An illustrated guide to rugby for virgins
…Rugby virgins, that is
Calling all sports fans—and fans of hard, sexy, sweaty men! The Rugby World Cup kicked off in London on September 18 and runs through October 31. Twenty teams from around the world will compete to be the greatest rugby nation. What better time to get to know the sport (and watch hot guys slam into each other)?
My London Legends series features the world’s hottest rugby team, but I know that a lot of my readers have never seen a rugby match. Most of them assure me that you can read and love the books without knowing anything about rugby, but I wanted to put together this little guide for anyone who would like to know more about this incredibly sexy sport.
A little bit about the Rugby World Cup
(I know it’s pitiful, but I honestly can’t watch that video without getting teary-eyed with excitement.)
The men’s RWC happens every four years. This year it’s hosted by England (though some matches are being played at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales). In 2011, it was hosted by New Zealand, who also won the tournament, so they’re the defending champions. In 2019, Japan are hosting—the first time the RWC will be hosted in Asia and be hosted by a team that’s not one of the top-tier teams.
The Women’s Rugby World Cup is also held every four years but not in the same years as the men’s tournament. The U.S.A. won the first Women’s RWC in 1991, and England won the most recent, last year.
The World Cup trophy is called the William Webb Ellis Cup in honor of a young lad who was a student at Rugby School in the 1830s. He allegedly was playing soccer (football) but then picked up the ball and ran with it, starting the sport of rugby.
If you love to know the ins and outs of how tournaments are organized (*raises hand*), this video will make your nerdy heart sing.
Each match lasts 80 minutes, with two 40-minute halves. The field of play (or pitch) is a maximum of 100 meters (109 yards) long plus an in-goal area at each end.
There are 15 players from each team on the pitch throughout the match, unless a player receives a yellow card, which means he or she has to sit out for ten minutes and their team cannot replace them.
The number on a player’s uniform (or kit) indicates what position they play. It’s not just a number they choose because they like it, or because their idol wore it, or something like that.
These days, professional rugby kit usually consists of skin-tight shirts and fairly short shorts (thank you, sportswear designers!). Rugby players don’t wear pads or helmets, but some of them do wear scrum caps to protect their skulls and ears. That’s what the retired England legend Maggie Alphonsi straps onto her head before showing comedian Jack Whitehall never to underestimate “a lady” in this video. (I hope he got hazard pay for this.)
Rugby uniforms have to be as tough as the players themselves.
It can be fun when the kit’s not up to the job, though.
(In the interest of accuracy, I should tell you those last two gifs show a different form of the sport, rugby league. But let’s be honest…I’m not sharing them to illustrate rules of the game. A pantsing is a pantsing, whatever the rugby code you play by.) When I first started watching rugby, I was 23. I’d been the statistician for my high school football team, so that was the sport I was most familiar with. As much as I enjoyed watching football, I wasn’t prepared for the massive adrenalin rush I felt watching that first rugby match. The action barely stopped. In rugby it doesn’t matter if a pass is incomplete; the closest player will snatch up the ball and run with it. Teams don’t get timeouts. Play stops for injuries and penalties but not commercial breaks. A team’s offense and defense aren’t separated; if your team has the ball, you’re on offensive. If your opponent has the ball, you’re on defense. If you turn the ball over to the other team, you go from being on offense to defense in a heartbeat. It all adds up to an incredibly fast, hard-hitting game. via GIPHY
How to score
The main objective is to score a try—the equivalent of a touchdown in American football, only a player has to place the ball on the ground on or behind the try line in order to score. Crossing the line is not enough. He or she can also touch the ball against the pads covering the bottom of the posts or against the corner flags, which mark the corners of the in-goal area. A try is worth five points.
Because players have to press the ball against the ground to score, you can see some great swan dives…and some not-so-great ones.
After a team scores a try, they get a chance to score a conversion. This is usually done by kicking the ball through the posts for two extra points. There are two other ways to score points. When one team has done something naughty, the referee might allow the other team a chance to score three points by kicking a penalty—kicking the ball through the posts. If a team gets close enough to the in-goal area, they can try kicking a drop goal through the posts for three points. This one by South Africa’s Percy Montgomery is pretty damn amazing.
Players mostly move the ball down the field by throwing it, but it can’t be thrown forward. It has to be thrown backward or laterally. You can get fancy about your passing, as long as the player you throw to is not in front of you.
Rugby positions and formations
I won’t go into every position, or we would be here all day. One of my favorite things about rugby is that there are positions for people with all kinds of body types. These days, professionals have to be very, very fit, but it’s not unusual to have extremely tall and extremely short players on a team. I’ve written a book where the hero was 5’8” (Ash Trenton in Taming the Legend) and one where the hero was 6’9″ (John Sheldon in Unwrapping Her Perfect Match). Instead of being divided into offense and defense, rugby positions are made up of backs and forwards. They’re all on the pitch at the same time, working together. Forwards can be big and aggressive or short and scrappy, depending on their position, while backs tend to be faster and more skillful—but I would never say that to a forward’s face. This gif sums up the stereotype. They’re apparently both waiting for kickoff. The guy on the left is a back. The guy on the right is a forward.
There are a few rugby formations that look like utter chaos, unless you know what’s going on. Hopefully I can clarify them a little! A scrum is a way of restarting a match, usually after a penalty or an injury. The forwards from each team bind together in three rows. They all crouch down and slam into the other team’s forwards. They try to push the other team back while fighting for possession of the ball with their feet amid much grunting and sweating. When a scrum collapses, the front row usually ends up eating grass.
When the ball goes out of bounds (or into touch, as it’s called in rugby) the game is restarted with a line-out. Players from both teams form parallel lines perpendicular to the touch line (the side line). One player throws the ball straight between the two lines of players. The lined-up players lift their tallest players into the air to fight for possession of the ball.
This short video shows comedian Jack Whitehall learning about line-outs by going up against Martin Johnson (“Johnno”), the captain of England’s 2003 World Cup-winning team. (Side note: I had a crush on Johnno back in his playing days. My husband questions my taste in men.)
Line-outs can be incredibly dangerous.
The haka: The haka is a M?ori dance or chant that was traditionally performed before battle. The New Zealand All Blacks (NZ’s national rugby team) perform the haka before every match, and it’s intimidating as hell.
This was the All Blacks’ haka at the opening of the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. They won.
Dirty songs: Somewhat less awe-inspiring than the haka, dirty songs are often sung by rugby players in the changing room (or in pubs after matches). If you’re not using a work computer, and there are no literate children in the room, do a quick search for rugby songs. They are…anatomically interesting.
Nudity: Rugby players are well known for enjoying getting their kit off. I first discovered this “tradition” when my husband was playing on a local team in Prague. After matches, the guys on his team wandered from the showers to the clubhouse’s bar totally butt-nekkid. Once they even formed a circle around the room and stripped while singing “Father Abraham” in Czech. It was an…eye-opening experience.
Rugby nudity doesn’t get much better than France’s annual calendar, Dieux du Stade (Gods of the Stadium). This video’s not safe for work, unless your HR department is okay with you watching videos of man-butt.
Not being footballers: By football here, I mean soccer. Many rugby players and fans have a certain amount of disdain for soccer—not the sport itself but the way professionals conduct themselves. For the most part (and there are embarrassing exceptions), rugby players do not speak back to referees. Referees feel empowered to give players a yellow or red card if they’re disrespectful. Rugby players are not preparing for a future career as a ballet dancer, high diver, or soap opera star. They’re more likely to pretend they’re not hurt than to fake an injury (again, there are embarrassing exceptions).
This Vine’s a little gross. Scroll fast if you don’t like blood. In case you couldn’t guess, the guy’s a footballer; the woman’s a rugby player (she broke her nose and tried to keep playing. BROKE HER NOSE. KEPT PLAYING. BADASS.).
Okay, that’s not it. There’s more to rugby than that, but this short guide is in danger of turning into a novel, and I’ve already written a load of those. In fact, in my next post for Dear Author, I’ll give you a list of rugby romances to keep your ereaders happy. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to watch a match or two and cheer on your country’s team during the Rugby World Cup. And if you do, I hope this guide helps you enjoy it more! What’s not to love about a sport like this??
About Kat Latham
Kat Latham is a RITA-nominated author of sexy contemporary romance. She’s a California girl who moved to Europe the day after graduating from UCLA, ditching her tank tops for raincoats. She taught English in Prague and worked as an editor for a humanitarian organization in London before she and her British husband moved to the Netherlands. Kat’s other career involves writing and editing for charities, and she’s traveled to Kenya, Ethiopia and India to meet heroic people helping their communities survive disasters.