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occer, or football as it is known in the U.K., is often a bit of a mystery in the U.S. It probably has the same status as American Football does in the U.K. We know it exists and have seen it played but quite what is going on is something of a mystery. The World Cup of a few years ago raised the profile of the game but still it is minority stuff. Indeed for some reason the USA seems to have evolved its own set of games. An interesting experiment in sports evolution perhaps.
Rugby is something of a distant relative of American Football. Imagine American Football without any padding and none of those tactical chats. You are not allowed to tackle people who do not have the ball which allows everyone to concentrate on the poor fool who does have it. This used properlu has great tactical advantage on the school playing field as, if the kick-off is right, the ball can be lofted high enough to ensure the heaviest and slowest of your side can reach the area it is going to land, at about the same time as it lands in the hands of some poor swine on the opposite side. If the tactic is employed well enough it ensures one of the oppositions best men are carried off the field within the first 30 seconds.
Soccer is limiting by comparison as you only use your feet. Using your hands is not on and hurling yourself bodily at someone in an effort to knock them flying is definitely a poor show but in rugby its the reason for most of the people to be on the pitch. If all this does not give enough scope for violence then a scrum can be called for.
This usually happens when six or seven blokes have piled on top of the man with the ball and nobody is quite sure who they are kicking, punching or biting any longer. To make it easier the referee stops play. What happens next is difficult to explain. Basically 8 of the largest players from each side (there are 15 blokes to a side) form a scrum in which they lock together like two opposing Roman turtles and hurl abuse at one another to mask the sounds of fists meeting flesh. The scrum seems designed to ensure the referee cannot see what is going on.
Up until very recently the Union code of the game was amateur and determined to the be so. I prefer the Union code over the League code but given I live in the South of England this need not be a surprise.
don't forget to pick up all your teeth before leaving the field.
I am going to sidestep the issue of the exact rules of the game as they are almost impossible to comprehend, it is more a feeling that something is right or wrong rather than knowing it is. In fact when the game first appeared (not so long ago in the scheme of things in the early part of the 19th century) there were no written rules and regional variations were available. Even when rules were written down they were not necessarily the same rules. Even Cambridge and Oxford Universities played by different rules and Eton had something called the Wall game (still have) which appears good training for trench warfare.
By 1871 though things were settling down and the Rugby Union was formed. Although the rules are still evolving today, at least everyone knows what they are, roughly speaking.
All this might leave you wondering who would want to play this game or perhaps you are thinking it is managed on a conscription type basis. Well traditionally in England if you discovered when you got up off the ground and were looking at your teeth or perhaps blood leaking from various wounds usually one of your team-mates would be able to help you as they would be a qualified dentist or doctor.
An Oxbridge education is often an asset but a public school education almost a necessity. That profile will no doubt change in the professional era.
You already know I have more than a passing interest in cricket where even the participants can spend a long time sitting about but I also have a passion for rugby. Now I am reduced to spectator where over the years I have honed my skills to the point of being one of the greatest players of all time.
Cigarette cards were less than enthusiastic about the game and few sets were issued exclusively on the theme of rugby. Partly this is due to the fact soccer was often called Association football and rugby was called Rugby football and as such a set of footballers could have both soccer and rugby players in them and often did.
So let me concentrate on one of the sets which deals exclusively with rugby. It is the Wills set Rugby Internationals.  To underline the Oxford and Cambridge connection of the 50 cards 7 had gone to Cambridge and 6 had gone to Oxford. The universities are competitive enough for that difference to have been noted. The first 15 cards are devoted to English international, the next 13 belonging to Scotland, the following 11 being Welsh and finally the Irish make up 11 cards. Card 3, R.Cove-Smith was the captain of Cambridge university 1919-21 and England captain 1928-9 and as the card describes was a " busy medical man ", which just about sums up what rugby represented by this time and for many years to follow.
I should mention this set is a caricature set, something which might be obvious from the card illustrated but then again with the beating these fellows took not much caricature was needed.
|I like rugby enough to watch teams I do not support but my passion does not extend as far as an acquaintance of mine. Whenever watching a rugby match he claims he watches in full rugby kit. However his wife has banned the boots because of the carpet. A compromise was reached, he no longer wears boots and she brings him oranges at half time|
Rugby is a far more professional game in every sense today and the chances of another R.W Smeddle (card 7) appearing are becoming ever more remote. Unknown on first-class rugby fields in 1928 he was tried out for Cambridge, Oct.1928. Three months later he had a Cambridge blue and was playing for England.
The game has developed physically as well over the years as cards mention players who are six foot tall as being something to note, or weighing 13 stone. Card 11, D.Turquand-Young (yes I think you can tell a lot from the names of the players) was noted as being 6ft 1 inches tall and so useful in the lineout. Not so useful today where 6ft 5 is a good start, but useful then.
Card 13 mentions something which makes you wish there were more cards with rugby as a theme. Although named Rugby Internationals the mix of players represent home internationals. This card of H. Wilkinson mentions the hereditary nature of a lot of sporting skill when it says this fellows father played for England against the first Moari touring team in 1889.
Card 16, JW Allan makes a reference to be class nature of rugby. There is no mention of public school or university in the write-up and the text mentions,' He made his way to the front without many of the early advantages enjoyed by most of our internationals.' which can hardly mean he was born without cauliflower ears and a broken nose.
The class nature of rugby in the home countries is still evident and always will remain so while the game is only extensively supported by public schools and universities. Although without the support of these institutions rugby would not really have developed at all and without the continued support would probably still fail today.
Yet more examples of how sport of any kind has developed is card 29, Tom Arthur (Wales). The heavyweight of the team at 14 stone and over 6 foot. The card notes he was both a non-smoker and a teetotaller. He was also a police officer from which some of the largest most aggressive players have always come, indeed the next card, JA Bassett was also a police officer. Probably the aggression is as a defence against the kicking they can expect on the sports field rather than the type of person the police force attracts. Mind you finding teetotal rugby player today is pretty tricky, drinking being one of the major incentives to be being in the University rugby team.
Amongst the cards depicting Scottish players there is great mention of the fact they beat the English at Murrayfield in 1928, which was only a year before the set was issued so hardly surprising I suppose. I expect there are still Scotsmen willing to remember that game at the drop of a hat, they do relish their victories as I am all too aware.
Not quite up to date but I do have statistics of rugby internationals up to the 1932 season:
You can see why the Scottish are keen to remember the victories: 1932 championship rendered rather feeble by the lack of the French was something of a none event, Wales England and Ireland all managed to win 2 matches and lose 1. Of course this does not add up unless you notice Scotland won none.
Rather unrepresentative as by 1932 England and Scotland had met 54 times each country sharing victories at 22 apiece with 10 draws.
|The more complete statistics of the time are:
England played 170 won 95 drawn 18 lost 57
Scotland played 163 won 85 drawn 16 lost 62
Ireland played 161 won 60 drawn 8 lost 93
Wales played 148 won 80 drawn 8 lost 60
France played 74 won 12 drawn 2 lost 60
From this you can see the dominance of the home teams and perhaps the reason why Wills forgot to mention any of the other international teams. Of course things have changed rather over the years but let me bask in glories past.
Actually I think I am going to leave it there as these old statistics have pleased me so much I am going to bask rather than write more. Pity there are not more sets of cards based on rugby but the game has always played third fiddle to football and cricket. I wonder why? And if you have been inspired to play the game don't forget to pick up all your teeth before leaving the field.