Five Things I Learned From Rugby

Here are five things I've learned from playing rugby. They're written from the perspective of a tight five forward, but I think that makes it more applicable to the non-rucking reader. After all, life involves a lot of grinding through the mud, and affords few opportunities for leisurely looks up the field.

Let the lessons begin.

1. Life stops for no man.

You may be lying there because you were hit in the ribs and fumbled the ball forward. You may be lying there because it took three men to bring you down after you crossed the advantage line, and they're all on top of you now. You may be lying there because the counter-ruck knocked you arse over tĂȘte.

You might have failed. You might have succeeded. You may simply have done your duty. It doesn't matter.

The bottom line is, you're lying there. And the ball has moved on. Time to get up and hurry back into position. There's no time to rest and you're needed elsewhere now.

Here's a compilation of big hits (warning: soundtrack has foul language). Note that after each big hit, the 29 other guys who are still on their feet keep playing. They're still competing for the ball, they're still rushing into position.

Sometimes the game will come to a stop, and you'll get a little breather as the scrum gets set, or the lineout is called. But you won't often get to decide when that is.

You're not so important that everything will stop for you when you're down. There's a mission and people are relying on you. Better get back into the play.

2. Any decision is better than no decision.

There's a saying in rugby: when in doubt, ruck over. The ruck is the competition for the ball over the body of the tackled player. There's a moment as you approach the ball and tackled player that you have to decide, do I ruck, or do I try to play the ball? And once the ruck is established, if you're near it, you must decide, do I get into position for a pass, or do my teammates need me to join them in protecting and winning the ball?

If you're not sure, the decision has been made for you beforehand. It's been drilled into you. Hesitation is death. Maybe later you'll realize the best thing would have been to get in the backline for a pass, but right now your doubt is your answer: when in doubt, ruck over. It's never bad to have one more body in the ruck. It's always bad to have someone standing flat-footed in the passing lane.

Throw yourself into it. Do not be afraid to decide. Avoid hesitation at all costs. Learn from your mistakes. Take no time for regret. Now I'm sounding like a Nike t-shirt. Just remember. Any decision is better than no decision.

3. Just keep moving.

This is something that every forward, especially has he gets older, must learn. At all costs, just keep moving.

It's nearly the end of the match, you're exhausted, and are struggling to get to the ball. One thing's for certain, though. If you don't keep putting one foot in from of the other, you'll never be in the play. So if you can't get to the next breakdown, get to the one after that. Just keep moving your feet.

In the highlights below, one team keeps possession for forty-one phases (tackle and rucks). It's not very sexy play as they desperately try to drive within drop-kick range to snatch a win at the end of the game. But imagine being one of those players as you tackle, ruck over, get to your feet, and do it again, over and over again.

You just have to keep moving; give yourself a chance to be in the right place at the right time.

And speaking of being in the right place at the right time...

4. Support is hard work.

Support in rugby is being near the ball to help in whatever way is required. You might take an offload pass as the teammate you're supporting gets tackled. You might help drive him through the tackle. You might simply be the first man to the ruck. But all your teammate's hard work on the team's behalf will come to naught if you're not there beside him at the right time.

And feeling nice about someone isn't actual support. Being there and doing the required things is support. Support is hard work. We go back to point number one, life stops for no man, to remember that we should be in support even after we've been knocked down. We get back up not only for ourselves, but for our teammates. We have to be there.

This video is a highlight of a sweet Dean Mumm stiff-arm. But note Mumm's trajectory through the whole play. He receives the first pass off the base of the ruck, has a short run, offloads as he's tackled, gets to his feet, is the first to arrive in support when the man he tackled goes down, receives the pass from the tackled man, and only then has his sweet highlight-making run.

5. Don't go off on your own.

I know that blogs about being manly are supposed to tell you to be your own man, to go where no man has gone before and devil take the hindmost. But that's not very Christian, nor is it very manly. We could talk chivalry, we could talk romance.

Or we could talk pragmatics. This is rugby, after all.

Often the devil takes the foremost, if he's isolated. Stay in touch. Coaches hate it when the runner becomes isolated, because it means that when he's tackled, the defending team will steal the ball with ease. And the coaches don't know whether to yell louder at the players who didn't arrive to support, or at the runner who ran away from support.

The truth is, sometimes going for it all as you leave the crowd behind is the right thing to do. But it usually isn't. And one thing's for'd better be sure. Or your teammates will be letting you know how little they appreciate having to deal with turnover ball.

You need to see your individual success through your team's eyes. Was it better to make thirty meters and lose the ball, or to make twenty meters but maintain possession as your teammates arrived in support? Live life in community, sweet rugger.


  1. Nicely done, and "agreed."
    Here is what I learned:
    Stay out of the channel (you said it more eloquently)
    Laying on the ball gets you raked
    Infractions in the scrum are hard to see
    15 players per side, 1 ref, means police yourself.
    American straight arm=open hand, Polynesian straight arm=closed fist
    go to the pub with the other team no matter what happened during the last 80 minutes.
    If whatever happened during those 80 minutes was especially horrible, leave the pub before the tab gets paid.
    Being a back is boring.

    How'd I do?

    1. Man, I think you nailed it. "A gentle touch of the slipper" is a favorite.


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