Written By Tim Newman, New Zealand
Today (September 18), the seventh Rugby World Cup will kick off in London, with tournament hosts England taking on the Pacific Island nation of Fiji. For rugby fans, the World Cup is the biggest event on the sporting calendar.
But if you have no inkling what I’m talking about, you might be asking: What is rugby all about? What exactly does the game entail, and why should anyone be interested in it?
Let me take you into my world—the exciting world of rugby.
New Zealand’s biggest game
In New Zealand, rugby is part of the air that all Kiwis breathe. While the game is popular around the world, it is the national sport here.
When I was growing up, rugby was the only game I wanted to play—pretty much as soon as I could walk. My first game was playing for the Bombay School team as a five-year-old, running around barefoot in a muddy paddock at the beginning of winter. I can’t recall if I knew exactly what I was doing, or which direction I was supposed to be going—but I do remember it as being great fun!
And we can’t mention rugby without mentioning the All Blacks, our national team—and one of the top teams in the world. Named after their trademark uniform, the All Blacks have been a uniting factor in New Zealand for more than 100 years. Indeed, rugby transcends virtually all of the divides in society in the country. Rich or poor, rural or urban, left- or right-wing, Maori or Pakeha, everyone is captivated by the All Blacks.
Whenever the All Blacks play, it is a big occasion—and even more so when they play at the World Cup. For all New Zealanders, the tournament gives us a chance to pit ourselves against the very best in the world, on the biggest stage of all.
A simple game . . . sort of
So how do you play the game? Essentially, two teams (of 15 players each) compete to gain possession of the ball (which isn’t completely round) and take it up the field into the opposition’s goal-line.
To get it there, players can run with the ball, pass it “backwards” to team-mates behind them, or kick it forward. Players in the other team without possession of the ball are allowed to tackle the player with the ball, to stop him from advancing forward.
Rugby incorporates several skills found in other games—kicking, like what footballers do, and catching and passing, like basketballers. What makes it stand out from many other games is that in rugby, you can run with the ball—and tackle people head-on. This is the most fun part of the game, but it requires a bit of courage as well, because you’re likely to end up more sore than when you first started!
Different people have different strategies when it comes to running with the ball. Some like to use their speed to run away from tacklers, some use their agility to dodge defenders, while others seem to relish the contact, running into opposing players instead of avoiding them. And that’s one of the things I love about rugby—no matter what size or shape you are, there’s always a place for you on the rugby field.
The ideals of rugby
Rugby players have always prided themselves on values such as sportsmanship, teamwork, and respect. Even though it involves a lot of contact, and everybody wants to win, what matters more is the spirit in which we play the game, and how we treat our team-mates and our opposition. It’s not just about making money or winning at all costs—it is a game that builds character.
For many years, rugby remained an amateur game, as it was felt that making it professional could dilute the values of the sport. So when it eventually turned professional, rugby teams around the world did their best to maintain and promote the values the game was built on. There is still a strong emphasis on fair play, sportsmanship, and respect for the opposition.
No wonder it is often said that “rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen”.As a Christian, I feel that all these values of rugby fit in well with my faith. They also bear witness to the fact that rugby is a game where a bigger picture is still taken into account.
Rugby stars like the All Blacks’ Michael Jones and Brad Thorn, for example, were not only great players but also committed Christians who exemplified the values of the game through their actions. While rugby was clearly their passion, they knew where their priorities lay. Jones made it a point never to play rugby on a Sunday, because of his desire to honor the Sabbath. Because of this, he missed several games at the 1991 World Cup, and even missed out on selection for the 1995 tournament, because many of the knockout games were scheduled on Sundays.
Bring on the World Cup!
Over the next two months, England will become the center of the rugby world. The All Blacks will be going into the tournament as favorites, but we know that any team is capable of hoisting the William Webb Ellis trophy on October 31.
More importantly, the World Cup will be a celebration of rugby itself. I can’t wait for the kick-off!