x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Rugby: a game for the rough and the rugged

I have caused shocked indignation among friends when I shrug that I can't see what's interesting about watching a load of men chasing each other.

A rugby game is probably one of the least pretty sights to witness. I, for one, have never understood what the appeal is of being one of a bunch of sweaty people running around, pummelling each other and being shoved about just to get their hands on a muddy ball. However, although rugby may be a hooligans' game played by gentlemen, as the cliché goes, it's a hooligans' game that is popular among a surprising number of sports aficionados, especially teenagers, judging by the vast percentage of my school who turned up to be a part of the fun at the Sevens earlier this month.

It had, I suppose, a lot to do with the fact that the school team was participating and even ended up winning the coveted Under 18 Cup, which fostered a spirit of togetherness and loyalty towards the alma mater that lasted for a few days. There are two types of teenagers in the world: the kind who like to talk about football scores and matches across various sports and wear All Blacks armbands and other assorted memorabilia, and those who don't. While I enjoy actually playing sports, I have caused shocked indignation among friends when I shrug and say that I can't see what's interesting about just watching a load of men chasing each other. Rugby fans, who were fully in their element during the Sevens, seem to be the particularly hard-core sort, with a tendency to suffer near seizures when they find out you don't know, or particularly care, what the difference between a ruck and a scrum is.

It was what the boys played all day in my former school in England, and after school, too, if they could help it. (The girls played hockey; it's a sport where it's easier to cattily whack someone you don't like in the shins with a stick, pretend it was a mistake and get away with it.) It was a common spectacle to walk past a pitch and see a massive red and white striped mound, like a giant mountain of melting candy canes. If you peered closely you would discover it was a human pyramid of pimply teenage boys in school colours, all having scrambled to the top of a growing pile just so they'd look like they were doing something.

Inevitably, the time would come when their balancing prowess failed them, the pile would teeter dangerously, and one by one everyone would fall off with a dull thud to the ground, to reveal a frightened, quaking person at the bottom of the mountain clutching a ball to his chest. He'd look up, find that there was miraculously no one attempting to wrestle the ball away from him, try to get up, and immediately be set upon by a member of the opposing team clawing at the ball. Another person would try to intervene by hitching a piggyback on boy two's back, and then the whole fiasco would begin again. Absolutely barmy.

Happily enough, there are much more entertaining aspects to the sport, too, namely the wonderful, utterly magnificent Haka war dance adopted by members of the New Zealand national team. It's a fascinating thing to watch. Before every match they play, the team stand in a line with their faces contorted into comical frowns, in as intimidating a pose as they can muster, stamping their legs and chanting. It's meant to scare the opposing players into performing badly during the game and is a perfect display of everything rugby stands for: masculinity, machoism, using any methods possible to win, and looking gloriously silly while trying to achieve all of the above. It's easy to see why you have the stereotypes of posh girlie girls falling head over Manolo Blahnik heels over rugby players.

Funnily, it's not associated with being much of a girls' sport, although at the Sevens there were definitely female categories. And while I presume I'm just reinforcing stereotypes, a fair proportion of girls and mud mix about as well as water and the kind of eyeliner you can't take off without make-up remover - though I'm not speaking for everyone here. The only time we did a rugby unit in PE, the score at the end of every game was 0-0, and not because our defences were so strong. The majority of us squealed every time someone passed us the ball and stoutly refused to adhere to the teacher's screams of "tackle her, you wimps!" Can't risk chipping the nail polish, you see.


The writer is a 16-year-old student in Dubai