TW’s Rugby Guide for Americans and Other Idiots

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Our American editor Nick Narigon jumped on the rugby bandwagon this week after watching Japan defeat Scotland in the Rugby World Cup pool stages, allowing the Brave Blossoms to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time in team history. He had some questions about the basic rules of rugby and sought out advice from TW’s creative director Liam Ramshaw, who has been immersed in the game since he was a wee lad growing up in England, where rugby originated. Perhaps fellow novice rugby fans could also learn a thing or two from TW’s resident hooker.

Nick: Ok, Liam. First things first. How many beers should be consumed over the course of a rugby game? They drink mint juleps and wear feathery hats at the Kentucky Derby. Is there some special rugby World Cup drink or fan attire we should be aware of?

Liam: The number of beers consumed over the course of a game will depend on a couple of variables, firstly how well your team is doing, and secondly, the importance of the match. As a rule of thumb expect to consume at least 1 pint per 20min of action and add an extra pint for every 10 points your team is either in front or behind. Add an extra half pint for every stage of the knockout rounds, pool stages an extra cheeky half, quarterfinals a full pint extra, semis you’re looking like an extra pint and a half and potentially a shot. If your team reaches the final all rules are void, go nuts!

Rugby attire is pretty standard, expect to see fans wearing their team colors, but look out for the occasional Welsh fan wearing a comedy daffodil/leek/sheep hat. At Japan games make sure to keep an eye out for Bak-san, who will be wearing full body paint, and at Australia games lookout for drunken fans storming the pitch and not wearing very much at all. As for drinks, beer is the standard beverage, a lot of whisky to kill the pain if you’re Scottish, and if you’re lucky enough to ever drink with the Fijian fans and they offer you their traditional Kava drink, you’re in store for a pretty wild night.

Nick: So you’re saying if Japan makes the finals we can expect a lot of Asahi-soaked, cheek-baring fans storming Shibuya? Now, around the water cooler I’ve heard a bit about your own exploits on rugby pitch. What was your position when you played for the Lower East Bottomhingtam Belvederes?

Liam: Yes, it’s true I’ve been playing rugby since I was nipper. My position was hooker (no sniggering). Whenever I tell an American that I used to be a hooker there are often a few raised eyebrows, but in rugby the hooker is the centermost player in the scrum (scrimmage I suppose you might call it) and one of the main responsibilities is to hook the ball back when it’s put into the scrum. Hookers also throw into the lineout, make a lot of tackles, hit a lot of rucks and are generally the most attractive and intelligent members of any rugby team.

Nick: A hooker? I pegged you more as a loose-head prop. And yes, I am sniggering. Let’s talk about the scrum, because this is one aspect of rugby that is completely foreign to an American football game. I was watching Japan vs Samoa and the Samoan player was penalized for a crooked feed. At the time you explained that the dude feeding the ball into the scrum isn’t allowed to roll the ball directly to his team. I’ve been watching these scrumbags closely, and it seems that every single one of them feeds it to their own team. What’s going on inside that heaving pile of man-meat?

Liam: Yes, a bit of an odd call that one. It’s generally expected in most games that the scrum-half will take a few liberties with the straightness of his feed into the scrum. In fact, you can go a whole season without seeing more than a handful of penalties for crooked feeds. Maybe the ref got swept up in all the emotion of the occasion, maybe he had a few yen riding on Japan getting a bonus point victory, maybe he just wanted to scupper the Scots, it’s all a bit of a mystery.

If you’ve never packed down in a scrum, it’s very difficult to describe what’s going on exactly. Most decent people probably wouldn’t want to know. The simplest way to describe it is two teams of eight very big men, with excessively large necks pushing each other very hard. Fun fact: the average scrum produces around 7000N of raw force which is equivalent to a formula 1 racing car.

Nick: That’s a lot of force to be applied on a hooker. Speaking of penalties, in the Ireland vs Samoa game the Irish player made a high tackle, nearly clotheslining the Samoan carrying the ball, and was given a red card. Meanwhile, the Scottish player clearly drove with his noggin and head butted Japan’s grizzled hooker, Shota Horie, hard enough to gash his head. After conferring, the refs said no card was necessary. Where’s the line?

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Liam: Bit of a controversial subject this one, and one of the biggest talking points of this World Cup. In days of yore a chap could dish out big hits however he saw fit, as long as the opposition player could stand up afterwards it was considered fair game, but after all the concussion issues that have recently come to light in American football, the tackle laws in rugby have been changed to protect the players safety.

As a rule of thumb, smashing another player above the chest level with your shoulder or arm is generally frowned upon and if you make contact with the head it will result in an automatic red card. However, it seems that if your tackling technique is so poor that you end up tackling the opposition with your face, then that is okay.

Nick: Thanks for the heads up. Let’s talk about scoring. So somebody has made a try (not a touchdown) and then it is time to kick the conversion (which is two points – not one. But sometimes they kick it from directly in front of the goalposts, and other times they kick from way off in Chiba. How do they decide where to place the ball for the conversion?

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Liam: Jolly good question. The conversion is always taken inline with the point that the ball is placed down for a try. That’s the reason why it’s preferable to score directly under the posts as opposed to wideout on the wing. It originates from the old English tradition of making things more difficult than they really need to be.

Nick: It’s a proud Japanese tradition as well, which is maybe why the Brave Blossoms are having so much success this tournament. Last question, are there any rugby slogans, chants, jibes or cheers we should learn before Japan throttles South Africa?

https://twitter.com/RugbyWorldCupFR/status/1184062092254547969

Liam: If you’re going to be supporting England this weekend you should brush up on the old spiritual “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” If you’re an Aussie, then “Waltzing Matilda” is the song of choice. If you’re Irish, make sure you know all four verses of Fields of Athenry.” Goodness only knows what the Saffas sing. Can’t understand a word they’re saying. If you’re cheering for the French, then “La Marseillaise.” If you’re Welsh, get ready to belt out “Bread of Heaven” every time Jonathan Davies gets the ball. If you’re an All Black fan, whichever version of the Haka they wheel out for the game. If you’re going to be cheering on the Brave Blossoms then strangely enough John Denver’s, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” seems to be the unofficial team song. Don’t even ask me how that started.

Nick: Excellent, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is my karaoke jam, only I sing the Toots and the Maytals reggae version. Hopefully all of Japan will be singing about West Virginia for a while.

Feature photo by Francois Nel – World Rugby via Getty Images

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