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Five tackles and a kick
December 10, 2013 12:14 AM   Subscribe

We northerners are well-balanced people: we have chips on both our shoulders. One of our long-standing gripes is that Their Rugby – union – is treated as a national sport while Our Rugby – league – is patronised as a parochial throwback to a mud-splattered, black-and-white, trouble-at-the-mill world of slag heaps, Tetley’s ale, black pudding, whippets, brass bands and bizarrely accented, trilby-hatted buffoons droning on about “up and unders” and “early baths”. -- Why is Rugby League still patronised as a mud-splattered, parochial throwback?
posted by MartinWisse (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
Because it is?

The author is grumpy that the South of England has ignored League, while brushing over the World Cup due to lack of English interest. And then complains about charges of parochialism. Nice.

The real problem with League being that it's a bloody dull game. The interesting part of Rugby starts at the second phase. In League, that'd be the same moment that the game gets stopped and re-set. Yawn.
posted by pompomtom at 1:33 AM on December 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is the second piece of New Statesman flamebait in a fortnight on apparent north-south patronisation. And it kinda is flamebaity. It's entirely true that rugby league is more flowing and is often immensely entertaining. Where union is more complex and technical, league is more open and fluid. Both games are great in their own right. But the premise of this article is wholly wrong. It is the same insecurity dressed up - league struggling to compete in a televised sporting world where fans can now comfortably watch the Tour de France or NFL rather than traipse to a muddy field on a Saturday afternoon. It's one reason why league moved its season in England to our summer.

So, to deal with the points:

Firstly, union, the larger game, doesn't look down on league. It is keen to import ideas from league (professionalism, video referees), coaches (Mike Ford, Sean Edwards), tactics (notably how to run defences) and players (Jason Robinson, Henry Paul, Andy Farrell Steven Myler et al). The flow the other way since rugby union has gone professional is very light.

Secondly, league remains a northern enclave, and proudly so in the eyes of many fans: only two super league teams are outside the north, and one of those is the Catalan Dragons. By the same token, union has never really cracked the north. Newcastle Falcons are a perennial underdog in the Aviva Premiership, while Leeds were relegated in 2006. Every other premiership union team is either in the midlands or the south.

Of course, the idea that union is a game for posh people is instantly belied when you go to any of the other countries it is widely played, like New Zealand, Australia, France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Italy, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Argentina, Japan and as a minor but longstanding sport in Romania, Uruguay, Georgia, Canada and the US and beyond. 'Posh' rugby was never posh in places like Cornwall or Leicester. With professionalism the ratio of private to state school players in the top echelons has fallen, notwithstanding that top rugby private schools like Millfield actively recruit talent from neighbouring state schools.

By contrast, league can nominally rustle up 14 countries for its world cup: one superpower (Australia), two strong teams (England and New Zealand) and 11 others. Only two countries have professional leagues so when Anthony Clavane writes "proof enough, one would have thought, of rugby league’s global reach" he's stretching things. It takes a world cup for far flung teams to get a seat at the table. By contrast, union has thriving regional tournaments (the 6 Nations in Europe, the Rugby Championship in the Southern Hemisphere), summer tours (June/July) and autumn series.

Furthermore, union has two codes, really: the 15 man game and sevens game. The sevens (seven man) game has been included for the next Olympics, has a thriving global tournament circuit and is popular not only with teams traditionally strong in the 15 man game but increasingly from high quality sides with no track record in the 15 man code, like Kenya and Portugal.

And union, because it is bigger and richer, has a thriving junior scene. Not only is the club structure that much larger domestically and internationally but the governing body, the IRB, has the cash to put on an age-group world championship each year. Furthermore, union is also doing its best to promote women's rugby, such as putting women's games on before or after men's games as an undercard to build support and televising games. With the inclusion of sevens at the Olympics there is a huge push towards developing the women's game in that area too.

But perhaps the biggest issue for league is that it is slap bang in football territory. Whereas the heartland of union is in clubs like Bath, Gloucester, Northampton, Leicester - only one of which has a football team of any note. It is hugely popular in the south west, where there are no premiership clubs west of Southampton. For league, its heartland is places like Wigan, Leeds, St Helens - most of the top clubs are sandwiched between Manchester and Liverpool.
posted by MuffinMan at 1:52 AM on December 10, 2013 [12 favorites]


Great response MuffinMan, but this statement isn't quite right:

Of course, the idea that union is a game for posh people is instantly belied when you go to any of the other countries it is widely played, like New Zealand, Australia

Sure, you may not think of the social class in Australia who can afford to send their kids to expensive private (grammar) schools as being "posh" by British standards (they often are though)... but Rugby Union in Australia is a code identified as being a 'higher class' sport and played predominantly by grammar school boys, whereas League is a state-school 'working-man' code.
posted by panaceanot at 2:41 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


Union is certainly played at the more "posh" end of the social spectrum in Australia and Wales, the fact this means sons of local businessmen and not minor royalty has more to do with the social structure in the countries not the game itself.
posted by fullerine at 2:45 AM on December 10, 2013


Needs more Eddie Waring.
posted by adamvasco at 3:21 AM on December 10, 2013


Rugby league (in England) had a problem the moment it signed up with Sky. Sure, the money was nice, and enabled the competition to go fully professional. But it lost something more important: visibility. If you don't have Sky Sports, the only league you can watch is the occasional Challenge Cup tie on BBC. I do think it's unfair how much coverage the papers give to Union over League, but that's not going to change any time soon.
posted by salmacis at 3:33 AM on December 10, 2013


Of course, the idea that union is a game for posh people is instantly belied when you go to any of the other countries it is widely played, like New Zealand, Australia, France, Scotland, Wales, Ireland

I have to second panaceanot here, rugby union is very much considered a game for the upper middle class in Ireland, and is part-and-parcel of the stereotype as much as BMWs and certain accents.
Rugby league is not widespread or well-known at all by comparison.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 3:39 AM on December 10, 2013


A few weeks back I was asked by a foreigner to explain the difference between Union andLeaguee... didn't think I did too bad to be honest.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 5:00 AM on December 10, 2013


League's an odd game. It flows more, there's more "action", but somehow it manages to be more boring than Union.

Same applies to baseball in relation to cricket, of course.

*ducks*
posted by Decani at 5:12 AM on December 10, 2013


Same applies to baseball in relation to cricket, of course.

*ducks*


as a fastball comes in high and inside.
posted by eriko at 5:29 AM on December 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


The final of a World Cup contested by 14 nations takes place at Old Trafford on Saturday 30 November; proof enough, one would have thought, of rugby league’s global reach.

This made me laugh, because one of the games took place almost literally on my sister's doorstep, and as the match was kicking off I had to explain a) who was playing and b) what sport they were playing. She's not much of a sports fan, but even so...
posted by afx237vi at 5:47 AM on December 10, 2013


Same applies to baseball in relation to cricket, of course.

Sorry, now, just once again for the slowly cognitive of us here, just which of these is "more" boring?
posted by sammyo at 5:53 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


I thought League was more popular than Union in Australia? (and AFL more popular than both)

League is a better televised game. Union is probably more tactically interesting. Although I've only played Union (poorly).

But then again isn't Sevens creeping league-ification of union? Especially the decreased importance of set-pieces?
posted by JPD at 6:40 AM on December 10, 2013


I'm a dumb American and have tried to understand the difference between union and league (and, also, to understand what rugby is exactly) for awhile. Can someone explain the difference between the two in terms of American football (if that's even possible)? Like if the NFL is rugby union, what would change about it to make its version of rugby league equivalently different?
posted by downing street memo at 6:46 AM on December 10, 2013


Sorry, now, just once again for the slowly cognitive of us here, just which of these is "more" boring?

One involves running back and forth and the other running around in circles.

For non-Rugby enthusiasts, here is the wiki page on Rugby explaining the differences between the two types.
posted by Atreides at 6:46 AM on December 10, 2013


DSM - First thing to remember is that American Football is basically the wildly drunk cousin of Rugby Union and Rugby League is convergent evolution to a game closer to American Football without the forward pass.

Basics
Rugby: No Forward Pass, No Blocking, Going out of bounds with the ball leads to a change of possession at the re-start, all re-starts are contested except for penalties. A touchdown is a try and a field goal is a penalty - but you can only stop play to kick as a result of certain infractions. There is the equivalent of a PAT. Union has 15 players League has 13

Rugby Union - Unlimited # of tackles/downs - but a tackled player must release the ball and the ball is live. You can block an unpossessed live ball - called a "ruck". You can also basically push your teammate with the ball called a "maul"

Rugby League - you get 6 tackles/downs and a tackled ball is uncontested. The equivalent of the snap is kicking the ball between your legs.

Certain infractions in both codes result in a Scrum - which is really the antecedent of snapping the ball - but it only happens in rugby as part of a turnover - most commonly "knocking on" the ball - throwing it or hitting it forward - whereas it happens after every tackle in AF.

Balls out of bounds result in a line out - where the two teams form lines and the team that didn't go out of bounds throws the ball down the middle of those two lines where the ball is contested. We don't have an equivalent in AF

I mean that's mass simplification of it all - but I gave it a shot.
posted by JPD at 7:15 AM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh yeah - another huge difference - the team that scored receives the kickoff. Although possession changes more often Rugby than AF so its not as big an advantage as it would be in AF
posted by JPD at 7:17 AM on December 10, 2013


Like if the NFL is rugby union, what would change about it to make its version of rugby league equivalently different?

Let's do it the other way around. Imagine NFL is RL, the RU equivalent would mean that instead of play stopping when the player with the ball is tackled everybody would pile in, the Defence to try and roll over the ball so one could take it from the tackled player and the Offence to push the D off and get things started again by having a player still on his feet start running forwards again. The D could then start trying to tackle him. If they did the pile on would recommence. Sometimes the tackled player would stay on his feet and the O would get behind him and shove him towards the goal line. The D would pile in and shove him away from their goal line.

Fouls results in scrums in RL, which essentially means the team sinned against gets the ball. Scrums in RU are more contested. Not directly equivalent but maybe RL is slightly closer to NFL.

If the ball goes off the side line in RL the non-carrying gets the ball. In RU they get to throw in to a lineout, which is alien to both RL and NFL.

Kicking is similar in both rugby codes and not too different in NFL.
posted by biffa at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2013


League is a better televised game. Union is probably more tactically interesting. Although I've only played Union (poorly).

League is broadcasted over the air in a highly attended national competition. Union is a three country affair broadcast only on Pay TV which gives more credence that Union is a rich man's game.
posted by Talez at 8:07 AM on December 10, 2013


JPD, that's a pretty good shot.

The defining feature of any code of football is what happens at the tackle. There's usually some kind of state change.

RL: the ball dies and needs to be brought back into play, hence the play the ball. You have six tackles before you are forced to turn over possession.

RU: the player carrying the ball 'dies' and can take no further part until they are back onside.

The fundamental consequences of this are that while both games have both features RL is much more about field position and RU is much more about ball possession.

The real thing about RL is that in five tackles time you are going to lose possession of the ball. There are special circumstances where the other team makes a play for the ball but you retain possession, at which point the tackle count is reset, but nine times out of ten the ball will be turned over very soon. You *have* to make ground, which means you have to move the ball around and run with it. Your offence is your best defence, and very often your defence is your best offence.

biffa> Fouls results in scrums in RL

Penalties, which is most often a free kick rather than a kick at goal. Belt a free kick down field and you get the ball back ten metres in from where it went out.

Usually when the ball goes out of play the possession is turned over. If you kick from behind your own 40 and it goes out between the oppositions 20 and their goal line (having bounced in field first) then the feed at the scrum is yours and you get six tackles pretty close to the opposition's goal line.

Scrums:

Forward pass, knock on, ball kicked out of play, ball hits the ref or some other non playing object that isn't the posts.
posted by vbfg at 9:05 AM on December 10, 2013


Oh, and for all that it's a minority sport in the place of its birth, in other places billion dollar wars have been fought over it.
posted by vbfg at 9:14 AM on December 10, 2013


League has a genuinly classic film in This Sporting Life... I don't think Union has anything to match it (though League probably loses a few points for the woeful Up 'n' Under)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:17 AM on December 10, 2013


I saw my first rugby match on TV a few nights ago...New Zealand v France. I'm pretty sure there are rules, but it's sort of hard to figure out what they are. Compared with rugby, American football is for wimps.

Anyhow, Yay HD, viva cable tv!
posted by mule98J at 9:51 AM on December 10, 2013


If you're in any doubt who is a back or a forward in rugby look at their hair, then their nose, then their ears:

Hair: if it looks like it has been cut by a salon, you are 90% sure this is a back
Nose: if it has been broken and still looks wonky, you are 90% sure this is a forward
Ears: if they are beautifully cauliflowered, this is a tight five player, and probably a member of the front row.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:57 AM on December 10, 2013


League is broadcasted over the air in a highly attended national competition. Union is a three country affair broadcast only on Pay TV which gives more credence that Union is a rich man's game.

On the other hand, Union's greatest regional competition here (Six Nations) is broadcasted on terrestrial television in its entirety by the BBC, while Rugby League is mostly banished to the northern regional BBC stations.

Which means I can rarely watch League here in the Netherlands.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:59 AM on December 10, 2013


If Americans (and other interested parties not blocked as per this list) would like to sample Australian Rugby League, the NRL made the entirety of the 2013 season available here. One of my favourite things about the feed is that they appear to be taken from the live feed - there's frequently no ads* - instead, there's often inadvertent recording of commentators discussing what they're going to talk about after the break.

Highlights:
Round 1: Roosters v Rabbitohs. The first game of the season, a clash of archrivals that would be repeated in the final round. Nice simple game to get things started.

I'm trying not to pick all Rabbitohs games, but Round 7: Sea Eagles v Rabbitohs was a fine example of tough footy. Features the Burgess brothers being boofheads, and Greg Inglis being repeatedly dropped on his head.

Round 8: Knights v Sharks
The Sharks recover from a bad hit on captain Paul Gallen to win in golden point overtime.

The Grand Final, Roosters v Sea Eagles. Spectacular plays and a comeback in the last twenty minutes puts the Roosters over the top.

*Other than the presence of the odious Tom Waterhouse.
posted by zamboni at 5:18 PM on December 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


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