I first played Rugby when I was 16. I had played any number of sports growing up: baseball, football, and the then uncommon sport of soccer. However by the time I got to highschool, I was no longer passionate about any of them. I certainly wasn’t passionate enough to suffer through football two a days in the blazing August heat.
And then I found rugby. Not many people were playing rugby in the late seventies, but my high school had a club. Not that we could play on the school grounds, nor were we officially recognized. Rugby wasn’t well known or well understood in those days. People mostly knew that the players had a reputation for bad craziness.
They didn’t understand that at the core of the sport- sportsmanship rules, then and now. Rugby is a tough, tough sport. It’s as physical as football. Like football it’s played full out and it’s full contact, but there’s no padding, no helmets. There are also 30 people on the field and only one referee. There’s always the potential for serious injury- especially if someone wants to engage in dirty play. Which is why the game is self policed by the players.
No one speaks to the referee but the captain. Fights are rare. Dirty play and dirty players are handled on the pitch. Punishment, and penalties are handled discretely on the field by the players. You don’t want to be judged a dirty player and find yourself at the bottom of the ruck. You might just catch a punch or a cleat to the head.
Beyond the self discipline, however, pride and camaraderie rule. The players pride themselves on playing a tough game well and fairly. There are no stars or star mentality. It’s a team sport. There is no showboating, no self important congratulatory prancing about the field like a petulant small child just because you did your job. After the match, the home team must provide a place to rest as well as food and drink for the opposing side. The players on the team are not the enemy. Rather, over time, they become friends. It’s a joyous thing. The sport is an elegant and kinetic riot on the field. It’s also, on and off the pitch, the way life should be lived.