With the Super Bowl over, another season of football is over. However, some are already missing the shear athleticism and legal violence that football brings. So what are you to do? Sure, the Winter Olympics are fun, but you miss tackling, teamwork and absolute emotion from the fans in a packed stadium of 60,000+ where every single one of them gave a darn about what they are watching.
Every fall, weekend plans become non-existent as Americans spend as much time watching High School Football on Fridays, College Football on Saturdays and NFL Football on Sundays. Every year, American Football finds a way to become more popular, whether it is the invention of the Super Bowl, the invention of tailgating or the invention of recruiting websites. However, science and opinion are telling us sports fans that this sport will be gone in 10-20 years. This is all due to the increase in research that associates long term brain damage and other chronic injuries to playing football. The physical damage has been so much for so many ex-football players that lawsuits are coming from all corners that threaten the reputations of the game and those working under it. In times of crisis, a sport needs their commissioner to be the one standing up to the plate and knowing what it takes to get a problem solved with a grace that can only be matched by famous presidents. However, Roger Goodell is proving that he is nowhere close to doing that. For those in the Southeastern United States and Texas, football has become nothing short of a religion. This ideology has reached such heights that it is bled into the college game, where the last nine national champions have come from schools in that region. So where do football fans go from here?
While boxing is dying and becoming a sport that the United States no longer cares about, MMA has brought the same violence and quantity of stars to a younger generation. So what team sport can replace the violence that Americans cannot help but enjoy? Like football, it has to be one that has the same playing creativity amongst the violent chaos but one that hopefully removes the exponential worries of putting the long term health of a human being into question. The answer is rugby union.
Did you know that American Football’s origins came from rugby? Rugby was invented in the 1830s at the Rugby School in Warwickshire, England. It was designed to organize the rules of many variations of football around the world. In 1863 however, there was a division amongst those in England as to how the game of football should be played. One side wanted football to be played by only kicking the ball, not using hands and have little to no tackling. The other side wanted to kick, throw and catch the football and have as much tackling as possible. Rather than find common ground, football and rugby split and organized their own rules. In 1895, two versions of rugby were born. Rugby union and rugby league split up and made their set of rules because rugby league embraced as a paid profession. It took all the way until 1995 for rugby union to be considered a professional sport.
From 1869 to 1880, football was played under rugby union’s rules. In 1880, Yale captain Walter Camp made several rule changes such as dwindling the number of players on the field from 15 to 11 per team and the snap was used to replace the inconsistent officiating of the scrum. In 1883, downs and distances were implemented. Finally, in 1906, the forward pass was allowed and football has never looked back. If it was not for rugby union, football would have never been invented.
Even though rugby league has almost the same pattern to American football in terms of using downs, Rugby Union has a flow to the game that crosses all American sports into one better than any sport the States does not follow obsessively.
I’ll try not to bore you all into the rules of the game, but rugby’s biggest strong suit is that it is advertised as a game for all shapes and sizes. The 15 players that are used per team in rugby union are two props (numbers 1 and 3), one hooker (number 2), two lock forwards (also known as second row forwards (numbers 4 and 5)), three flankers (also known as back row forwards (numbers 6, 7 and 8)), one scrum half (number 9), one fly half (number 10), two wings (numbers 11 and 14), two centers (numbers 12 and 13) and one fullback (number 15). Players 1 through 8 are considered forwards; players that are mostly responsible in tackling the opposition and creating turnovers. Whenever they have the ball, they are used to tire the opposition with their direct running (almost like a 230+ running back or fullback in today’s NFL (think Mike Alstott)). Meanwhile, players 9 through 15 are considered backs; the skilled players that love to have the ball in their hands and beat defenders with their pace and ankle breaking routes (think any type of modern day wide receiver after a catch or a running back when he breaks free from the defense).
Every position in rugby also carries certain roles. The props and hooker (also known as the front row), are the heaviest players on the field and are at the front of the battle when a scrum occurs. During lineouts, the hooker will throw the ball back into play by having sending a two handed overhead throw to their second row or back row teammates. These set of players are jumping and being lifted by two of their teammates from the forward group. These players are the intimidating presences who are at least 6 and a half feet tall and over 250 pounds. The back row forwards are exactly like linebackers in that they usually lead the team in tackles but also have to be mobile when they have to be on offense and be the link between the forward groups and their backs. The scrum-half and fly-half (also known as half backs) are the quarterbacks of the team. Everything runs through them offensively after the tackle and the tempo for which it goes is determined by how quick they can get the ball out of the ruck (what occurs after every tackle. The defense will try to steal the ball in an upright position while the offense creates a wall to prevent the defense from achieving their goal.) and how much they can put pressure on the defense with their running and passing. The centers can also have the same qualities as half backs with their passing, but they are mainly used to run passed their defense in a hard-nosed style. Lastly, the wings and fullbacks are the fastest players on the team and are either the last line of defense and are usually the ones that receive the ball during kick and chases in open play (fullback) or hang out on both ends of the field (wings) and waiting for their chance to score tries. If you are looking for a cheesy lineup full of American athletes that would create a fake United States rugby team, here it is.
Vince Wolfork-Joe Thomas-Geno Atkins
Anthony Davis-Roy Hibbert
Luke Kuechly-NaVarro Bowman-Tamba Hali
Russell Wilson-Peyton Manning
Calvin Johnson-Adrian Peterson-Colin Kaepernick-Dez Bryant
If you are looking for names to google and research, here is a starting XV of some of the best players in rugby that are solid examples at their respective positions today.
Tendai Mtawawhira(South Africa)-Richard Hibbard(Wales)-Adam Jones(Wales)
Alun Wyn Jones(Wales)-Eben Etzebeth(South Africa)
Richie McCaw(New Zealand)-Kieran Read(New Zealand)-Willem Alberts(South Africa)
Will Genia(Australia)-Dan Carter(New Zealand)
George North(Wales)-Wesley Fofana(France)-Jean De Villiers(South Africa)-Bryan Habana(South Africa)
Finally, if you need a particular game to understand what to expect in a typical game, watch England’s upset over the defending world champions, New Zealand, and put an end to a potential world record unbeaten run of 21 games.
In all, not only does the uniqueness of each position make rugby my favorite sport, but the importance of each position is significantly stronger than in American football. When was there a time in football’s history that an offensive lineman or nose tackle was celebrated as much as a quarterback? Because of the latest rule changes that Roger Goodell’s henchmen have put out throughout their tenure, football has turned into an extremely wide open passing game. Sure, they can be exciting to watch from a fan’s and box score nerd’s standpoint, but football has also lost its violent origins in that even a touch of the jersey or an unintentional head on head collision will result in a penalty that can change the outcome of the game.
Because of the amount of “safety” equipment worn on the players, it has unintentionally turned almost every tackler’s technique into the poorest amount of skill you will ever see. The amount of hitting by just pushing with the arms or going helmet first is just absolutely alarming! One can say that the player doing the tackling should never play a down of football for the rest of his life until he knows how to use his arms to wrap up his opponent (as a Penn State alum, I can surely tell you this is number four amongst the most contradicting and pointless rants any Nittany Lions fan can ever yell during a football game behind “at least our players graduate”, “all of our players and coaches show class and loyalty and should be the perfect example to college football” and “horrible officiating was the reason we lost that game (even if it was not a close game or there were at least three or more plays in which officiating would not decide the game (just like the 2008 Iowa game)”), but every football player is so fast and heavy and every millimeter can be the difference between a first down or not that coaches and players have allowed this art to reach such lows. Should the higher ups decide to make it 20 yards instead of 10 in order to get a first down?
Speaking of rule changes, why on earth do we have placekickers in football? The last part of rugby I love the most is that players that play the majority game are the only ones allowed to kick as well. Remember the stories of Paul Hornung or Pat Summerall kicking field goals while also playing other positions on their teams? If you don’t, that’s because you are in the 99% that believes that football was invented in 1965 and either refuses to accept what the sport was like beforehand or find such facts too silly to comprehend. To go along with starters kicking field goals, why not change the angles of the kicks like in rugby. Every time a try (rugby’s touchdown) is scored, the placement and angle of the conversion (rugby’s extra point) is determined by how far the player scored in relation to the posts. Why can’t football do the exact same thing and either challenge today’s placekickers and/or have the Chad Johnson’s of the world be the only ones allowed to kick it? Only in America can we except things because “that is how it’s always been done”.
Tomorrow morning is the second week of the Six Nations Tournament; the European Championships featuring England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy. The event is so unpredictable that not since the late 1980s French teams has a nation won the championship three times in a row or more. Wales hope to accomplish that tournament’s end. The tournament is just getting started as Wales struggled to win against a usually sub-par Italian side, Ireland taking care of business against Scotland and a young England side dramatically losing to a desperate French team. Now we see if Wales can continue their European dominance against their fiercest rivals in Dublin. Some will decide to watch the Olympics instead, but I for one will go onto VIP Box (or BBC America if I still had it) and watch nationalism, teamwork, commitment and spirit at its very best. I would hope you, football fan, can come join me and spread this great game to the masses.