Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 05.12.08
Stanstead, Quebec


Rugby explained

STANSTEAD, QC | For the past couple of years, my elder daughters have been playing rugby. So far, neither of them has been seriously injured, which means they're not playing hard enough.

Rugby is an unfamiliar game to many North Americans. That's because it was invented in 732 A.D. by the Picts who were wiped out as result of major head trauma before they could chisel the rules into the side of a cliff.

Drawing on folk tales and interpretive dance, contemporary Europeans recreated rugby with modern rules. Unfortunately, these rules are usually explained with funny accents and consequently are completely lost on most North Americans.

That being said, rugby is growing in popularity, mostly among teens who feel that substance abuse and self-mutilation are not self-destructive enough.

My girls, for example, have taken up the game with gusto ("gusto" being one of many obscure rugby terms, in this case meaning "only your wool socks serving as protective gear"). After watching several games through splayed fingers, I feel I have a handle on the basic rules of rugby, as follows:

Teams are made up of 15 players, or sometimes 7. And occasionally 13. It really is that vague. This is because the players tend to run about every which way or mob together in blobs, making actual counting impractical if not impossible.

The object of the game is to earn the most points, which are awarded as follows: a try is worth 5 points, a dropped goal 3 points, a conversion 2. A concussion results in 1 point and a good story to tell your friends.

Teams score a try by carrying the ball over their opponent's touchline, which is like an end zone but with no touchdown dances. Dancing is frowned upon in rugby, as is skipping and sashaying. Binge drinking, on the other hand, is encouraged and indeed helpful.

To move the ball forward, you can run with it or kick it while the opposing team tries to smash into you. Because simple bone-on-bone contact is considered too woosie-like, the rules of rugby state that you are only allowed to pass the ball to a teammate behind you. Yes, to move the ball forward, you have to pass it backwards. Insert your own government bureaucracy joke here.

If a player drops the ball or is tackled or suddenly finds himself without use of his lower extremities, the ball is up for grabs. Does play stop? It does not. Play continues until the referee decides enough is enough. He then blows the whistle, which goes by the Celtic term "whistle." The referee may then declare an infringement, which can range from being offside to not liking your attitude, mister.

The ref may then call for a scrum, a free kick or a penalty kick, depending on the severity of the penalty, which all seems pretty arbitrary. But then a synonym for "referee" is "arbitrator," so I guess it all kind of makes sense, at least from a linguistic point of view.

What is a scrum? A scrum is when the players huddle together and pretend to be television reporters hammering a politician with prying and impertinent question. Many consider this to be the most vicious element of rugby.

In the scrum, some players stick their heads between their teammates' legs, which is also modeled after the behaviour of reporters.

Besides the scrum, the other common formation is the lineout, in which opposing teams line up on the sideline and try to catch the ball being thrown in from out of bounds. They do this by lifting one of their players up into the air by his or her underwear. Another term for "lineout" is "wedgie."

Positions in rugby include fullback, half-back, get back jack do it again, scrum half, scumbag, and hooker. This latter term has been the source of endless merriment and seems to have been invented for this very purpose.

Divided into two halves, play ends when time runs out or when one of the teams no longer has enough able-bodied players. The number of concussions is then added up (points off for faking it) and the winner is declared.

Admittedly, I may be a bit off on some of these rules. But that's okay. I don't think anyone really knows what's going on. And remember, those who claim they do have probably been bashed in the head more than once.