Today heralds the start of my favourite times of the year - well, four years really. It's the rugby World Cup, a regular feast of
muscular thighs and tight butts top level sport. My interest in rugby started when I was in my teens and my boyfriend du jour played both school and county rugby. At first I had no idea what the attraction was of this game that looked like something you might come across on any city street at pub kick out time on a weekend. Piles of men jumping on each other, pushing and knocking each other down but the more I watched, the more my interest grew. First it was the bums and thighs but eventually it was the game itself.
Long time readers will know that I went to the very first World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in 1987. In those days it was a rather small, provincial affair held at local grounds to an audience in the hundreds rather than the thousands. We hung out with the teams after the matches and most of them still had a day job. The days of rugby being a professional sport were just a distant dream.
I followed it in the Middle East where it was played on pitches that were more sand than grass and where I had the distinction of being one of few women ever to be tackled by an All Black when he slid across the try line into myself and a friend leaving a trail of stud marks across our shins but fortunately didn't spill our beer. This was followed by being hoisted on the shoulders of Murray Mexted for a manic dance to Jeff Beck's old school disco classic 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. The fact that my head was making regular and solid contact with the ceiling as he jumped around may account for a lot which has happened since.
I also had my own (very) brief flirtation with women's rugby, much to the horror of my male rugby playing friends. It lasted but a few weeks when our coach got fed up with us taking half an hour to bind on for a scrum as putting our hands between the legs of our fellow team mates didn't come naturally and had to be precursed with countless apologies for touching bits we had no wish to touch. We also lacked the killer instinct of some of the other women's teams who all had nicknames like Ace and Crusher, while ours would more likely have been Mimsy or Fluffy.
For the next 6 weeks the top rugby playing nations in the world will play the glorious game, off the field, fans will mingle together gently joshing each other and sharing pints in pubs downunder. It's so unlike football. So for those of you not familiar with the game with the odd shaped ball, here is my Girlie's Guide to The Rugby World Cup so you can enjoy it yourself.
Firstly, the game. It's an old but true saying that Rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen, as oppposed to football which is a gentleman's game played by hooligans. It might look like a punch on a Saturday night but once you understand what is going on it all becomes clear.... apparently!
Rugby owes it’s existence to us, the English, or at least to a certain Englishman, William Webb Ellis who invented the game in Rugby – how’s that for a coincidence! What? Oh, I see, that’s why it’s called rugby is it? Well thank goodness he wasn’t in Pratts Bottom or Piddle Trenthide. Bored during a game of football – that’s the one played by the big girl’s blouses with the round ball – he picked up the ball and ran off with it. Many a child has been chastised for doing just that in a fit of pique but good old Will got credited with a creating whole new sport and had a trophy named after him.
It’s played on a field or pitch that has two things like giant Hs at either end. Blimey, you hear people say, how wide is that goal mouth? But no, in rugby it’s not just a case of booting it past the goalie, the player has to actually kick it over the bar and between the two uprights. Easy peasy? You try it.
The object of the game is for one team to run with the ball and try to put it down on the ground over the try line (that’s the line that the posts are on) with as much flair and swan diving as possible. This is called a Try. Why it’s called a try when you haven’t tried, you’ve succeeded, is anyone’s guess. A try is worth 5 points. To make things more interesting the ball can only be passed sideways or backwards, never forwards unless you are the All Blacks of course, who seem to manage to get away with it.
If your team scores a try, then you have the chance to convert it, though into what is never clear. The kicker will try to kick the ball between the uprights. This is called a Conversion and is worth 2 points.
You can also score penalties by making it look like the opposing team has done something wrong in front of the referee. A penalty is worth 3 points.
Then there is a drop goal. A drop goal can be described in two words. Jonny Wilkinson. Many England fans still bask in delight of Jonny’s last minute drop goal (you basically drop the ball and try to kick it over through the posts) which bought the World Cup home to England in 2003. Yes, I know it was 8 years ago but we have long memories in rugby and I actually ran down our road draped in an England flag screaming madly. A drop goal is worth 3 points
The opposition must stop the team scoring a try. They do this by diving at their legs/shoulders/necks/manly bit and hanging on tight. If all else fails they might try to stick out a boot and trip them although this is not strictly legal. Sometime lots of players cuddle up and hide the ball from the other players. They will then try to push or drive the player holding the ball towards the try line. Often they fall over and lots of other players jump on top of them. This is the point where they wives and girlfriends hide behind their handbags.
These jumbled piles of bodies can be either ruck or a maul. In a ruck, the ball is on the ground and players are not allowed to handle it. Instead they must try and ‘ruck’ the ball out with their feet. They can also use their feet to try and ruck the players out... with those nasty metal studs and all. Nasty. In a maul, the ball is held off the ground and everyone must try and stay on their feet. That’s their own feet, not somebody else’s.
You might also see a lineout. This is when some of the players from each team stand in a line at ight angles to the touch line. A player with no neck will shout a bunch of unintelligible instructions then he’ll throw the ball and somebody will jump for the ball while his team mates try to give him a wedgie. No wonder he can jump so high!
Then there is the scrum, where the two props, a hooker (no not that sort) the second row and the number 8 players on each team lock arms and other assorted body parts, in a way which would most likely be illegal in some countries. When the referee says crouch, they kneel down. He will then say ‘touch’ and the four props will poke each other’s shoulders. The referee then says ‘pause’, in theory so he can inspect the scrum formation, and finally ‘engage’, when the two front rows push together with much grunting. Both teams push against each other while the scrum half of the team that has possession of the ball feeds the ball into the space in the middle of the scrum. The hooker then has to try and hook the ball back through the scrum with his feet until it pops out of the back, preferably into the hands of the scrum half.
The Fly Half...
The fly half is generally the first person to receive the ball from the scrum half after a breakdown of plan so he needs to be decisive and a clear thinker so his first action is generally just kick the ball anywhere. Kicking is his thing, grub kicks, up and unders and chips (not with fish). His also there to provide a soft landing for the opposing front row
The Scrum Half...
The Front Row...
The Second Row...
Big buggers, they are generally the tallest players in the team and push against the front row in the scrum. May spend much of the match resting their head between two well cushioned thighs, clutching on to each others love handles. The rest of the match may be spent comfortably tucked up under a pile of bodies in a ruck or maul. Good catchers, they are often the one getting the wedgie in the lineout (see above). Usually distinguishable by a magnificent pair of cauliflower ears and a nose the shape of South America.
The Number 8
Easily identifiable as the one on the pitch in a different coloured jersey. May occasionally and inadvertently take part in play if they don’t move quick enough. The Ref should always be referred to as Sir or Your Majesty and should, according to the crowd, have gone to Specsavers.
Coming next, Top Rugby Totty……