|My nephew Ethan, bearded guy at bottom of pile|
Before last week, I figured Rugby to be like football without the pads and with a fatter ball. You ran until you got manhandled to the ground where all but about three guys jumped on top of you until someone dislodged the ball and took off running with it.
That’s what I figured. Come to find out, I was partly right. But, only partly. I found out a lot more about the sport when I traveled to Clear Lake to watch the Bay Area Rugby Club (the red team) play the San Antonio Alamo Club (blue team). I went to the game because Jill’s boy, Ethan, plays for the red team. You’ve just got to support family.
I liked the red team, ‘cause the players were a bigger, meaner-looking and had pizzazz. Pizzazz is important in every sport… except the one where you use a broom to sweep the ice in front of that flat, heavy object.
The game of rugby is full of pizzazz. If you go to just one game in your life, you’ll remember it for as long as you can remember where your hearing aids go. That’s like almost a lifetime.
There are fifteen players on a rugby team. That makes for 30 guys running around on a field that’s 100 meters long by 70 meters wide. The object is to carry the weird-looking ball from your side of the field into the end zone at the far side. You can’t pass the ball, but you can toss it to anyone behind or beside you. Oh, and you can kick it any time you’re able. If you’re about to get smashed by ten other guys, be advised to kick.
The game is made up of two 40-minute periods with one five to ten minute intermission. The clock never stops… unless an ambulance drives onto the field. So, for eighty minutes, two teams run around and knock the daylights out of each other.
|A lineout and a nuclear wedgy|
|What you call a scrum.|
It’s obvious I don’t know the rules of the game, but fortunately the ref does. Thirty guys running all over an area significantly larger than a football field, and only one ref to maintain order. There are two line-judges, but they just stand on the side and wave flags now and again.
A few observations: When a ball goes out of bounds, a player stands on the sideline and tries to toss the ball over a guy who has been lifted up by two other guys. They’ve got him by the legs, the shorts, the… anything they can grab. Behind these three guys is a player from the in-bounding team who is hoisted into the air by two of his own teammates. The spectacle is called a lineout. You should go to a game to watch this, if nothing else.
There is no blocking in rugby. You’re on your own. When you have the ball, as soon as you know you’re in trouble, you toss the ball to someone behind you; or you run over the person(s) in your path. Keep in mind, no helmet and no pads. And, don’t forget, if you can think fast enough, you can also kick the ball down the field. Or out of bounds. I like it when the ball goes out of bounds, ‘cause I get to watch the guys get tossed into the air.
One very important facet of rugby is the scrum. Weirdest looking thing. A scrum is where players from both teams stoop down and grab each other in a big wad of humanity, and start pushing. At one point the ball is tossed into the middle of this… uh, push-of-war. Eventually the ball comes shooting out, and a player grabs it and takes off. It’s a blast.
I saw a lot of hitting, some serious ball finesse and the greatest sportsmanship imaginable. During one of the major pileups, one player was trying to extract himself from the mayhem. Just as he was almost free, a blue guy just hauled off and slugged him. The ref didn’t blow his whistle; the guy didn’t pick himself up and go chasing after the guy who hit him. He just picked himself up, got his bearings and took off running for the next pile.
In football or basketball the benches would’ve cleared and a massive brawl would’ve ensued. A replay of the actual punch would be slowed down for effect and shown on national news that night. I asked Ian, an ex-player who didn’t mind explaining stuff to me, I asked him why they didn’t fight each other over stuff like that. And, why weren’t they all yelling at the ref who was really missing some major mayhem.
Ian told me that both teams were going to get on a bus and visit a pub or two or three after the game. Anyone who threw a punch during the game was honor-bound to buy any and everyone he slugged a beer. So, when you get punched, you know you just earned a beer.
As far as not yelling at the ref, Ian acted as if I’d just fallen off a double-decker bus. “One guy trying to keep order on a huge field with 30 players running around? It’s rude to yell at somebody who has that tough a job. Where’s your dignity, Mark?”
An organized brawl played by gentlemen. Could something like this ever catch on among chest-pounding, me-first American athletes? Well, on a beautiful, brisk Saturday afternoon, I watched a bunch of rough and tumble Texas boys display the best of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen. Can’t speak for what happened in the pubs afterward.
Oh, the red team won, by the way. As I was leaving, Ian informed me that The Woodlands has a rugby club. “Definitely worth watching,” he said. --Now we know.