Axver (axver) wrote,

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For the curious ...

I know I've talked to some people and made them curious about rugby union, and now is the perfect chance to see some fantastic union. The first match of the Bledisloe Cup is on tomorrow night, and the Bledisloe is the best rugby in the world, excluding the World Cup final. The Bledisloe Cup is contested every year between the Australian Wallabies and New Zealand All Blacks, and tomorrow's match is being held at Australia Stadium (the Olympic stadium) in Sydney. New Zealand are favourites after they thumped South Africa last week - the same South African team that beat Australia.

Now coverage starts on TV here at 6:30pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), although kick off won't be until about 7. The USA is about 14-15 hours behind, I think, so kick off is at about 4-5am over there. Surely some American sports channel is covering the match, so check your TV guides (hopefully it will be replayed at a more reasonable time, but, if not, wait for the next Bledisloe match in NZ, when kick off will be at about 6-7am American time, I think).

OK, here's a crash course on rugby ...

A rugby field is one hundred metres long, with an in goal zone at each end of the park, where you score tries. The line you must cross to score a try is the goal line, and the line marking the end of the in goal zone is the dead ball line. The posts - in the shape of an H (not like in American football, where it narrows) - sit on the goal line. The three (well, five) important field markings are the halfway, 10 metre, and 22 metre lines. Where the halfway line is located is rather obvious, and there is a 10 and 22m line on both sides of it.

Unlike in American football, where you do not need to touch the ball down, to score a try in rugby union, you must touch the ball down and it must have downward pressure on it. A try earns a team 5 points, and, after it, you get a conversion attempt, which is taken from a field position in line with where you scored the try (therefore the closer you score to the posts, the better for the kicker). If successful (getting it over the crossbar and between the uprights of the H), a conversion earns you an extra 2 points. For some penalties, the team may select the penalty kick option, which is where they take a place kick at goal from where the penalty took place. If successful, 3 points are earnt. During running play, teams may also kick at goal (this is a drop goal or field goal), and, if successful, also earns 3 points. Sometimes, the referee may award a penalty try (if awarded, the conversion attempt is taken from straight in front of the posts); this is awarded when the opposing team commits an offense that, had it not been committed, a try would've been scored. These are the methods of scoring in rugby union.

In union, you are NOT allowed to pass forward, and forward passes or knocking the ball forward are punishable by penalties. If you drop the ball forward (for example, you are passed the ball but, when you catch it, it pops forward out of your hands and hits the ground) or knock it on (self explanatory, penalised only if it goes forward - knocking it backwards is not good but is not penalised), or pass it forward, a penalty will be awarded. If the ball is kicked into touch (in other words, kicked over the side line), a lineout is awarded. There are other ways to be penalised as well, but I won't go into them.

Along with penalty kicks, a penalty may be decided via means of a scrum, or, if the ball is kicked into touch, a lineout is awarded. For some penalties, the team who it is awarded to may choose to kick the ball down the field, aiming to kick it out on the full, and, because of the penalty, they get the throw at the lineout (the advantage of choosing this option is that, if you win the lineout, you gain field position). I will now try to explain scrums and lineouts, but that's hard. A scrum is basically where members of the team line up, kneel down in two rows, and engage (it appears that they connect with) the opposing team. The ball is fed into the scrum by the team that was awarded the penalty, and the two teams try to force each other backwards, with the aim of the ball coming out at their back so another player may pick it up and run or pass it. Usually the team with the feed wins the scrum. It is critical that scrums be set correctly, because if it collapses and a player falls in the wrong fashion, they can be seriously injured. Some severe falls have even resulted in paralysis and death, although this is rare and I have never seen it myself.

A lineout is where the two teams line up by the sideline (the lines stretch into the field, not along the sideline; they begin at the sideline). The team who is awarded the lineout (if kicked out from a penalty as described above, this is given to the kicking team, if taken out in play, it is given to the other team) gets to throw the ball in, and a selected player from each team is hoisted into the air by his team-mates to catch the ball, or knock it backwards to another team-mate. Again, this must be strictly refereed, because if a player is tackled whilst in the air and comes down in the wrong way, there may be a severe injury.

Tackles are often quite forceful and powerful, and you are not allowed to tackle a man head-high or lift him up and drive him into the ground on his head (in the past, such despicable actions have caused paralysis and death). Once tackled, you must release the ball immediately - holding on to it is penalised - and, all going according to plan, a team mate will be on hand to grab the ball and pass it out or run with it. If necessary, other team members will join in on the tackle to force the opposing team back and free the ball. The opposing team attempts to steal the ball off the ground by committing men to the tackle and forcing the team with possession backwards.

There are three - sometimes four - match officials: the referee, two touch judges, and, when the technology is available, a video referee. The referee polices play on the field and must be able to keep up with it - referees are very fit. The touch judges run up and down the sideline, and watch play to pick up anything the referee might have missed, and to rule if the ball has gone 'dead' (out of the field of play and into touch) and where it went out at. If the referee is unsure of a decision, such as whether a try was scored or not - he will ask the video referee for a decision.

That's about it. On the Australian team, watch for people such as Roeff, Burke, Flatley, and particularly the captain, George Gregan. On the Kiwi team, in particular watch for Joe Rokocoko, the latest sensation, as well as Carlos Spencer, Tana Umaga, and Doug Howlett. Unfortunately, Andrew Mehrtens, one of the greatest kickers of all time (and not bad in running play), made a CLM (Career Limiting Move) earlier this year when he verbally abused the coach in response to some verbal abuse he copped (the coach told him he was crap, Mehrts responded by telling the coach just what he thought about his coaching abilities), so he probably will not play for the All Blacks again, and neither will Christian Cullen, one of the greatest fullbacks of all time, who is nearing the end of his career. Jeff Wilson, a fantastic winger, has recently retired, and Jonah Lomu, a legendary winger (watch tapes of him from World Cup 1995 for proof), needs a kidney transplant and will probably never play again.

So yes, if you possibly can, watch the Bledisloe. It is FANTASTIC rugby. GO THE ALL BLACKS!
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