If you’re travelling around the UK this year, you’re likely to meet lot of overly-enthusiastic people watching the 2015 Rugby World Cup. These encounters may lead to a lot of awkward interrogation about your own interest in the sport. Cheapflights is here to help you navigate this assault course of sporting banter with our in-depth bluffer’s guide to the game.
Before we start, it’s important to realise there are in fact two main types of rugby: rugby union and rugby league. Although these sound like synonyms and poorly differentiated, it turns out people who like rugby have noticed some minor differences. The Rugby World Cup is based on rugby union though, so we won’t bother explaining here why rugby league requires rollerblades and an intricate knowledge of microwave ovens. Anyway, let’s get on with it.
There are three ways of scoring points in rugby union: tries, conversions, and goal kicks. Tries are actually successes, namely when a team manages to take the ball all the way to the back of the opposing side’s half. They’re called tries though as a constant reminder of the futility of material existence (the game was invented by rather pious Zen monks).
For every try you get five points, even though you’ve only done one of them. When a team has scored a try, they also get an opportunity to score a conversion, which is a bit like a penalty kick over the other side’s big H. They’re only worth two points because they’re too much like a football thing and the monks who invented rugby hate football – they even refer to it as “soccer” to highlight their disdain.
When a penalty is incurred, which happens quite often in such a needlessly violent game, that’s when the victimised team gets a chance to take a goal kick. It’s pretty much identical to a conversion when you see it but it’s worth three points. Nobody knows why.
Each team has 15 players on the field. They need this many because most of the players spend their time getting into fights, otherwise known as scrums, in which they are constantly getting hurt. Those players who run around behind them are too scared to join in and spend their time “flying” away which is why they are called “fly-halfs”.
The other two forms of fighting in rugby are called rucks and mauls. Rucks are when everybody jumps on top of each other in an effort to crush the poor tackled player at the bottom holding the ball. Once his lungs have given up, he releases the ball and they all get off him.
Mauls are pretty much the same except they’re done standing up, so it’s much easier to see all the violence that’s going on. It has an extra layer of entertainment because the players like to pretend they are vehicles during a maul, namely trucks and trailers, and they all make the sound of revving engines.
When a ball goes off the field, it gets thrown back in whereupon the teams will fling one of their “locks” up into the air to grab it. The mix of surprise and irritation on the lock’s face as they go hurtling up is always enchanting.
Teams playing in the Rugby World Cup
The most famous rugby team is from New Zealand. They’re called the All Blacks because they dress in all black. They were originally called the All Lemon Yellow and Burgundy Reds but they grudgingly changed their uniform for brevity. At the start of every match, the All Blacks perform what is known as a haka, a terrifying display of how people in New Zealand like to dance in Wellington nightclubs. They perform this because they think it’s funny.
In a fit of jealousy, the other teams based around the Pacific Ocean invented their own pre-game dances (Fiji has the cibi, Samoa has the Manu Siva Tau, and Tonga has the cipi tau) but you never hear about these because their uniforms aren’t as impressive.
Other than the All Blacks there are no famous rugby teams because none of the others are as interested in creating a strong brand identity like all the former PR gurus that make up New Zealand’s team.
That being said, other teams do like to names themselves after animals. The South African national team are called the Springboks, Argentina are the Pumas, the USA team are the Eagles, and Australia are the Wallabies. The Japanese national team call themselves the Cherry Blossoms because there are no animals in Japan except for a handful of migrating geese during the autumn.
The real curveballs are Romania though – they call themselves the Oaks purely because the whole country is obsessed with the soap opera Hollyoaks.
The patch of grass rugby is played on must always be imported from the town of Rugby in Warwickshire. Otherwise, the match has to be referred to as a game of “coventry”.
The most entertaining aspect during rugby, other than all the brutal carnage, is the fact that nobody is allowed to pass the ball forwards at any point. This leads to beautifully choreographed rows of players passing the ball to each other backwards as they sprint forward across the field. For this reason, rugby fields are all designed back to front so as not to confuse players about which direction they’re running.
This year’s Rugby World Cup will be held in various massive stadiums around the UK which are normally used exclusively for U2 and Lady Gaga concerts. Locals have been picketing councils for the misuse of the space, but the English government has admitted they really have nowhere else to stage these events except for these music venues.
Anyway, we at Cheapflights hope you’ve enjoyed this bluffer’s guide to the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Rest assured: you’re now ready to partake in any rugby-based conversation you might have to engage in during your visit.
(Disclaimer: this guide was written by a bluffer, so facts may be further from the truth than they appear.)