The Football Fan’s A-Z Guide to Rugby Union
American founding father Benjamin Franklin in 1789 said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”. It’s a sentiment that is hard to argue with, but is clearly not quite complete.
Benjamin Franklin was a few years too early to experience that awkward moment in the middle of every rugby game when the referee makes a decision that no one understands except, (and not always), him.
The offside rule in football has long being the discussion of terraces and dinner tables and was recently immortalised on a new 50p coin. But we rugby aficionados scoff at such confusion over one law. Over in rugby land we have a multitude of laws to be confused at and scratch our heads over. Our ‘throw ins’ have 92 laws alone! That’s why every Six Nations the good people of the BBC don’t just commentate but try to educate whilst commentating, keenly encouraging the novice rugby fan to make sense of what they are seeing..
So when a football loving friend (let’s call him GJ to hide his lack of knowledge) voiced his concern at going to his first rugby game with little understanding of rugby, it became clear there was a gap in the market. Therefore Ball In Touch is proud to present to you our first ever “The Football Fan’s A-Z Guide to Rugby Union”.
A – Atmosphere. GJ said he loves soaking up the atmosphere at the match and the banter before a game. You get some amazing grounds in football for atmosphere, and of course some not so good. Rugby generally tends to be a family event and as a result is a bit more relaxed and less aggressive. Swearing is the exception rather than the norm and those that do turn to expletives are usually shushed by those around them. A is also for Away fans. Do not be worried if you find yourself surrounded by bewigged or colourful folk not like yourself, they are allowed to mingle with the home supporters and regularly provide good-hearted banter and a handshake in defeat.
B – Beer. Like many fans, GJ likes a pre and post-match pint to preview and review the action. But at rugby, you can drink during. First timers are regularly shocked when the stewards make no attempt to stop people taking beer into the stand as opposed to only the concourse. But worry not, this is allowed and not simply poor stewardship. So sit back and enjoy the spectacle unfold over the tipple of your choice. B is also for Backs. These are the guys who stand around with unblemished features and Daz white strips while the big guys (forwards) battle it out for the ball. When the forwards deem it acceptable for the backs to have the ball, these are normally the speedsters who do the fancy stuff that makes the highlight reels. Bloodbin is our final B. If a player is bleeding they can be replaced whilst the doctor sews them up. The substitution can then be reversed when he has been put back together, like an 18 stone, 6ft 6” humpty dumpty.
C – Conversion. It’s not all smash and bash in rugby. A talented kicker is a must have for a top side (Jonny Wilkinson may ring a bell). Little history for you – in the early days of the game, the act of scoring a try garnered no points; it was simply a way to get a chance to ‘try’ and kick the conversion to get points. As with all kicks, players have one minute to kick and conversions can be charged down by defenders.
D – Dissent. One area of the game that GJ and many people don’t enjoy is the way players treat the referee. None of that here thankfully. You’ll see no surrounding and swearing at the officials and any even petty bickering at penalty decisions sees teams marched back another ten metres. A good example of this when penalised at a re-start (see kicks) England fly-half Toby Flood simply uttered “Oh come on ref” and the decision was instantly upgraded to a penalty against him.
E – Equipment. You’ve probably heard rugby players have odd-shaped balls. Players can also wear mouthguards, shoulder pads and scrum-cap. The latter was not a fashion style started by Petr Cech and in fact prevents the cauliflowered ears look, which is so 2009.
F – Forward pass. By the book, the ball can only be passed sideways or backwards. Unfortunately most refs appear to have skipped this chapter in their haste to see how the book ended and the professional game sees a lot of passes that are ‘flat with momentum’. Or, what you and I would call ‘forward’.
G – Gambling. Making predictions add flavour to any sporting event and GJ loves a cheeky £2 bet now and again. Those that fancy a flutter will also be able to at the rugby in the usual manner, with odds for first try scorer and the like on offer with the bookies.
H – Hospitality. As with football, corporate is the place to be for those that enjoy not having to queue and carpeted areas. And for those who like to be in with the masses, the usual selection of overpriced, undercooked pies, chips and what have you will be hand from a selection of outlets. I’d recommend the hog roast. Chips are the vegetarian option. Or a Twix.
I – Injuries. A pro-rugby match is the equivalent of being in two car crashes, studies tell us, and no place for us mere mortals lest your average footballer. Therefore it takes a lot to keep a rugby player down or force them off the field. Even a mild concussion still requires the doctor to drag the staggering player down the tunnel, kicking and screaming.
J – Jumping. Players are allowed to be supported while jumping in a line out (see below). That’s why some have so big lumps of padding strapped to their thighs, to give the lifters a better purchase and thrust the players sky-high to catch the ball. A similar technique for meeting corners in football is yet to be tried.
K – Kicks. Ideally a team will win each kick off back, but it isn’t easy. The ball must go ten metres and the rest of the team must be behind the kicker when he kicks. Players jump while catching the ball as it is a penalty to tackle a player in the air. Players can kick from hand and if the ball crosses the line it is a line-out at the point it crosses only if it bounces or it is kicked from behind the attack’s 22 metre line without being carried back across the line. Yes this bit can get a bit complicated, so bare with it. Finally, a drop goal is a kick that touches the ground before it is kicked – it’s harder than it looks, especially when the ball is oval.
L – Line out. When the ball goes in touch (over the lines at the side) the game is restarted with a line out. The hooker throws the ball in to the front (easy difficulty), middle (medium), or back (hard) of the line, as the players shuffle around in pre-planned routines even the stars of Strictly would struggle to keep up with. The ball must be thrown straight (it usually isn’t) down the one metre gap between the teams which must be maintained (it usually isn’t).
M – Maul. Ok, so this is kind of like a ruck (below), but off the ground. That means hands are allowed. The attacking team tries to ‘rumble’ the ball toward the try-line, normally to calls of ‘HEAVE’ from the crowd, whilst the defence tries to push them back. They cannot collapse the maul as it is dangerous and, frankly, ruddy hurts.
N – Number 8. So, the positions. Just quickly, they are: Loosehead Prop, hooker, Tighthead prop, second row (x2), blindside flanker, openside flanker, Number 8, scrum-half, fly-half, inside centre, outside centre, left wing, right wing and full-back. The guy at the back of a scrum is called the number 8 and controls the ball when it is hooked back. I’m not sure why so I can only assume they ran out of names for positions.
O – Offside. Everyone’s favourite law. The offside line is created in line with the hindmost foot of the defending team at a ruck. I.e. where there is a tackle, the team needs to be behind this pile of bodies. A regular source of conceded penalties, speed off the mark can make or break a defence.
P – Points. Calculators at the ready and pay attention at the back. Tries = 5 points. Conversions = 2 points. Penalties and drop goals = 3 points. If a team scores zero points, that’s a pretty poor and rare effort. Usually winning by four tries or losing by seven points or less gets an extra point in the league, as way of an incentive.
Q – Queuing. GJ loves a half-time pie. As with football, timing that dash to the burger van with the half-time whistle beckoning is an exact science. Too early and miss the action, too late and you’ll be there a while, so take your programme to read.
R – Ruck. Every time a tackle is made, a ruck is formed only when one player from each side enters the tackle area. The attacking team are trying to secure the ball for the next ‘phase’ of play, whilst the defence try and disrupt or steal it. You cannot use your hands in the ruck and players must enter from behind the hindmost player on his side, also known as the ‘gate’ and not belly flop over the ball. Wannabe referees can a field day with this part of the game spotting infringements – the best referees control the ruck (or ‘breakdown’ as it is called) and the rest follows.
S – Scrums. The main way of restarting the game and fast becoming the most tedious part of the game. At its best it is a battle of strength and technique but increasingly scrums collapse and literally minutes are spent resetting them and the referee repeating “crouch, touch, pause, engage”. The scrum half should roll the ball down the middle of the channel for the hooker to ‘hook’ but this rarely happens, the ball going straight into the 2nd row of the scrum, much to the consternation of the away fans.
T – Tries. Games can be won through kicks, but we’d all prefer to see tries. A try is scored when a player enters the defence’s in-goal area and grounds the ball with downward pressure. It’s that last bit that’s key. It can’t be thrown or slapped down, or thrown into the crowd once over the line like in NFL while screaming ‘touchdown!!’ and doing the chicken dance. No, no, get it on the ground, with two hands (this means you Chris Ashton). T is also for TMO, the Television Match Official. The officials can use this for any contentious decisions and is normally used for deciding if a try has been scored.
U – Underdogs. Given GJ and his friends will be watching the FA Cup this weekend, it’s only right we mention underdogs. Everyone loves an underdog story but given the nature of the game, where the smallest of margins usually decide a game between top sides, there are distinctly less underdog success stories in rugby than there is in football.
V – Variants. Like in football there are many types of rugby. The main one though is rugby league (more history for you – it used to be the same sport before it split over money issues many many years ago), and there is also sevens rugby, which will be part of the 2016 Olympics, and is an awesome day out if you get the chance. Fancy dress is usually acceptable.
W – Watch. If you want to keep a track of how long has been played, unless you’re keen and your watch is one of Casio’s finest digital efforts, just use the stadium clock. Why? Well in rugby the clocked gets stopped. A lot. Injuries is an obvious one, as is attempted time wasting, or if the ref need to chastise a particularly mouthy winger like he is a naughty pupil.
X – X-rated. Rugby is an aggressive game, not a violent game. A subtle but key difference. Things like punching, kicking, tripping, gouging, grabbing certain areas are definitely not allowed and will usually result in a straight red card or a yellow card (see below).
Y – Yellow card. If a player is shown a yellow card this means they have to spend the next ten minutes in the sin-bin, giving the opposition ten minutes to make use of their one-man advantage, something which inevitably happens. More than one sin-bin for a side suggests ill-discipline.
Z – Zealand. Ok, ok, I couldn’t do this one. So close, I know. But Z is for New Zealand, current World Champions and probably rightly so. Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are probably the two best players in the world. If asked who your favourite player is, use one of these as default.
So there we have it, a quick guide to rugby for those who know little or nothing about the game. Don’t worry if you can’t remember all of it – the good thing about rugby is there are so many laws and interpretations that no one really knows what is happening. We hope you find it useful and feel free to test any rugby referees you encounter – you may teach them a thing or two.
Comments or additions to the list are welcome, please post any comments below or send them to @BallIntouch on Twitter.
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