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11 October 2015

Roll up, roll up – it’s football v rugby for yer man in the stands

It's time to take stock of rugby, and see what us football fans have learned.

By Hunter Davies

After three weeks of World Cup Rugby, and England having a very early bath, it’s time to take stock of rugby itself, assess what we football fans have learned so far about the differences between the two codes.

This is always mentioned as one of the miracles of rugby, showing how superior they are, and it is. It is so annoying and pathetic and pointless in football when players argue with the ref – they’re wasting our time, their time, dissipating their energies, losing concentration, making themselves look childish and arrogant.

Score: Rugby 5 –Football 0

Toughness Obviously rugby players are tougher, in the sense of being huge and beefy – or fat, as we generally describe it – kicking the hell out of each other, banging and clattering, which is really very stupid. Being a footballer is physically just as tough. It is only if you are really close to football action that you see and hear what happens when a defender stops a striker. There is no drawing out, on either side, no quarter given, hence all the injuries. Footballers are fitter than rugby players – and have to be. There are fewer in the team and they play for longer. Footballers are surprisingly strong; picking up those huge pay packets is not easy.

Rugby 5 – Football 5

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Skill The lardy lumps in the rugby scrum don’t have the ball skills and athletic agility of the leaner backs, or need them. In football, they are all lean and athletic and skilful these days: they have to be able to pass, shoot, head the ball, attack, defend and, of course, dive when necessary.

Rugby 2 – Football 5

Playing Fair In football, they do try it on all the time, going down for penalties, claiming every throw-in, affecting
near-death experiences, hoping to get someone sent off. Dreadful, why do they do it? To get an advantage, that’s why. In rugby, there’s furtive hair-pulling and bollock-twisting in the scrum, but no more than the guys did in the dorm at school.

Rugby 5 – Football 1

Speed Oh God, the speed, or lack of it, in rugby is so annoying. All those mauls and rucks, all those line-outs and penalty kicks that take for ever. Yes, it is exciting, when things are moving, or even crawling forward, but half of every rugby game is stationary. Sorry, stationary.

Rugby 2 – Football 5

Fun Rugby can be tedious to watch, but fun to take part in. If you have the right build. So many people in their schooldays were forced to play rugby, when clearly unsuited, and ended up hating it for ever. The thing about football is that it can accommodate all sizes and physiques. Anyone can have a go.

Rugby 3 – Football 5

Popularity Football is worldwide, gets all the money and attention. Don’t be deceived by the current newspaper and TV coverage of rugby. Once the World Cup is over, it will pass. But rugby is often huge in small countries such as New Zealand, Wales, Fiji, where it isn’t dwarfed by football. So well done, rugby, making yourself part of a nation’s identity.

Rugby 3 – Football 5

Rules In football, the offside rule can be complicated and confusing, especially for linesmen, but dear God, so many rules in rugby are totally mystifying. No wonder the refs keep making the sign of the cross, or at least a TV set, hoping for divine help.

Rugby 2 – Football 3

Hairstyles No point in having your hair done when you’re going to spend the game with your head up the bum of another player or face down in the mud. Can you imagine Becks or Ronaldo ever playing rugby? Beards, though, they’re ace. Check out Josh Strauss of Scotland. He’s got a whopper.

Rugby 1 – Football 3

Fans Historically, rugby fans were supposed to be posher, public-school types while the working classes followed football. No longer quite the case. You have to be rich to afford the Prem. At Spurs and Arsenal there’s at least one QC in every row. But rugger fans are beautifully behaved, no fighting or abuse. Too busy in the Twickers car park laying out their tartan rugs and popping the champagne to look for a punch-up, or start any rude but subtle chanting such as “Fuck off, Aussies”.

Rugby 5 – Football 1

Total Scores 
Dunno, I’ll just get it wrong.

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This article appears in the 07 Oct 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis