The Six Nations starts this weekend. I tell you this not out of some rabid excitment and anticipation at the prospect, but simply because it seemed like a good time to describe to you just how much contempt I have for rugby union. And all who sail in it. In addition, I read recently that I should write what pleases me rather than trying to accommodate others. So this is today's offering, like it or lump it.
I have many problems with rugby union, but fundamentally the main reason I hate it is because it's shit. Since that is overly simplistic let me elaborate a little more. I hate it because it's elitist and boring, and I hate it because it has an unwarranted air of superiority over rugby league, which in case you hadn't noticed I love. I hate union because there's a southern-media led misconception that it is a national game while league confines itself to grimy northern outposts. In reality, only 3 out of the 12 teams in Yawnions Aviva Premiership can truly consider themselves northern. As much as league is a northern game, union is a southern game.
But isn't arguing about league versus union just splitting hairs? A colleague of mine genuinely did not know that there were two codes of rugby, and just thought that rugby league and rugby union were different competitions within the same sport. There are similarities, and it is apparently possible to enjoy both equally. I know avid fans of league who are very keen on union too. To them it's just rugby, but to me watching a game of union because it is 'rugby' is like eating a turd because it used to be food. Union has passed through real rugby's digestive system and been deposited with all the best bits sent to do more important things elsewhere. The differences between it and league are manyfold and completely massive.
Where shall we begin? Let's start with the basics. a rugby union team has two more players in it than a rugby league team. Fifteen versus league's entirely more sensible thirteen. With 15 players on each side it is little wonder that there is no space for any creativity. Conseqently terrified coaches urge their players to leather the ball down the field to within an inch of it's life, lest they risk losing posession within 30 miles of their own try-line. Not that the line itself is under any threat, because fear dictates that nobody runs or passes in union. But get them within 30 or 40 metres or so of their opponents goal-line and the kicking contest can begin. Essentially, rugby union is just that. A kicking contest. It's golden moment in the national consciousness came when Johnny Wilkinson dropped a goal to win the World Cup for England in 2003. Drop-goals are booed in rugby league. Whenever you see a drop-goal landed you will see a shot of a rugby league coach thrashing around in his seat, incandescent with rage at the player who settled for a poxy, useless meaningless point. And ruined the spectacle into the bargain. The only exception to this is if the clock is imminently due to expire and said drop-goal has decided the outcome of a game by a single point. In rugby league drop-goals are taboo and place-kicks (penalties and conversions) are the boring bits in between the real action. If I was in charge at Sky Sports I'd go to a commercial while the conversions are taking place.
More commercials could be thrown in if we had line-outs in league too. Whenever the ball is aimlessly booted into the stands in union (which is often) there then follows a procedure whereby three or four players line up opposite each other, facing the touchline at around about the point where the ball previously crossed it. Then a small, squat balding man with a number 2 on his back is charged with the task of throwing the ball back into play in a straight line directly between the two queues. They look like a bunch of women waiting for a bouquet to be thrown at them at a wedding so they can be next. It's an embarrassing, irksome non spectacle and, more often than not, precedes more kicking in any case. Scrums are hardly essential to the entertainment either. In league they are an almost ceremonial method of restarting play and of getting five or six bigger, slower blokes out of the way. In union they are a cherished art form as one group of fat-arsed toffs tries to bully the other group of fat-arsed toffs into back-tracking far enough so that someone can eventually fall on the ball and claim a rare try.
I mention toffs because that is yet another failing of the dismal, anti-sport that is rugby union. Though all rugby is professional now union is traditionally the perserve of the middle to upper classes, who didn't need money for playing and so rained down great turds of patronising ire on those who did when the sport split in the late 19th century. This sense of Corinthian spirit gave them some measure of kudos right up until the mid 80's when union stars like Jonathan Davies, Scott Gibbs, Scott Quinnell and others queued up to turn to the professional code. We're all slumming it now then, except we're not because union players still manage to somehow date princesses. What kind of a sport allows it's protagonists to mix with royalty? What kind of a sport would have protagonists that would attract royalty? Socially, union is one-stop short of fox-hunting, croquet and fucking polo. I'd rather be the hunted fox than watch a single minute of the dreary kick-athon that will be the Six Fucking Nations.
If union offers a better class of socialite, it also offers a better class of cheating. It's crowning glory in the field of skullduggery came when then Leicester coach Dean Richards persuaded one of his players to use a blood capsule to flagrantly flout the blood-bin rule in a big match some years ago. Leicester wanted to get another kicker (who else?) on to the field to give themselves the opportunity to land the winning points but had used all of their permitted substitutions. Fortunately for them blood injuries (or so called bloodbin substsitutions, more on which in a moment) allow a team to make changes in addition to the agreed limit as long as they patch up the injured player and bring him back on to the field within an agreed amount of time. There were mass bannings and general outrage on the level of match-fixing in cricket and snooker, yet still the southern tabloids love this pile of shite. In addition to bloodbin-gate union also offers a good line in eye-gouging, biting and its own time-honoured personal favourite, stamping.
Mention of the blood-bin brings me around to another gripe, that of union stealing all of league's ideas. Good or bad, they'll have them and present them as their own. So now union has not only bloodbinning, but video replays to decide on contentious decisions, and a play-off system culminating in a championship final. First past the post is old news in union, but has been so in the far more forward-thinking and admittedly innovative-for-the-sake-of-it rugby league since 1998. Incidentally, one of the more ill-advised of those innovations has been the cross-code challenge. This pits a leading side in union against a leading side in league, with one game played under union rules and one game under league rules. The pointlessness of this is staggering, like pitting a vaccuum cleaner against a dalek, with the first game won by the team that cleans the lounge the quickest, and the second game going to the team which exterminates Doctor Who and Amy Pond before tea-time.
So how can we fix rugby union, short of turning into rugby league? That's the only sure-fire solution but in the absence of that I propose that me and my soon to be assembled band of rugby league fundamentalists tear up the union rule book and make some drastic changes. Kicking the ball out on the full should be punishable by death, or at least a penalty try, while dating a princess should forfeit your side an entire match, or maybe see your side relegated to a division small enough that even the Daily Mail won't bother to report on it. Any points scored for your team by an ex-rugby league player should be disallowed on the basis that you have cheated. Bringing in obviously superior athletes from a much better sport is just not cricket. It's like letting Romelu Lukaku play in an under 10's football league.
So anyway you go ahead and pretend you like Guinness for the next month or two, cheering on the dentists and lawyers as they give the French a damn good thrashing or whatever. I'm going to wait another week for the Super League to get under way, then we might live in hope of seeing a game of rugby featuring more than one try.
Don't even get me started on bonus points for tries.......