If you’re reading this it’s for one of two reasons: Either you’ve heard of rugby through one of a number of sources and you’re interested in trying to understand the game better, or you’ve read my first two articles and you’re trying to figure out what the heck this odd little Kiwi is on about. Either way, rugby is for some of us more than a sport, it’s a lifestyle, it’s a calling, it’s an obsession. However for many folks in North America currently rugby is 30 guys belting the living daylights out of everybody on the field and occasionally scoring points. Like the NFL but with NHL rules.
While this may seem like a very broad generalisation, in the interests of understanding, let’s start with having the NFL and football as the basis of this discussion, and look at what the key differences are between these two sports, and more importantly what are the similarities.
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Before we get too far into this, let’s first acknowledge that any hardcore rugby fan will be quick to point out that rugby is in fact the spiritual father of football. In many respects this is completely true as well, with historuical ties between Rugby Union, Association Football (soccer in the US) and American Football well documented, however the game that was pioneered by Walter Camp, the man regarded as the “father of football’ differs fundamentally from its English ancestor.
Firstly, where American Football has two disctinct offensive and defensive phases, played by specific teams which can be rotated and changed drawing from the huge rosters on the sidelines, rugby sees both teams pitting their fifteen player sides against one another throughout the full 80 minute matchup. The gameplay therefore is much more dynamic, moving from offensive play to defensive with the kick of a ball.
That’s another point as well, the 80 minute game play is just that, 80 minutes. Unless there is some major catastrophe such as a player injury, play does not stop. No ad breaks, no time outs, just solid action from the opening kick off.
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It’s also not unusual to see players shuffled around to different positions at times as well, with rugby players tending to be adaptable and able to play in multiple positions. Ostensibly they tend to hold the same roles week on week, the number 10 (the player who takes all the penalty kicks) usually holds this position throughout their whole career. It does still happen though that you’ll hear ‘player X is playing in Y position today as player Z comes in to the team…”
Rugby, due to its fast paced and high impact nature, also requires a high standard of aerobic fitness as well as physical strength. Players can be running at pace for much of the game, and often cover large distances throughout the 80 minutes of action. Fitness is the key to any player’s success and having seen firsthand the training regime of a World Cup Squad every aspect of health and wellbeing is accounted for to microscopic detail.
Of course, one needs only look at the form of Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, or in fact pretty much any football player to see that fitness and discipline is a key component of this sport as well, and it would be foolish to suggest otherwise. In fact, the crossovers between the NFL and rugby document almost as far back as the two respective games themselves.
Most recently of course the hot topic was Australian National Rugby League (NRL) player Jarryd Hayne breaking into Football through a standout pre-season with the san Francisco 49ers. Sadly the season itself did not go so well for Hayne, who has since returned to rugby union, however, there are a number of players on NFL rosters, both active and historic, who have strong rugby pedigrees, such as Haloti Ngata, Hayden Smith, and David Dixon. For those who want to still throw their support behind their favorite Australian players like Hayne, they can check out the nrl/afl shop over at marketsports.com.au so they can cop the merchandise.
Conversely Football has also proven to be a great training ground for many well known rugby players, currently the Patriots own Nate Ebner is tearing up fields as part of the USA 7s squad bound for the Rio Olympics, and Detroit Lions at one stage laid claim to the fastest man in world rugby, Carlin Isles before Isles returned to the 15 a side game with Glasgow Warriors.
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Both games seem to benefit from the cross pollination of skills, and both rely on a strong work ethic and skill to rise to the highest levels of the sport. Not every kid who takes to the field in my native New Zealand is ever going to don the national teams jersey (I speak from experience here). Not every kid at pee wee football is going to be Tom Brady. But here’s the thing, as different or as similar as these games are, they are both the same in one key aspect: they’re just damn good fun to watch.
So here’s the offer folks: Take some time over the next few weeks to maybe take in a game or two of rugby. Now I know that on the first watch it’s going to look confusing if you’re a newbie, but stick with it. I’m going to be back over the coming weeks with some tips, tricks and advice for the new fan to aid understanding of the game, but seriously, just go and look. There’s plenty of local club action, not to mention the ProRugby USA games, and get ready for the big battle later this year as the New Zealand national side, the All Blacks, travel to Soldier Field, Chicago to take on the USA Eagles in an end of year show down.
If you’ve got any specific questions about rugby you’d like me to cover drop me a line at my twitter feed as well, and I’ll do my best to help out.
Kyle Willoughby is a New Zealand based rugby writer, Boston Sports fan and former media manager for the Tongan Rugby Union operating internationally to share rugby news from the USA around the world. Follow Kyle’s Twitter feed for more rugby and sports tweets.
Video Credit: ProRugby USA via YouTube
Image Credit: Via Wikimedia Commons