It’s 6 Nations season, and the cream of the Northern hemisphere (plus Italy) take each other on in a series of rugby test matches that will prove who is the top dog! As a younger man, I used to look upon rugby as a ‘posh boy’s’ game. I was never interested in it, claiming that it was slow and messy. At our school, it was very much second place. Only the bigger lads played rugby, and generally it was because they got to punch someone whilst sir wasn’t looking.
Then I went away to university. The uni I went to was in a sleepy, North Wales market town the population of which halved whenever the students went home. It was there, that I began to re-evaluate rugby as a sport. The Welsh students, obviously, were obsessed by it, but the English students (in a bid to hang on to their identity) and the Irish students (who wanted an excuse for a craic!) were all obsessed by it too! 6 Nations weekends passed by in a blur of drinking and carousing. If you were lucky, there’d be a fight as some lonely French student spoke out of turn at a gang of Irish lads.
Since leaving uni, I’ve been a keen follower of the international tests and I think I’ve found a few little pointers that football as a whole could maybe learn from. So listen up Mr. Blatter!! Here’s 5 key things football could learn from it’s well-to-do cousin:
1) Respect for the ref – This is the biggest difference between rugby and football. In football, there’s a tremendous howling from players and managers alike against referees whenever something doesn’t go their way.
As soon as the whistle blows, players like Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas and Steven Gerrard are quick to surround the ref looking as if they’re about to knock him out. Rugby players however, as big as they are, act like naughty children who’ve been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Here’s a typical exchange during a rugby match;
Ref: Now, look here, I don’t want to see that again. If you tackle the man off the ball, you’ll be going off. Now go away! Player: Sorry sir.
Now let’s see that again, on the football pitch.
Ref: Er….Player: You ******* what? You don’t know what you’re talking about you dozy ****!! Ref: Er..throw in here.
Now, obviously referees make mistakes and fans usually pick up on that during both games. To express discontent from the stands is fair enough. But players literally throwing themselves at the ref, as Roy Keane used to do, just looks ridiculous and pathetic. A bit more respect would be nice. Take the punishment, move on, try and win the game.
2) Technology: Are you listening Mr.Blatter?? Rugby points are scored by tries, and the very nature of the game means that very often the ball gets lost under a vast mound of players. The result, is that very often nobody knows who the hell put the ball over the line first. Instead of a massive hoo-hah from the media, players, fans, managers after the game, referees will contact ‘tv umpires’ whose job is to review every aspect of the game from several camera angles. In a matter of minutes, the dispute is solved, and in the meantime, everyone gets to have a jolly nice drink of water!
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3) Fan Behaviour – At international matches certainly, the fans from opposing sides sit together and drink copious amounts of beer. This would be a recipe for disaster at a football match. One would expect the same at a game of rugby, but crowds seem to remain pretty polite and respectful. At Ireland’s Lansdowne Road for example, the whole ground goes quiet for Irish kicks at goal. There’s not a drum, bell, air-horn or (shudder) Official England Brass Band in site!
4) National Anthems – Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not a nationalist, or a royalist. Imagine there’s no countries man, as John Lennon would say. But countries there are, and they all have national anthems. In rugby, it’s not just the fans who sing the anthems. Generally, the players are as loud as the people in the stands. Arguably the best team for this, is the Italian rugby team. If they played rugby as well as they sang, they wouldn’t have a problem! You’ll even see a tear or two shed by some players. A few years ago, Ireland played England at Croke Park and the emotion of the moment saw one Ireland play blubbing like a girl. Compare that to some of the England football team, who look as if they’re not quite sure what they’re singing. And what’s more, nobody boos the anthems in rugby!
5) The Haka – Ok, this one is a little bit more unusual. The Haka is the Maori war-dance, which is performed by New Zealand before every game of rugby they play. The football team, interestingly, don’t bother. New Zealand are the best rugby team in the world, and it’s estimated that most of their matches are won before a ball is even kicked because of the intensity with which the haka is performed. To be fair, it would be odd to see David Dunn leading his Blackburn team-mates in a traditional Maori war-dance! Perhaps we’d better leave this one to the egg-chasers.
Rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen, and football is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans. That’s what everyone says anyway. I’m not sure that’s so true anymore. Both sports have their hooligans and gentlemen, but it’s clear that the Beautiful Game could learn alot from it’s messy, muddy slow-moving relative. And England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales are actually quite good at it!
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