Thursday 24 October 2019

What the ruck? The bluffer's guide to the Rugby World Cup

Don't know your hooker from your Haka, your maul from your curved ball? Keep up with the alickadoos in all those egg-chasing conversations with Kim Bielenberg's instant guide

The Irish rugby team at a welcome ceremony in Japan. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
The Irish rugby team at a welcome ceremony in Japan. Photo: REUTERS/Issei Kato
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

Oscar Wilde famously believed that "rugby is a good occasion for keeping 30 bullies far from the centre of the city".

Unless they go and hide under a rock over the next six weeks, even the sport's detractors will find it hard to avoid the game during the Rugby World Cup. Starting on Friday at 11.45am Irish time until the final on November 2, it is all happening in Japan, and we can expect plenty of images of robed Japanese women carrying parasols, Mount Fuji, and references to bullet trains and the "land of the rising scrum".

Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.

Log In

Let's face it, the rules of rugby are almost impossible to understand even by former players, and when quizzed most fans who shout "Heeeeeave!" from the sidelines wouldn't know the difference between a ruck and a maul.

But you too can sound as convincing as the blazered bore at the bar in the pavilion at Lansdowne rugby club. You just need to remember a few simple facts and some stock phrases to keep up with the oval ball chatter.

HOW DID RUGBY START?

The Rugby World Cup trophy is named after William Webb Ellis, an impudent young pupil at Rugby School in England. According to legend, in 1823, he picked up the ball in a game of football and ran with it.

Can you imagine being a teacher having to put up with that kind of delinquent behaviour? Webb Ellis should have been sent off, but ended up inventing a new sport.

 

Love Island’s Greg O’Shea is part of the RTÉ coverage team
Love Island’s Greg O’Shea is part of the RTÉ coverage team

International Rugby Newsletter

Rugby insights and commentary from our renowned journalists like Neil Francis, Will Slattery, Alan Quinlan & Cian Tracey.

WHAT IS THE AIM OF THE GAME?

The English writer PG Wodehouse gave a broad outline of the sport. He said the main scheme is to work the ball down the field somehow and deposit it over the line at the other end without throwing it forwards. In order to stop this, each side is allowed to put in a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow man which, if done elsewhere, would result in 14 days in jail and some sharp words from a judge.

Occasionally, there is an actual punch-up on the field and this is known affectionately by the rugby fraternity as "a bit of afters".

 

Rory Best. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.
Rory Best. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire.

SO, WHO PLAYS IN THE WORLD CUP?

The "hooligan's game, played by gentlemen" is mainly popular in a few countries that were once part of the British Empire. And sometimes when you watch, you can see that there are still hard feelings.

There are 20 teams taking part in the tournament and the favourites are New Zealand, South Africa, England, Ireland and Wales. The Japanese team are known as the "brave blossoms". Ireland enters the World Cup as the number one ranked team in the world, and plays its first game against Scotland on Sunday.

Do say: "Ireland's ranking is a statistical anomaly, caused by World Rugby's faulty algorithm."

The New Zealand haka
The New Zealand haka

 

WHERE CAN I WATCH IT?

International competitive rugby returns to RTÉ, which is showing 14 live matches including all of Ireland's games. If the sport proves to be too bamboozling for the casual viewer, they will be comforted to know that there is a Love Island interest. The reality show winner and Sevens rugby player Greg O'Shea is presenting one-minute segments, apparently with his shirt on. There is no place for George Hook on the panel, but Brent Pope is there. Sip a drink every time Brent proffers his favourite piece of advice: "Never give a sucker an even break."

He will be joined by other pundits including Jamie Heaslip, Stephen Ferris and Eddie O'Sullivan. Eir Sport, with pundits Gordon D'Arcy, Peter Stringer and Jerry Flannery, is showing all 48 matches, testing the enthusiasm of even the most ardent rugby fan with matches such as Italy versus Namibia at 6.15am.

 

WHAT DO I SAY IF I'M LOST FOR WORDS?

So, you are standing in a bar at some ungodly hour of the morning next Sunday watching Ireland versus Scotland with two pints and a full Irish already on board. You too can amaze your friends with stock terms and phrases, used ad nauseam by the rugby pundits. Before the match has started suggest that Ireland needs to "stick to the process" and "front up". As the match progresses, continue with choice remarks such as: "You can see that we are not crossing the gain line", or "Ireland just needs to go through the phases".

 

THAT'S ALL VERY FINE, BUT WHAT ARE THEY WEARING?

According to the Irish Rugby Football Union, the official World Cup test jersey costs €120. This illustrious garment is "cut with a super slim, body-forming fit so you can move around the pitch with speed and precision and without worrying about grabbing".

Its streamlined design is also ideal for moving fast around the bar. Those predictable New Zealanders are wearing All Black, yet again - it's very slimming.

 

SO, WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A HOOKER AND A HAKA?

The hooker, in Ireland's case Rory Best, throws the ball in at the line-out. Critics say Best is more likely to hit a passing seagull than throw it successfully to an Irish player.

The Haka is a Maori war dance, performed by the New Zealand team accompanied by a rabble-rousing chant. It gives the All Blacks a psychological edge. Teams have long been at a loss as to how to respond to the haka. Thirty years ago, the Irish team led by Willie Anderson tried to turn the tables by advancing towards the All Blacks in a V formation.

Ireland were still heavily defeated. Anderson said afterwards: "We won the dance but lost the match."

 

HOW DO YOU TELL A RUCK FROM A MAUL?

Most of rugby involves players seeking to get the ball through a series of scraps involving up to half a dozen people. If the melée happens to be on the ground, it is known as a ruck, and if players are grappling with each other while still standing, it is known as a maul.

What to say: "O'Mahony is winning turnover ball at the breakdown."

 

WHY IS THE REFEREE ALWAYS "GOING UPSTAIRS"?

It's not for a toilet break. When the commentator says the referee is "going upstairs" it means he is calling for the assistance of a TMO (Television Match Official), who can check back on action, particularly when there may have been a score on the try line. Almost 15 minutes of every match is spent watching replays while the TMO tries to make out the ball between a mass of tangled bodies.

Don't say: "VAR is ruining rugby."

 

WON'T THE JAPANESE JUST LOVE THE IRISH FANS?

With Ireland playing the first of its pool games in Yokohama, the Japanese hosts are expected to give fans a warm welcome. We like to think that the Irish fans are seen as the best in the world, wherever they go, and local residents are only too delighted to have our supporters painting the town green.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs warns fans on its website: "Be sensitive to local customs, traditions and practices in Japan, as your behaviour may be seen as improper, hostile or may even be illegal… Loud, boisterous behaviour is not as acceptable in Japan as it is in Ireland."

The department also notes: "Historically, tattoos have links to organised crime in Japan."

So, it may not be a good idea to sing The Fields of Athenry in downtown Yokohama at three in the morning with your shirt off waving a can of Kirin lager, especially if you have a tattoo.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland fall short again, 2019 slump and what Andy Farrell must do as head coach

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport