Sunday, December 13, 2009

Day 68: Varisty Cambridge-Oxford Rugby


I am not very good at being a spectator. Of anything.

When it comes to sport, this is especially frustrating, because, although I'd rather do than watch, I am not very good at the doing unless it requires a certain fitness and sheer will-power (like hiking or rock climbing).

That is, until I met rugby. Rugby, or "footie" as it is called in some parts of the (southern) world, is a fast-moving, intense, cold game.

Rugby is sometimes compared to American football, but, other than getting the ball down the field into an end-zone and then kicking it through a bracketed area for one or more conversion points, I find little similarity. Rugby players wear no padding (except funny-looking hats with pads over the ears to prevent "cauliflower" ears), play both offense and defense, and have to pass backwards, never forwards. There is a whole new vocabulary and technique, including "mauls" (a way to re-start the game wherein players from both sides form a tight-knit ball of bodies around the ball, trying to move it with their fit towards their end of the field), "rucks" (informal pile-up around the ball, wherein it can be extracted by one side of the other, passed, and run forward), "trys" (touch downs), and "All Blacks" (a New Zealand team that does the haka warrior slap-dance before each game to scare their opponents).

It is a game that plays through regardless of fumbles. The only time the clock stops is if there is an injury or the ball goes out (I think?). Otherwise, the 45-minute halves are (mercifully!) continuous. It makes for a more exciting game with players who are more versatile.

Now that's rugby generally.

I went to the Oxford-Cambridge varsity game (called Grudgeby for some reason....) this week on Thursday. Very glad I went! The stands were about half-full with students from Oxford and Cambridge in one endzone, primary school children on the other, with what looked like Oxford alums on one side of the field, and Cambridge alums on the other. I have never seen so many suits and so little women at a game. In this very country club-like atmosphere, I was surprised policeman were needed for anything! Other than student cheers such as "I'd rather be a leper than a Tab" (a Tab is a Latin abbreviation for Con-Tab, Cambridge's Latin name--only here in England would you have to be intelligent/indoctrinated enough to understand the slur?, and a leper is, well, a biblical leper, an untouchable), cheering was minimal. I found several eyeing me when I let the inadvertant "C'mon, defense!" escape. Collective gasps were more common.

And the programme. Unlike most other universities, Oxford and Cambridge do not admit students on athletic scholarships. Although I think their prowess is given weight, students must be admitted on their academic merits and then try out for teams. I don't know (don't think?) this impacts their playing much, but it makes for very interesting programme bios. There are two doctors on the Oxford team, one a surgeon. Apparently, he takes to stitching his teammates up inbetween falls...

1 comment:

  1. Let's not forget that Cambridge won the close match...

    Here's a few more vocabs and tips about this fantastic game:

    "Into touch" = out of bounds - this is true for football (soccer) as well in England.

    "Line out" = the throw in contest after the ball is played into touch

    "Penalty" = three point field goal kick after an infraction

    "Try" = five point 'touchdown' where the ball has to be properly grounded into the across the try line.

    "Conversion" = kick for points after kick worth two points.

    "Forwards" = players positions from #1 to #8. These are the big guys up front who does most of the rucks, mauls and scrums as well as carry the ball for short distances.

    "Backs" = smaller and quicker players (positions #9 to #15) who quickly pass the ball and carry the ball forward down wide areas.

    Also halves are 40 minutes each, and the funny little hats are called 'scrum caps.'

    It really is a great game to watch and play.

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