rugby ballThis is an interesting question and it could easily stem from the fact that I first played it at school back in the sixties.  At the time this was a rugby only school; yes I was at a private school in the UK.  Was I lucky, on reflection now I would say yes but at the time I was not so sure? 

So what is it about rugby that makes it addictive?  Somebody once said to me that it is organised violence for gentlemen – in some respects that’s true..  For me however it was a sport that gave me discipline and a great amount of enjoyment.  Okay you do get hurt but that is part of the game.  Today the professional game is highly disciplined and the top players get well paid but they have to have the commitment to want to do it.  After I left school I joined my local Rugby Club near to where I lived and had seven years of hard work, good fun and so very happy memories. 

At school I started in the Colts team and I was asked to be scrum leader and did so very happily.  In my first term at the senior school I was selected to play for the house second fifteen and we did quite well in the house tournament.  After leaving the colts I went straight in to the school first fifteen and it was a tough season because only a couple of players had experience at that level.  I was the first person to get my full colours and found this out on a parent’s day. While I was talking to them before the match a friend came up and said well done to me on getting my colours.  I did not believe them at first, because I had the mickey taken out of me a lot at school.  So i said to my parents that I was going to look at the school notice boards and on my way two or three other people said well done.  When I arrived at the notice board, sure enough, I had got my full colours that year and i was the first person to get them.  Since i was due to play that afternoon I went back and told my parents and we went off to lunch before the game.  As you can imagine, I was on cloud nine and when we got back to the hut at the playing fields every one of the team said well done and so did the coach.  With my parents, brother and most of the school watching that afternoon I played out of my skin and I think we may have won; if we did it was one of only a handful that season.

As an amateur player for me it was the chance to play a game that I loved and to belong to a club that recognised a person’s talent.  At my local club I played in the Colts Team for two or three seasons and was selected as captain in my last year as well as being lucky enough to play for the county colt’s team twice.  The following season I moved straight up to the second fifteen in the club and also played in the third and fourth fifteens after a couple of minor injuries.  Over one Easter weekend I was selected to play for the club first fifteen for a match.  I ended up playing mostly for the second fifteen and acted as scrum leader for the season.  I retired in 1977 with a couple of injuries which were taking quite a time to heal.  After that I went on to manage and coach the clubs under sixteen team which had a modicum of success. 

Rugby now that it is Professional 

In my view it has had huge benefits to the game and to the players since professionalism came to rugby.  The medical benefits are massive and players are able to play for much longer despite the number of games they play.  It has also brought in much better training methods as they do not just practice moves to be used in games but they are advised on healthy eating and diets and training is much more rounded and dynamic.  This is because they now do cardiovascular training and weight training as well as general fitness training and game practice.

Professionalism has had brought in major sponsorship to the game which has helped many clubs and countries.  The game has improved as a spectacle as well with the rule changes and the willingness of clubs, provinces and countries to try out different tactics.  One good thing is that despite the money coming into the game the players although they are well paid are not subject to the ludicrous transfer fees that happen in football.  Yes I know players change clubs but more often than not it is because they want to and also to get experience of playing in a different environment.  It is very interesting to look at the different set ups of the various northern hemisphere Rugby Football Unions.  From my understanding, in England, France, Scotland and Wales the professional players are contracted to their individual clubs, whereas in Ireland the professional players are contracted to the Irish Rugby Football Union.  Yes they are still members of clubs but if they are called up for an international the club or province have to let them go.  This does not happen so easily in England, France, Scotland and Wales.  Another good thing that has happened in Ireland and probably with in some of the larger clubs in England, France, Scotland and Wales is the setting up of Academies which are designed to bring on young players and this is proving very beneficial to the four Irish Provinces.  In France there is a constant battle between the clubs and the national side because the players are contracted to the club.  Somehow the French have managed to get massive sponsorship for the clubs and many players from England, Scotland and Wales are being tempted to go and play for them, mostly for financial reward. 

The range of competitions has increased as well and the demands both physically and mentally on the top players is becoming very high.  This increase in competitions has meant that the clubs have had to build up a good sized squad of players.  Another development has seen the number of international games increase as well and there is now a world ranking for the top countries. The introduction of the World Cup has also added to the number of countries playing the game. 

So why do I still like Rugby?  To me it is a very interesting sport and gives those that play it a sense of achievement when they do well and for many it is a structured and disciplined environment.  Rugby as a sport is always evolving. However if I were to say one thing it’s this.  I understand the world body wants to make the game more fluid and a better spectacle for the fans, but rather than making changes every year give some of the rule changes a couple of seasons.  This at least will enable the players, referees and coaches a chance to get used to them.  Rugby is a brilliant sport and long may it be played and thank you to William Webb Ellis who picked up the ball at Rugby School over a hundred years ago.

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