Why rugby is my favourite game.Credit: Andrew Green, February 2012
I grew up obsessed by football (or soccer asAmericans like to call it) but these days I prefer rugby. Here are ten reasons why.
1. Rugby is a hard physical game played with discipline
Rugby is a hard, physical full contact game. To the uninitiated it looks like 30 men fighting over a ball but it's actually a hugely disciplined game; the smallest mistake like knocking the ball forward or entering a ruck from the wrong side can hand the ball to the opposition. The tackles that go in can make you wince but the players get up and carry on without fuss.
2. There are no boring 1-0s or 0-0 draws in rugby
It's not silly like basketball where someone scores every few seconds but the score board ticks over, the game ebbs and flows and the lead changes hands. No one sits on a narrow lead because one score can turn the whole game around. In football (with the exception of remarkable games like the Manchester United Bayern Munich Champions League Final in 1999) the most exciting finish is an equalising goal or a late winner when the teams had been even. In rugby the final score can turn the game around and turn the losers into winners. Who can forget Johnny Wilkinson's winning drop kick for England against Australia in the 2003 Rugby Cup Final? But those kinds of finishes are commonplace in rugby. Extra points are awarded in league competitions for scoring four tries or losing by less than seven points so there is almost always something to play for.
3. There is huge variety in rugby
I appreciate soccer and know it is a hugely skillful game but the skills involved are basically trapping and passing the ball, tackling and shooting at goal. Rugby is far more varied and requires more complex team work than soccer. There is passing and tackling but there are also rucks and mauls, set scrums, line outs, drop goals,penalties or conversions or kicking for touch. The game can switch from fast running rugby to a disciplined, brutal forward play.
4. Rugby players don't wear helmets and padding
Rugby players aren't padded up like American footballers. You can see who's who and relate to them. I don't buy the silly argument american footballers are soft but if they didn't wear helmets and visors they probably wouldn't need so much protection.
5. Rugby is continuous
There are two halves of 40 mins with a half time break in between. There are no time outs or breaks for adverts. The setting and resetting of the scrum is the curse of the modern game but it doesn't take 3 hours punctuated with countless stoppages like an american football game. There is something happening all the time. The game doesn't finish until the ball goes out of play which again contributes to exciting finishes. My most memorable rugby memory was seeing Harlequins go through 28 phases after the clock had gone dead to beat Stade Francais with a Nick Evans drop goal.
6. Rugby players don't feign injury to get the game stopped
Rugby players don't fall over as if they have been pole-axed at the slightest contact (far from it). There is no point in overplaying an injury because the game just goes on around them - even when the physios come on. There are flare ups in the context of a highly physical contact sport but no-one over reacts including the referee.
7. There is no arguing with the referee in rugby
Rugby players don't argue with the referee. Captains can politely question decisions but no-one argues and abusing the referee as soccer players do is a definite no no. Questioning a decision will get the penalty taken forward 10 yards. 10 yards the forwards have sweated blood to win you.
8. Rugby make sensible use of technology
Unlike football, with FIFA's bizarre aversion to goal line technology, rugby make sensible use of technology to decide if a try has been scored. Big decisions aren't left to chance they are referred to a video referee. It doesn't breakup the game it adds to the tension and excitement. My only gripe is they sometimes use the video referee but don't have a screen in the stadium for the paying spectators.
9. There's a better atmosphere at rugby matches
Violence in rugby stays on the pitch. I've been to lower league soccer games with a couple of thousand spectators where there was crowd segregation and riot police outside the ground. I've never seen a policeman at a premiership rugby game. Crowds aren't segregated,alcohol is freely available and players and spectators from both sides socialise together after the game. Fans cheer and sing but d't abuse the players or each other. Even the message boards are friendly places.
10 It takes all sorts
A rugby team is made up of gnarled forwards, fast three quarters, a tricky little scrum half, a skillful fly half. Everyone has their role. Everyone brings different skills and physicality. It is a real team game.