Imagine the most physical of contact sports where 2 teams, each consisting of 15 players, use an oval-shaped ball on a rectangular field with huge H-shaped goalposts at each end; each game compressed in 80 highest-intensity minutes (split into two halves of 40) you will ever witness. Well, that’s exactly what the game of Rugby Union, simply known as Rugby is. One of the most popular sports in the world, its stocks keep rising. World Rugby, the sport’s governing body, was established in 1886, and currently has 101 countries as full members and 18 associate members.
Players of each team are divided into 8 forwards and 7 backs. The forwards are further divided into front row, second row and back row whereas the backs are divided into half-back, three quarters and fullback. The team that scores more points wins the game. Points can be scored in several ways: a ‘try’, scored by grounding the ball in the in-goal area (between the goal line and the dead-ball line), is worth 5 points and a subsequent conversion kick scores 2 points; a successful penalty kick or a ‘drop goal’ each score 3 points. Forward passing (throwing the ball ahead to another player) is not allowed; the ball can be passed laterally or backward. The ball tends to be moved forward in three ways — by kicking, by a player running with it or within a scrum or maul. Only the player with the ball may be tackled.
The Rugby World Cup–
Like any other team sport, the World Cup is the pinnacle, the apogee of rugby. The World Cup takes place every 4 years, with the first edition of the tournament being held in 1987, which was co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia. Since then 4 countries have won the coveted title, with record champions New Zealand winning it thrice (1987, 2011, 2015), Australia twice (1991 and 1999), South Africa twice (1995 and 2005) and England once (2003).
The ongoing 2019 edition of the World Cup is being hosted by Japan. 20 participating teams have been divided into 4 pools of 5 teams each, with the top 2 teams from each pool progressing to the quarter-finals. Currently, New Zealand is the world’s number 1 ranked team with Wales ranked 2nd, followed by England, Ireland, South Africa, and Australia.
An interesting fact about the Rugby World Cup-
The winners are awarded the Webb Ellis Cup, named after William Webb Willis, the Rugby School (Warwickshire, England) pupil who, according to a popular legend, invented rugby by picking up the ball and running with it during a football game in 1823. That’s where the sport gets its name from.
The All Blacks rugby team–
Any discussion revolving around rugby is incomplete without the mention of the New Zealand rugby team, popularly known as the ‘All Blacks’. The All Blacks are not only historically and statistically the greatest international rugby team ever, but are also considered among the most dominant sports teams on the planet. Ever since they started playing the sport in 1903, they have a whopping win percentage of 87%. Since the introduction of world rankings, they have been number 1 on the rankings longer than all other nations combined and have never been ranked below world number 3. They are the only team to have won 3 World Cups, including the last 2 in 2011 and 2015. Needless to say, they are the cynosure of all eyes in the ongoing World Cup and carry with them massive expectations to go with an irrepressible aura. The pressure on them perhaps rivals that on a Brazilian football team or an Indian cricket team during a World Cup.
Some of the greats to have graced the game of Rugby–
1. Jonah Lomu– The late New Zealand icon is widely regarded as rugby’s first global superstar. Lomu was a quintessential crowd-puller with attendances swelling whenever he was in action, and for good reason. Playing on the wing, he is unanimously considered one of the greatest to have played the sport with an incredible repertoire of exhilarating skills. He is best remembered for his performance in the 1995 World Cup, where the All Blacks finished runners-up, losing to hosts South Africa in the final. He scored seven tries in five games, including four in the semi-final vs England, in what was one of the most memorable individual performances in the history of the sport. He died in 2013, succumbing to a major kidney disorder, but his greatness will live long in the memory.
2. Richie McCaw– Another All Blacks colossus, Mccaw captained New Zealand to successive World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015. He holds the record for the most number of international matches played and the most number of matches won by any player in the history of the sport. He has won the ‘World Rugby Player of the Year ’ award a joint-record three times. He played predominantly in the openside flanker position and was famous for his strength and inspirational leadership, captaining an era of all-conquering, almost-invincible New Zealand rugby players. Acknowledged as the perfect role-model, his place in the annals of rugby history is secure.
3. Jonny Wilkinson– The Englishman gained cult status among England fans during the 2003 World Cup final in Sydney between England and hosts Australia. The final was tied after normal time. With just 26 seconds of extra time remaining, Wilkinson stepped up to score a drop goal and give England their first and only Rugby World Cup title to date. He was also part of the England team that finished runners-up in the 2007 World Cup. He scored 277 points over his World Cup career, the most by any player in World Cup history. However, it’s that night in Sydney, which will forever define his legacy.
The thrill of calming one’s nerves in the direst of situations is a major constituent of euphoria in the conquest of paradise- because sports persons are rarely anhedonic by nature. The very fact that they yearned to take up the sport professionally, spawns from their inherent lust for the thrill and the atmosphere of the arena. And no other sport embodies this fact better than the sport of Rugby Union.