Rugby at Home and Abroad

As I said in my first blog post, I came into 2014 knowing very little about the game of rugby. I have dedicated some time to learning the basic rules of the game and also the popular leagues and teams of the sport.As I have been learning the about the game, it has been interesting how similar rugby is to both soccer and American football. It seems as almost a blend of the two with a heavier emphasis on football. The first thing I was struck by as I watched tutorials and highlight reels was the overall physicality of the sport. A regulation game pits fifteen players from each team against one another for two forty minute halves. The objective is to carry the football-like ball across the end line for a try, worth five points, while the opposing team tries to stop the ball-carrier. Unlike football, the ball cannot be thrown forward at all, only lateraled or thrown backwards. This video provides a more in depth description of the rules of the game:

Given how similar rugby seems to both football and soccer, why is it so much less popular in America than the other two sports? Well rugby is not as not as unpopular as I thought it was in America, according to the International Rugby Board’s website the United States was home to the third most rugby players in the world with 458,000 participants. This figure surprised me. Despite the lack of media coverage or pop-culture presence the sport of rugby has a solid community here in America. However, at the international level the U.S. team has historically not been a contender to win major tournaments and at the time of this publication Team USA is ranked eighteenth in the official IRB world rankings. So although there is a sizable rugby community in America, there lacks an elite level of competition that can compete with the traditional powerhouses of international rugby.

The traditional powerhouses I speak of are primarily England, France, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. In these countries, rugby is a very mainstream sport and professionals can become famous in a similar way American athletes do. Rugby lends itself, like football as discussed by Benavides, to a implementation of heroism upon star players. Players that usually achieve stardom are wing players that score a lot of tries. It is like the glamour position of the sport and the position most MVP’s have historically played. Like soccer, rugby has a professional European league that is widely thought of as the best in the world but other regional professional leagues are scattered across the globe. I have focussed my research on rugby mostly in countries that have a greater presence of the sport in popular culture than here in America because of the interesting social dynamics that accompany the sport in some of these places. Race and nation are frequently factors at the elite level of rugby that add interesting narratives to the matches on the pitch.

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2 Responses to Rugby at Home and Abroad

  1. Sarah McCullough says:

    Are you also practicing or playing rugby? Are you watching matches regularly? I’m curious to know more about how you are interacting with rugby other than as a research topic. The differences between the levels of engagement in rugby around the US and in other countries is interesting. It demonstrates how widespread involvement does not necessarily make for a professional team. I also wonder how these numbers compare with other sports. Maybe they seem small by comparison?

  2. bbarnico says:

    I’m generally trying to learn the rules and strategies of the game by watching matches. The UCSD rugby team has a home game this Saturday that I plan on going to.

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