, the vice or the pack leader – or even nominated speaker should all the above mentioned be indisposed – you do not even speak to the referee. Did you know that in rugby a player can still be shown a red card for up to an hour after the match? Tempers can run high in a physical contact game and it is not often that the law often comes into play but it is there, in the background, ensuring that what goes on the pitch stays on the pitch. The fact that tempers are held, referees are not sent off in ambulances and the game continues just exemplifies the control and respect learnt to continue to play
There really is no ‘I’ in rugby. No single performance, no lone celebrations to be applauded and spotlighted. Yes of course all people have good days and bad days and some play better than others, but the teams that are the most successful are those that play – win or lose – together, as a squad. Take a look at England’s performance yesterday! Yes the media have rubbished it and the Scottish have played down their own inadequacies by trying to highlight England’s, but just look at the video again. See the union in the English team, when one mistake is made all the players rally round that person, when someone works well and hard, it is accepted as a whole team effort. There was no showboating, gloating, playing to the crowds, just hard honest graft and the result to show for it. Ugly rugby people call it? I still think, even with messy play like that it’s the most beautiful game to watch.
The old saying is that football is a gentleman’s sport played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen and this is the description that will always define rugby for me. But the thing that has always grabbed me about rugby and appealed ever since I began to understand the difference between the rugby players and the footballers, is the attitude. This carries forward from the minis and right up to the adult teams but it is in the junior rugby it will be most apparent. In those players of years to come and the most susceptible age range for making decisions that affects their entire futures. These rugby boys who play are mid-pubescent, emotional, erratic, hormonal and discovering themselves all at the same time. And as a hobby on a Sunday morning they chose to ruck hard and fast in the mud, scrum close and personal in another teams body heat and run into players twice their weight and height with a joy and fearlessness no other sport has seen. These boys are taught from touch to contact not only about how to behave on the pitch, but valuable lessons for all aspects of life. Respect for authority (even if you don’t like it), support for your teammates (because showboating doesn’t win you prizes – or friends), not to take yourself too seriously (because clubhouse banter will knock that right out of you) and to know there are people who would put their body on the line for you and the team, just as you would for them.
Rugby could never be just a sport and be as big as it is. It seeps into countries you would have expected to shun it and is played in the places you would least expect it. It joins people together and brings a sense of belonging to millions. And all the while it teaches and moulds us for life’s games and field’s of play. There is a certain pride that being a rugby fan brings that no other sport can match and it is the feeling of being a part of something great; a feeling I wouldn’t trade for all the transfer fees in all the world.
A hooligan’s sport played by gentlemen? Just remember; we’re all living proof of the future of that.