Rugby: A non-stop contest with moments of magic
As a rugby union fan this is something I have wanted to say for many years and this experiment in discussing the merits of the code is really an excuse to get it off my chest. I can’t stand rugby league.
It is just a bunch of meatheads running into each other repeatedly for 80 minutes. Most games are low-scoring affairs with extended periods of shuffling the ball up the pitch 30 yards before kicking it to the other team. And then it starts again.
For some reason the TV commentators treat this kind of action as if every bloke running into another bloke is the most exciting thing they have seen since the bike Santa left for them when they were five. They use the vocabulary of five-year-olds too.
And as for AFL - which I once heard described as the only sport in the world where you get points for missing - I remember the shock of the first time I went to a game at Subiaco and realised the people at the other end looked like ants.
There is something seriously wrong with a game played on a pitch so large that it requires almost enough officials to make up another team and they need semaphore to communicate. The vast expanse of the playing area also means as a spectator you may as well take out a newspaper when, as happens every few minutes, the ball gets tied up at one end haplessly bobbling around as 20 guys make fools of themselves trying to pick it up.
And what, please tell me, is with those ludicrously affected hand gestures from the goal umpires?
I’ll admit that the past couple of years have been pretty ordinary for rugby union. Games regularly descended into farcical kickfests, teams playing for territory and then hoping for a penalty in range of their out-half’s boot.
But a tiny tweak to refereeing guidelines has given rugby back its game. This year the games in the Super 14 have been almost universally pulsating affairs. Every weekend there are a few 50-point-plus games.
Rugby has everything that league and AFL don’t – a ground small enough so everyone can watch it, physical contest, serious and subtle tactics, individual brilliance, and a range of skills required.
There is no comparable experience in spectator ball sports to the moment your team has a lineout near the goal line, the big second rowers collect the ball and the forwards pile in and 10,000 people or more let rip a full-throated roar as the maul powers for the line. The fans become part of the team.
On individual and team level, rugby offers the greatest physical contests. It’s beyond me why league persists with the charade of its alleged “scrums”, which are essentially a group hug through which the ball is casually rolled and calmly collected a few feet away before the forwards give each other a kiss and run back 10 yards.
A union scrum is one of many key contests but can often be a deciding factor in a game, and it involves 900kg of mongrel crashing into another 900kg of mongrel and then having a real contest for the ball.
While try-scoring runs and deft passing make for passages of play that are unrivalled in beauty, it’s the non-stop contest for the ball that makes rugby union a sport that can produce 80 minutes of non-stop action and why relentless forwards like Phil Waugh and Richie McCaw are among the sport’s most feared and revered players.
Fans who talk about it being the game played in heaven need to get their heads out of the clouds and make the case for the game down on the ground. In fact many so-called rugby fans have a depressingly snobbish attitude to the basic enjoyment of the game as a live spectator sport. This was appallingly evidenced when I watched the Wallabies play Scotland on a cold Sydney night in 2004 - there wasn’t a sound from the crowd at the kick-off, and in fact there were some harrumphs and even some shushing when we indulged in a bit of cheering.
As Penbo points out today we were probably interrupting their discussion of a column in that morning’s Australian Financial Review. Rugby fans need to learn to welcome - even encourage - a bit of joshing ratbaggery in the crowd. It makes for a better night out.
Fair enough, there are usually a few trust-fund kids running around in any top rugby team. But in many countries it is a game for many country kids and chaps who’d be on the wrong side of the tracks if it wasn’t for this sport that requires a combination of natural ability, skill, teamwork and mongrel.
I fully expect to take a shellacking in this experiment given union has the quietest fans of the three codes. But I shall be taking notes to help with gentle reminders of the treachery when the gold jerseys come out during next year’s rugby world cup.
Follow me on Twitter: @colgo
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