March 11, 2017


Rugby's More Perfect Union (Martin Pengelly,  MARCH 10, 2017, NY Times)

Rugby, or something like it, was first played in the United States in the mid-1800s. It gave birth to football: The first college game, Rutgers against Princeton in November 1869, was played under "rugby-like" rules. Rugby also is a brutal game, often violent, but as football faces increasing questions over safety, the number of rugby players is growing. Coaches say it's because their contact sport is safer: The absence of helmets and significant padding results in safer tackling, while strict rules reduce blows to head and neck.

Maybe. But I think rugby is rising in America because it is extreme. It is rising here because it has not yet, like football, been commodified. It is played by men and women in colleges and clubs. There is still something pure and unspoiled about the sport.

To adapt a question asked by the great Caribbean historian C. L. R. James, who was writing about cricket, what do they know of rugby who only rugby know? Most important, American rugby is participatory. Most of its fans play it, or did before their knees gave out. And it is not, for the most part, an occupation that pays. It is something you live for, training on a wet Wednesday for a game on the weekend. And a drink afterward. On field and off, American rugby is built on team spirit.

In the scrum (never "scrimmage," which is not a rugby word) each player binds on to another and all work together to achieve their goal: to push the opposing pack off the ball, to subdue them -- and to not get hurt.

Rugby is gloriously counterintuitive. Players know it is not remotely a sensible thing to do. And despite this, they love it.

Posted by at March 11, 2017 6:31 AM