Yes, it's that time of year again. No, not The Husband's birthday (which is today by the way), it's the start of the Six Nations. Long-time readers of my blog will know that I love rugby, well England rugby really. I went to the very first rugby world cup in Australia, got inadvertently tackled by an All Black in Bahrain - and I didn't spill my beer - and have sat on Murray Mexted's shoulders and sung 'Hi Ho Silver Lining'. I forget why now. My first romantic weekend away with The Husband (then just The Boyfriend) coincided with the Rugby World Cup and I only agreed to go on the proviso that I we found somewhere to watch the matches which is how we ended up sitting in a grotty pub in Norfolk with a man and a goat in a neckerchief. I kid you not (if you'll excuse the pun!)
So that all you lovely people can share in my love of the Truly Beautiful Game, here is my Girl's Guide to Rugby which gives you all you need to enjoy the Six Nations.
Firstly there are two types of rugby. Rugby League is generally played by rugged northerners who think that Rugby Union is only played by effete ex-public schoolboys and have never really forgiven Jason Robinson for giving up League to play Union for England. I mean, it's not what tough young blokes from Leeds do is it? Rugby League teams only have 13 players, probably because they've all gone South to play proper rugby. Rugby Union, or proper rugby as I like to call it, is played by two teams of 15 brawny men with well muscled thighs and six packs that would make a lesser man weep. They play with a funny shaped ball, which leads to countless double entendres, and which neither rolls or bounces straight. If you think it's going left you can almost guarantee it will go right. Mind you, predictability of bounce doesn't seem to help England's footballers that much.
The aim of the game is to get the ball over your try line or, if you don't have the ball, stop the other team getting it across theirs. This can be done either by fair means or foul depending on whether the referee is looking. The try line is the line underneath the funny H-shaped sticks at each end of the field. But, just to make it a bit more interesting, you can't throw the ball forward. Yes, I know, it makes no sense. You are trying to get the ball up the field but you have to throw it backwards. If you do throw it forward, that's a forward pass (obviously) and you will be penalised, unless you are French of course, which might mean you have to have a scrum. That's a sort of rugby 'group hug' which is the best place to spot a well-muscled thigh, or occasionally, as they tend to hang on to each other's shorts, a flash of firm buttock. Scrums tend to be very popular with the ladies. Just to make things more interesting though, you can kick the ball up the field.
You can stop your opponent getting the ball over the try line by tackling him. Tackling takes many different forms but all of them are painful. Rugby, like love, hurts. You can't tackle people above the shoulder or pick them up and dump them headfirst on the ground. The referee tends not to like that and will generally rummage around in his pocket and pull out a piece of red cardboard. This means that you have to go back to the dressing room and can't play in the match anymore. You will also be a symbol of loathing to rugby pundits the world over who will denounce this unacceptable play which just 'isn't rugby'.
When you get the ball over the try line, most of the opposition, and a few of your own team will jump on you, making a sort of human Jenga. That will hurt too. If the try is awarded, then the glory boy can come on and try and kick the ball through the sticks which will give you extra points. The glory boy is often easily identifiable as the one with hardly any mud on his shirt. Whether or not the glory boy manages to get the ball through the sticks, there will be comparisons with The God Jonny Wilkinson, either in the form of 'Jonny would have got that' or 'well,yes, that was good, but Jonny was better.'
Scoring: You score 5 points for a try and then if you kick the ball over the sticks you get another 2 points for a conversion. Converting what to what has never been entirely clear. You can also get 3 points for a drop goal, which is when you pick up the ball mid-match and try and kick it through the sticks. Generally they miss and it is almost impossible to mention a drop goal without mentioning Rob Andrew in the same breath. And finally, you can get 3 points for a penalty if the other team does something naughty - and gets caught.
Try - that's when you get the ball over that line I was talking about
Conversion - see scoring above
Penalty - the best way to score points without doing anything. Wind up the opposition so they get really mad and break lots of rules
Drop kick - Aahh, Jonny... sorry, a drop kick can be taken at any point in the game but the ball must touch the ground first before you kick it.
Knock on - this is when a player fumbles the ball then drops it and knocks it forward. Well you try hanging on to a muddy, greasy egg shaped ball!
Rucks and Mauls - these generally resemble playground scraps in inner city comprehensives or kick out time at a Cardiff nightclub. In a ruck, the ball is on the ground, usually under a pile of bodies, which means that you can't touch it with your hands. You have to 'ruck' it out with your feet. And no, I don't know why. That's just the rules. In a maul, the ball is off the ground and the players have to stay on their feet. A rolling maul is when the players try to push the ball up the field, with players breaking off and rejoining at the back. It's a bit like a manic version of The Locomotion. You can get a right telling off for collapsing a maul. Others players can join in the bundle but only from the back. If they join from the side the ref will blow his whistle and give the other team a penalty. However, in the thick of it, anything goes. It's not unusual for eyes to be gouged or body parts bitten off in a ruck or a maul
The scrum - Scrums involve eight players from each team in a 3-4-1 formation. In the front row you have a hooker.... no, no! Not that sort of hooker. The hooker is the player who is responsible for hooking the ball out with his foot. And if his knee happens to make contact with the opposing hooker, accidentally of course, so much the better. He is supported by two props, who, well prop him up really. behind him are a bunch of big, heavy blokes who's job it is to push. They all kneel down and then the second row of the scrum put their hands through the legs of the front row and hang on to their todger. The last row then does the same to the second row. This is possibly what made it so popular in public schools, that and the communal baths after the match. The ref will shout 'Crouch, Touch, Pause (on this shout the props will generally give their opposition numbers a playful punch or dead arm) Engage. On the shout of Engage, they will hurl themselves together like rutting stags with lots of grunting. The scrum half will feed the ball into the hooker who will try and hook the ball through his legs and out of the back of the scrum to their team mates. A scrum is no place for the faint-hearted or those who are easily provoked. There is often a lot of conversation in the scrums, often along the lines of 'I'd like to give your wife/girlfriend/mother/dog one'. At the end of some tournaments, the front rows often comment wryly that their opposite number talked to them more during the scrums than their wives had in the previous ten years.
The team is split into two halves. The forwards and the backs.
The backs, all eight of them, are the pretty boys of the team, often fleet of foot and able to get through an entire game without getting a hair out of place. They generally don't have noses or ears resembling a box full of organic vegetables. They are often very fast. South Africa's Brian Habana very nearly outran a cheetah and probably would have if they'd made the cheetah carry a rugby ball too. Their job is to kick and run the ball up the field while preventing the opposing backs from doing the same.
The forwards are the engine room of the team and like most engine rooms are not that attractive to look at and tend to smell a bit. They will have flat noses and ears that stick out at alarming angles with all manner of lumps and bumps on them. They generally have thighs like tree trunks and are definitely more attractive from behind than from the front. Their job is to ruck, maul, scrummage push and shove and win the ball for the backs. Forwards have occasionally been known to score tries but they often look like hippopotamuses lumbering across the plains. They are man mountains, most towering well over 6 feet. Simon Shaw was 6' 8, a mere minnow compared to Martin Bayfield's 6'10 and Scotland's Richard Metcalfe, who stood at 7' tall.
England. They generally wear white and have a nice little rose on their kit.
Italy - they always come last.
The rest... Gah! Who cares!
And just to finish up here's a totally gratuitous photo of naked rugby players
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