Rugby Union, or League, Which do You Prefer?
Great Games and less prima donnas than in soccerClick thumbnail to view full-size
Should they be called Blood Sports?
No padding and pretense: Takes a man to play rugby!
Another one of those arguments that never gets settled is which is the better game, rugby union or rugby league. The answer, of course, is neither, they are both great ball games, all with huge followings and teams from many countries these days.
Rugby Union was the first game to be “invented,” legend says a chap called William Webb Ellis, a pupil at Rugby School, first did some wizardry with a soccer ball, carrying it from one end of the pitch to the other and “scoring” a goal - or some such. Doesn’t sound very likely, although a plaque to this effect is mounted at the school, and there is no doubt the game, as did the name, originated in this school way back in the early 19th Century.
In 1895, rugby suffered binary fission and Rugby League came into being after a long running dospute about player's renumeration. Then, as today, the divide was North/South, league becoming the preserve of the northern schools and the working class, while union remained more the province of the southern, middle and upper class schools.
There is no little resentment among aficionados of league today who rightly point out their game is much simpler and easier to understand; it is faster and most points scored come from exciting “tries,” rather than from penalty kicks as is the case all too often in union.
But the main problem seems to be the times we live in. Both league and union are contact sports, but union is the more physical game; the players are heavier nowadays, featuring more muscle-bound Neanderthals. Rugby union is considered by many to be the most violent and dangerous ball game in the world. Even 350 pound (25 stone) American Football players shake their heads in disbelief at the amount of blood that is shed without anyone taking much notice. Their own Gridiron undoubtedly has more violent collisions between the truly huge players, but they are well protected by headgear and padding. The only concession in rugby is padded headgear worn by some and optional gloves, along with ear bandages and knee elastic supports as needed. Rules regulating how tackles can be made are tightened all the time as players get bigger and serious accidents are more frequent. But this is still a game where toughness and the ability to suffer pain and shrug-off quite nasty bruises and lesions is mandatory, along with ball handling and athleticism.
Union attracts more media money than does league and the player’s remuneration reflects this. Some grumble that union was played at the schools the BBC, Sky TV and other CEO’s went to, so they favour this game over league. But the truth is, what the public want will attract the big media money and, ipso facto, the big stars of the sport. The two games are so similar in the fundamentals, huge men apart, that players from one game have little trouble adapting to the other and players have opted to change.
The rules for rugby league are certainly vastly less complex than those of union. In fact, is it often said with too much truth that no one: players, officials, reporters, commentators, much less the paying public, really understand all the plethora of rules and sub rules that govern the game. Whereas instructions for playing league can be assimilated by anyone with an IQ larger than his (or at least my) belt size in a few hours. For this reason, I am not going to attempt to explain the rules for either game within this two-dimensional hub article. There’s plenty of info available on line, and nothing beats going to the game with a knowledgeable friend and have him explain the finer points to you. At least where rugby league is concerned, it will be a true friend indeed who will volunteer to go to 10 union games to try to have you understanding the labyrinthine rules. I certainly don’t, and, incidentally, like both games equally. My favourite, though, is American football with rules far worse than union or any other field of human competition. Great game though!
Footnote. The last good rugby player in my family was my uncle David (Bill) Mercer, who captained King’s College Wimbledon’s Union team into his forties, before WW!. He not only survived the rigours of the game, he lived until age 101 and passed away in April of this year (2009) greatly loved and missed by his family. You up there now, Bill, throwing ‘em up in the air and forgetting to catch ‘em!?