Here’s a famous passage from the film ‘The Replacements,’ starring Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman, in which Shane Falco, portrayed by Reeves, delivers an encouraging remark to his squad of misfits:
“Pain heals, ladies dig scars, and glory is eternal!”
Great news, however, these American footballers wear pads and helmets, whilst rugby players wear very minimal protective gear. Surely, rugby union, like casino cruises, is significantly more hazardous and hence sure to give out more glory and chicks?
I trundled along to the England rugby training camp the other day, with Shane Falco’s encouraging sentence in my back pocket, to see what I might uncover.
According to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, rugby union is riskier than rugby league, AFL, soccer, and ice hockey, with around two players missing for 18 days in every English Premiership game.
Perhaps rugby players require more protective padding?
I’ve never played American Football and have endured 15 seasons of Rugby Union, so I’m not sure which is a more risky vocation to pursue, but the concussions, scars, fresh bruises, and long-term groin injuries certainly tip me towards a general leaning.
Come on, these football players wear helmets and protection; certainly, I play a more risky game — where are my ladies and glory?
According to Wikipedia’s American Football entry, increasing padding has allowed players to make heavier hits; while there are fewer minor injuries in American football than in other codes of football, some major accidents, such as spinal cord injuries, are significantly more prevalent. According to the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research, twenty-five football players died as a result of injuries sustained while playing the game between 2000 and 2004. According to the Brain Injury Association of Arizona, around 41,000 high school athletes experience concussions each year.
Rugby union is growing more dangerous as players grow larger and more muscular, and as the newly discovered professional period has an impact on the game. With more and more playing time being imposed on the players, catastrophic injuries are becoming a typical occurrence, with the potential to seriously change the essence of the game.
While we may learn from American football’s infatuation with padding and helmets, it’s evident that they just serve to increase the physicality, as players can plow into one other with more ferocity, resulting in much more life-threatening injury problems.
Rugby Union vs Rugby League
Nonetheless, in addition to sharing the term “rugby,” the two codes share a shared genesis and, for a time, were played according to very identical rules.
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The Legend of William Webb Ellis
Although rugby-like games have been played for ages (at least since Roman times), contemporary Rugby football has its roots in the British Public Schools of the 1800s.
According to folklore, during a soccer game at Rugby School in 1823, 16-year-old player William Webb Ellis scooped up the ball and sprinted towards his opponents’ goal-line. His fellow players were so pleased with this novel strategy that they decided to incorporate it into the game. As a result, rugby football was formed.
Unfortunately, there is little historical evidence to back up the narrative. It is agreed that Ellis lived, however, the style of game played at Rugby School during Ellis’s time was not soccer, but rather a hybrid of soccer and rugby regulations. There were no universally recognized regulations, and students at English Public Schools sometimes drew up their own rules for particular matches.
So, rather than being created by the daring and imaginative action of a single ambitious individual, rugby grew over time through a series of experiments with the participation of many individuals.
The Founding of the Rugby Football Union
Running with the ball had become a regulation by the 1840s. Rugby clubs sprang up all throughout England and the colonies by the 1870s. Various clubs, however, utilized different regulations, and the first attempt to produce a universally acknowledged set of rules was in 1871.
According to Edwin Ash, Secretary of the Richmond Rugby Club, individuals who play the game should develop a code of conduct.
Ash’s proposal culminated in the formation of the “Rugby Football Union” and the formation of a committee to develop a set of regulations in January 1871. The committee was made up of three ex-Rugby School students, all of whom were attorneys, and their mission was finished and accepted by June 1871.
Rugby And Professionalism
The initial union was staunchly devoted to the Public School ideas of amateurism, but rumors appeared in 1893 that the North of England players were paid to play.
Despite this, the Union went ahead and suspended an offending club. The Northern clubs tried a compromise proposal that would enable players to be paid while they played football instead of working (“broken time”), but it was unsuccessful.
The Rugby League
So, true to their promise, twenty-two northern clubs seceded from the Union in 1895. They established the Northern Union, which subsequently became Rugby League.
This schism, known in rugby circles as “The Great Schism,” was more acrimonious and far-reaching than most people outside of the sport understand. It wasn’t only a philosophical or regional divide; it was also a socioeconomic divide.
Rugby union, based in the South of England and dominated by ex-public School students and the Public School ideology, was viewed as the establishment’s game, whilst rugby league, based in the North, was viewed as the working man’s game.
The Different Rules
However, setting aside the socioeconomic and cultural character of the schism for the time being (entire volumes have been written about it), the rules of the rugby union and rugby league games quickly began to diverge.
A popular misperception is that rugby league is the professional form of the sport and rugby union is the amateur version. However, while amateurism was ostensibly a cornerstone of rugby union until 1995, the variations in the regulations that arose resulted in two very different sports.
The Rugby League was probably the innovator, adopting several innovations intended to speed up the game; yet, followers of rugby union will argue that these are real improvements.
The number of players per side in rugby league has been decreased to thirteen, and the way the game is restarted after a halt has been drastically altered.
Full specifics of the distinctions would need many pages of explanation; nonetheless, rugby union and rugby league are two distinct codes that should not be mistaken with one another any more than rugby league should be confused with American football.
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