Sunday, July 26, 2009

A whole new ball game

Having become moderately interested in Rugby Union after our business went into partnership with Sale Sharks, my interest has been sufficiently piqued to accept a corporate invite to go and see a different type of egg chasing today: Warrington Wolves v Salford City Reds at Rugby League.

I don't have any particularly stong prejudices about Rugby League. There is an old adage from Laurie Daly (link here) that says Rugby League is a simple game played by simple people, with something rude about who plays the 15-man version.

Then there's this, here. Which explains a few differences and is pro RL.

This argues that the subtleties of union make it more intruiging, more like chess.

I also noted some comments from a Rugby League fan - Damian Connelly - to explain his personal frustration with the 15 man code:

Andy Farrell briefly considered a return to Rugby League after a disastrous World Cup - decided against it though as it would mean a return to having to be active for 100% of the game, instead of just 20% and anyway "you don't get chance for a cup of tea on the pitch when you play league".

Ruck/Maul specialists spend winter officiating at Harrogate Turkish baths so they can continue rolling around on the floor bum@ing and groping....

Line out teams may as well join the Billy Smart circus trapeze act - again another opportunity for a bit of "manual handling".

I understand that the IRB are considering a few rule changes to make the game more exciting - dropping down to 13 a side, with unopposed scrums and limited tackles. Or alternatively to exploit the propensity to pap pants and kick the ball instead of taking a tackle like men, drop down to 11 a side, make the ball round, take down the posts and replace with a netted enclosure.

OK, so I'm getting into something way over my head here. What I can say is I've been to loads of Sale Sharks games and still don't understand the game. I enjoy it, but don't understand it. I can work out the pattern of a football match within 30 seconds. Rugby? no chance.

So yes, of course I've seen Rugby League on TV, I can see that it's a faster and more flowing game. But it's also very straightforward to understand.

The atmosphere at the game was also slightly more like a football match today; there were away supporters, abusive songs, fans goading each other and police. But I was told that was because Salford are a bit more "soccer" than most well behaved RL followings.

If there's a frustration I've had of watching Rugby Union it's the ability of a poorer team to play tight rugby and stop a game by sheer physical determination: Bath, Worcester and Newcastle all did that to Sale. I can't see 13 players doing that to the same extent with the open style of RL. On the evidence of today's game, Rugby League seems to be all about courage and speed. Warrington dominated, yet trailed at half time 12-20. Whatever the coach Tony Smith said at half time, changed the game totally. They were braver, took more risks, chalked up points and Salford lost all heart. The result was a capitulation to 62-20.

But read a better report of the game than anything from me, here, here or here.

We'll have a bit more of this, I reckon.


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