The history of rugby is hidden in muddy pits and drunken haze but there are a few stories that emerge which can be considered established fact. Who hasn’t heard the story of the lad at Rugby public school who, when playing soccer, became upset at the language and social class of the spectators, not to mention the ban on beer, so picked up the ball and tried to run off with it. When the big lads on both sides jumped on him and beat the living daylights out of the poor lad, the modern game of rugby was born.
Many people wonder what the attractions of such a sport are. A close examination of the finer details shows why it is so popular. Firstly there is a position on the field for every kid in the class or bar: the little weedy one can play scrum half, the tall, good looking lads can play on the wing, the big fat blokes who like hugging one another, for whatever reason, can be the tight five, those who don’t like too much contact can be flanker, the chaps not much good at anything other than getting in the way can be centres and for the one who can neither run nor fight, there is #10. If no one likes you and you are normally left alone, full back is custom made.
An early problem was the number of injuries that many players suffered but, rather than let the side down, carried on playing. Indeed, even in the early days, broken necks and back, even limbs, whilst upsetting to those parents who cared about their kids, whom they sent to boarding school in order not to be worried about them, just generated a news update letter home, but were not mentioned in the annual report. In any case a parent who complained had their child drafted into the fly half position and the ref was told not to penalise late tackles on him, even at half time.
In these days of human rights gone mad you cannot shackle a student in order to restrict his movements. However, the bottom of a ruck is somewhat harder to get out from under. So no one complains, certainly not the poor sod at the bottom of it all who has much more important use for the little bit of breath he has left.
The sport developed slowly. It originally consisted of forwards only so athleticism, not to mention thinking, was not required. The players hardly moved at all – the modern tight five have only just started to abandon this homage to tradition. The only counting was the number of times a ball was taken against the head in the scrum. Once there was a requirement for the ball to emerge from the scrum, players who didn’t mind walking about a bit had to be found and a whole new level of player was born: the backs.
The modern game allows those who want to grunt a lot and push things around to do just that while the rather elegant and, one has to admit, sissy can run about a bit and look cool. Even cooler in those infrequent occasions they have the ball.
One unfortunate modern development has been a sudden, and rather pointless, requirement for fitness. Some clubs even have gyms. This is to be regretted of course, but there seems little the old stagers can do about it.
A significant change to the sport has occurred over recent years. Rugby went professional. This has meant that the sport is open to the masses and so has, to a limited degree, become chavised. We haven’t gone as far as soccer, and our players do not pursue models and those who frequent the click-bait pages of the Daily Mail. Our lads are much more down-to-earth. Ask Mike Tyndall.