Since moving to Ireland, one of the things that Brad and I miss the most is the college football season. The fans, the rivalries, the regional politics – it’s great fun! But one of the fun things about being an expat is learning to love new sports and new rivalries. Recently, Brad and I have really become fans of rugby. It is probably the sport that is most similar to football, in terms of play structure and scoring. The ball is roughly the same shape, and teams score points in the same way as American football. A “try” is where the ball is carried over the goal line. A try is worth 5 points, and another 2 points can be earned via a conversion kick – very similar to the extra point in football. Teams can also earn points via a penalty kick through the goal posts for 3 points.
In addition to the similar rules of the game, rugby also has the regional rivalry that I really enjoy. Right now, we are in the middle of the Six Nations rugby tournament. The six teams that play are Ireland, England, Wales, Scotland, France, and Italy. Since these teams are “national” teams, most of the players also play on professional rugby teams – so like in the Olympics, rivals become teammates and teammates become rivals. Ireland is coming off a huge win this past Sunday against England – but matches with Scotland and Wales await us. The video above was an advert that BBC Sport aired in 2012 for the Six Nations tournament, but the ad was banned in England for being ‘unpatriotic’.
The main differences in rugby are the absence of the forward pass, length of play, and absences of pads. The lack of the forward pass makes the sport particularly frustrating to watch as football fans. I keep yelling at the screen – “Pass the ball!!” Instead, they toss the ball in these strange horizontal formations. The game is much much faster than football. There are no timeouts, no breaks for change of possession. If a player gets injured, I have seen the medical staff run out onto the field to tend to the injured player while the rest of the players continue with the game! Referees can stop the game for (major) injuries or to issue penalties, but generally the time does not stop on the clock. Rather, additional time is added at the end of the match – so you never know when exactly the game is going to end. Did I mention that rugby players don’t wear pads? It is really shocking to watch these huge guys run full force into one another. Receiving stitches on the side line is no big deal. Blood everywhere. It’s just not as sanitized as football is.
These guys are incredibly fit. (I can’t lie – the scenery is nice!) Would American football players survive rugby? I’m not so sure!