Rugby: A Novice Spectator’s Guide

Pride Flag

“You’d make a great hooker.”

My wife directed this statement at me a few months ago. At first, I stared and arched my brow at her, but then I remembered she’s a rugby player and hooker is a rugby position. Yay, she didn’t want me to be a sex worker! But that comment gave me the idea for this little blog. There are many people out there who don’t play rugby, but may be compelled to watch a match and need a short tutorial beforehand.
This is for you.

What is rugby?

You can Wiki and YouTube rugby all you want, but those explanations are only minimally helpful because they try to explain too much, too quickly. So, here is my summary: a team needs to move a ball over a great distance to score and the team with the most points wins.

That wasn’t helpful. Do you even know what you’re talking about?

No, I really don’t. I’ve been going to my wife’s rugby matches for five years and that’s literally all I can say with certainty. Well, I also know that in order to move forward you have to throw the ball backward or sideways and sometimes you’re allowed to kick it. See, I pay attention.

Isn’t rugby dangerous?

This is what I thought too, but as long as players use proper technique, it’s just as safe as other sports. Yes, I’ve seen people get bloody noses, busted knees, and hurt ribs, but I saw all of those when I played softball. (Note: the bloody nose, in that case, was more like a face explosion. It was gnarly.)

But aren’t they trying to kill each other out there?

Not really. Most people I’ve met through rugby are pretty cool, but even the ones who are dicks won’t try to put someone in the hospital. Rugby isn’t a violent game. It’s aggressive. But it isn’t violent.

Terms to know

Now that you know a little bit about rugby, here are some terms that originally confused me:

Pitch: This is the field they play on. Do they call it a field? No. That would be too easy.

Try: The term given when a team scores. During this, the ball is “grounded” in a team’s “try zone”. Yes, the person has to put the ball on the ground or it doesn’t count.

Sir: The name of the official. Not sure if this all genders. Hmmm.

Scrum (cap): From what I can tell a scrum is kind of like a jump ball situation in basketball. A new direction of possession is decided by most of the players locking their arms around each other in a circle, they get in a deep squat and try to move in a way where their team has an advantage. A cap is worn by some players, because their heads are crazy close to other people’s and they could get bumped on the noggin real good.

Things to expect

You decide to go to a rugby match. Maybe you saw a clip on TV or a friend of yours talked you into it. Regardless, you should know what you’re walking in to.

Other spectators: Good news! You’re not alone. If you really want to learn more about the game, find the person yelling the most. Volume equals knowledge. However, there will be some just like you and have very little clue what is going on.

Dogs: Rugby is a very dog-friendly sport. Most pitches I’ve been to have numerous dogs on the sidelines. Just make sure if you bring your puppy, you bring water, poop bags, and more poop bags. You do not want to be the person whose dog relieves themselves on the pitch with no way to pick up after. That will kill your popularity.

Drinking: This is a significant part of post-match socializing. Beer is the beverage of choice and it comes with a variety of drinking songs, which could lead to “shoot the boot”. This is the consequence of messing up a song. The act consists of pouring beer into one’s shoe and drinking it. (I’m proud to say my wife donated her shoe to this cause once…at a wedding). And speaking of songs…

Songs: There are drinking songs that are truly blasphemous and hilarious. After you’re finished singing (or listening), you may wonder if you’ll be struck down by a great power. You know, for you religious sorts.

Lesbians: Okay, your odds are much higher if you’re seeing a women’s match, but still, if you’re a single lesbian headed to a rugby match expect your Tinder to blow up. But be mindful of the Sapphic smorgasbord. There is probably some form of lesbian drama on the team. Don’t be the new person stirring up trouble.

Let’s watch some rugby!

Alright! You have a very basic understanding of the game, some terms, and know what to expect. What do you do now?

Go to a match!

While rugby isn’t as popular in the United States as soccer or football, it is gaining traction. Many colleges and communities have teams and you can see a match for free! So, grab a friend, maybe fix a fun adult beverage in an inconspicuous container (assuming you’re of age, of course), bring a chair or blanket, and have a good time!