Ruggers, Scrums and Mauls
New Zealand’s winningest rugby team, the All Blacks, is described as “eight snorting bulls and seven black panthers.” Too right. This mass of muscle has grunted and ground its unlucky opponents into the turf again and again guaranteeing their names would be engraved on trophies ‘round the world. Rugby is this nation’s pastime, its passion, its drumbeat that musters Kiwis coast to coast. Just ask a local and he’ll tell you all about this craziness.
Born in Britain
As the story goes, in 1823 England a student at the esteemed Rugby School named William Webb Ellis “took the ball in his arms and ran showing a fine disregard.” Having tired of simply kicking a soccer ball willy-nilly William grabbed the ball, headed toward the goal, and created a sport of global dimensions.
The Brits are fond of saying “football is a game for gentlemen played by ruffians and rugby is a game for ruffians played by gentlemen.” The world is changing, however, and New Zealand boasts an excess of 500 clubs, nearly 150,000 registered players, and some 2300 plus referees to keep everything in order. Just imagine … 5,000 fans show up just for an All Blacks training practice!
The Christchurch Football Club is New Zealand’s oldest rugby club, dating back to 1863. Others popped up wherever there was a patch of grass and a handful of guys. The stature and strength of the indigenous Maori people meant these players were a force to be reckoned with, as the outside world quickly learned. In 1884, a New Zealand team traveled to Australia and won all their games setting the tone for victories that followed. During World War II, the Kiwi team played against South African allies during the North African desert campaign, establishing the contact for future competition as rugby is a national sport to these two nations as well as several South Pacific island nations.
All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies
These are the big boys, teams whose players enjoy handsome endorsements, speedy cars and lissome babes fawning all over them. And they’d like you to learn a bit about their game. Their field is a “pitch” measuring 110 by 75 yards. The ball is like an American football with rounder ends to avoid goofy bounces. The team consists of 15 players. Those numbered 1-8 are forwards and built like brick &*%^&%houses. The 9-15 guys are faster, smaller (relatively speaking) and run like American running backs and wide receivers. There are no downs, no blocking, and the game has two 40-minute halves. Play is continuous, like soccer. A player can run the ball, pass it laterally or backwards, or kick it forward. For the record, some call rugby the “father of American football.”
The players score 5 points with a “try”, think touchdown. A “conversion” adds 2 points following a try when the ball is kicked between the goal posts. A “penalty kick” awards 3 points as does a “drop goal.”
“Line outs” are the best part. This is so strange. When a ball goes out of bounds, players hoist a teammate up into the air with everyone going airborne to gain possession of the inbound toss. It’s like Shrek doing gymnastics or rising up from a mosh pit. A “scrum” is considered the precursor to an American scrimmage where manly men literally lock horns, grunting and groaning till the ball flops on the ground, is kicked to someone not in the scrum and play begins again. Play doesn’t stop if someone is tackled. A “ruck” is like a “scrum” but don’t ask. A “maul” is like a ruck and a scrum but the guys are standing up instead of wrestling on the ground. Is this clear?
Sin-Bin: Where a bad player goes for a “time out.”
Rugby Union: A code of play for teams of the International Rugby Board.
Rugby League: The other guys.
Prolate spheroid: The ball.
Scratch: Not what you think.
Touch: No. It’s the area behind the touch (or goal) line.
Ruggers: Rugby Union fans.
Rugger Buggers: Fans in striped shirts drinking Guinness.
Rug-Off: The kick off.
Alickadoos: Retired rugby union players.
Ra-Ra: The obligatory sideline pomp and circumstance.
Footy: What the Australians call rugby leaguers.
Haka: The fearsome Maori war dance performed by the All Blacks before they clean the other team’s clock.
Any fan worth his “stout” will sport his team’s full kit including grip mitts, Ventilator Headgear ($89.99), Shock Doctor Ultra Strapless Mouthguards, braces for everything from patella sleeves to metatarsal lifts, curious “forearm shivers”, hoodies, protective vests, traxion-studded boots with something called … ahem… a stud key, Shock Doctor Compression Shorts with Flex Cup (on sale for $24.99), and a suitable-for-the-little-lady “stress ball” or the “Rugby For Dummies” handy gamebook. For the master of the house, there’s “Odd-Shaped Balls, Mischiefs, Miscreants and Madhatters of Rugby” now on sale. And for the fashionistas, you’ve got the Ralph Lauren “Rugby” collection instead.