For some reason I've recently read several Pros stories that have included a reference to the fine old game of Rugby Union. Almost all of them got something pretty basic wrong, something that was enough to throw me out of the story at least temporarily. I know there's no chance of most of those errors being fixed, because they were in 'zine or circuit stories and the authors are no longer active in Pros. All I'm asking is that anyone writing about rugby in the future takes some time to familiarise themselves with the essentials.
While Wikipedia has several good articles (including rules, lists of tours, matches and results for the national sides) and the BBC website is another one worth looking through, I thought I'd do a brief summary that's more oriented towards people who are primarily interested in the game from the fan fiction angle. I'm therefore going to concentrate on the general historical setting of the 70's and the player types involved in the game.
Rugby basics for Pros fan fiction writers
1. Teams of the 70's
The major rugby playing nations in the 70's and 80's were (northern hemisphere listed first):
Ireland (comprising Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland)
Wales (a marvellous team in the 70's - the All Blacks could win against the Lions then get beaten by the Welsh, especially if the game was played at Cardiff Arms Park)
New Zealand (the All Blacks)
Australia (the Wallabies)
South Africa (the Springboks)
Not officially national sides, but important anyway:
The Lions - combined British Isles rugby side (touring)
The Barbarians - an invitational side with players from different associations and countries, nicknamed the "Baa-Baas"
Teams in English competition:
I'll get to this in more detail at some later date. I also suggest looking up The British Lions in Wikipedia and checking out the clubs the selected players came from. If you're stuck for the name of an English club of merit, try Gloucester, Bath or Leicester. The Universities had rugby teams as well.
Miscellaneous points to remember:
Forget Argentina, Italy, the US and most other teams - they weren't in the running back then.
Also forget "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" - this song didn't become an anthem for England supporters until 1988.
The Rugby World Cup didn't kick off until 1987. Before then the sport at international level was dominated by tours and tests between nations.
Due to South Africa's apartheid laws, Springbok tours in the late 60's and 70's were prone to disruption by demonstrators. The Lions toured South Africa in 1974 and 1980. In 1977 Commonwealth heads of government signed the Gleneagles Agreement which was meant to cut South Africa off from sporting contact with Commonwealth countries while apartheid was still in force. This did not prevent the Springboks from touring New Zealand in 1981, I'm ashamed to say. Other tours were planned but never went ahead due to concerns about public safety.
Scoring was slightly different. From 1971 until 1992 a try was worth 4 points, a conversion 2, a penalty or field goal 3 points (now 5/2/3). Yes, Saturday's match would have been drawn under the old scoring system *Cue Irony*
2. Rugby Union playing positions and 70's British players
The playing positions are divided into Forwards (numbers 1-8) and Backs (numbers 9-15). Different rugby playing nations have different names for these positions, which can be confusing. For example the no. 10 position is called "fly half" in the northern hemisphere and "first five-eighths" in NZ and the "scrum half" is known as the "half-back" in NZ. I'm using the British terms.
Numbers 1 - 3 collectively are the "Front Row" because they form the front row of any set piece scrum (scrimmage). 1 & 3 are the "Props". In the scrum they support the No. 2 player, the "Hooker", who is so named because his job is to use his legs to 'hook' the ball away from the opposition. The hooker is also normally the player who throws the ball in during line-outs. These are the big blokes in the team, although not usually the tallest. Fran Cotton was 6'2" and was thought to be tall for a prop.
One side of a scrum ready to 'pack down' (engage the opposing team)
4 - 5 are both "Locks" and collectively they make up the "second row". They are usually the tallest players. Note that the Wikipedia description is incorrect for the 70's as lifting players to assist them in the lineout was illegal at that time .
Bill Beaumont (England)
Willie McBride (Ireland)
6 - 8 are the "Back Row", sometimes called "loose-forwards". 6 & 7 are the "Flankers". An alternative name for a flanker is "breakaway", which gives you some idea of their role. They fit in at the back of the scrum, outside the locks and they need both power and speed. They add weight to the scrum, but they also have to be ready to grab the loose ball and direct it to their team members, and to block attacking moves by the other team's backs. The Number 8 gets the ball through a winning scrum & usually delivers it to the backs or sometimes takes a run with it himself. Flankers and No. 8's have a role in both attack and defense and often score tries.
Tony Neary (England)
Roger Uttley (England)
Willie Duggan (Ireland)
Alright, we're done with the draught horses, now for the
9 & 10 Number 9 is the "scrum half" and number 10 is the "flyhalf". They are crucial in the tactical game. They have to be quick, agile, aggressive (some no. 9's in particular have a rep for being "mouthy"), have good tactical judgement, great skills with the ball etc, etc. The scrumhalf is the player who will send the ball into a scrum, then scoot around the back waiting for it to (hopefully) emerge from between his forwards' legs. No. 10 position is sometimes known as the 'pivot'. When they get the ball they have to decide whether it is tactically better to kick for position, pass to other players or run with it themselves. They are often the team kicker, taking any penalty kicks awarded by the umpire.
A little action footage is called for about now. These are two of the greatest players in Rugby history:
- Gareth Edwards played for Wales from 1967 to 1978. This Youtube clip shows a try against Scotland in 1972. ETA That one seems to have disappeared, so here's another, against the All Blacks this time.
- Barry John had a shortish but brilliant career with Wales, from 1966 to 1972, then gave the game away. Not the greatest clip but the best I could find :(
Rugby backs are generally more muscular and heavier now than they were in the 70's. Compare Gareth & Barry in this photo and this one with a couple of modern-day players.
OK, shallow moment over - back to the 70's theme. So... while you'll probably get away with saying that someone is "build like a rugby player", because the stereotypical rugby player is a biggish bloke, solid across the shoulders and muscular in the legs it's probably better to say something like "built like a front row forward" because they are generally the heaviest and strongest players in the game. If you're thinking of someone who looks like a tank on legs, with a bull neck and a nose that has been broken at least a couple of times, please don't write "built like a scrumhalf/flyhalf/fullback" (a description I've read in more than one story).
12 & 13 are the Centres. Their starting position is midfield in their own half (see, rugby is easy to understand). They don't do as much of the tactical work as the scrum & fly half. What they do is run the ball hard, tackle harder and try to drill holes in the opponent's defense to create breaks for themselves or other players. All without padding.
11 & 14 are the wingers. Run, run, run, as fast as you can. You can't catch me, I'm...
JJ Williams (Wales): here, and here
No. 15 is the full-back. Incoming! The last line of defense and the perfect person to launch a counter offensive. "Up and under" kicks from the opposing team will often land close to the try line and the fullback has to be ready to receive them, then direct the play back downfield, despite pressure from opposition heavies.
Andy Irvine (Scotland)
JPR Williams (Wales)
3. Violence in the game
There used to be a lot more obvious violence in the game at the competitive level than you will see now. I don't recall seeing any international test in the 60's and 70's that didn't have an outbreak of biffo within the first 10 minutes, usually arising from one of the first scrums. It was almost normalised - once the boys had got some of their aggro out, it was reasoned, they could settle down and get on with the game.
Tackles that would now be regarded as too high, and therefore unsafe, often went unpenalised. Some teams were held to be more likely to 'play dirty'. The French were criticised for eye-gouging and the Springboks for grabbing the goolies. Or was it the other way around? Certain players were known for their uncompromising approach - Colin "Pinetree" Meads of the All Blacks (1957-71) was known as someone who would play the man as readiily as he would the ball if it would work to the AB's advantage.
With increasing professionalism and less tolerance for violence in sport generally, rugby has cleaned up its act a lot. It still remains one of the most physical of team games. The number of players on the pitch, the speed at which the ball passes from hand to hand, the flexibility that it demands of its players also makes it one of the most exciting to watch.
4. Would Bodie and Doyle play Rugby, and if they did, what positions would they play?
Sadly, neither of the Lads shows any interest in rugby in canon. Doyle seems keen to kick a soccer ball around in 'Backtrack' and in 'Blood Sports' Bodie offers Doyle an alternative to an unrewarding surveillance - a "good game on the box" which I'm pretty certain would have been football (soccer). They talk about football again in "Servant of Two Masters" - Doyle asks Bodie who the best all-rounder in Europe is and Bodie thinks for a bit & then says "Keegan". Doyle starts to argue with him, Bodie goes "I know, I know--it's Cruijff", to which Doyle responds, scornfully, "Liverpool". Sounds like an old argument - especially since Keegan had left Liverpool for Hamburg SV in 1977 and Cruijff was about to depart Barcelona for the Los Angeles Aztecs, his best playing days effectively over. So I suspect their interest in football mostly involves reading the sports pages and watching 'Match of the Day'. Much like their interest in other sports, such as horse racing or boxing.
Therefore (or so I'd like to think) there is room to bring the Lads into closer 'contact' with the glorious game of rugby.
They (or most likely, IMHO, Bodie with Doyle coming along for the ride) could be co-opted into a 'friendly' game, as in ET's 'Scoring a Try'. In this story, Doyle was given the position of scrum half - not something outside his capabilities certainly, but a bit rugged on a new lad (intentionally so in ET's story). Personally, I'd stick him on the wing where he could use his footwork to advantage. Bodie would be good at "seek and destroy" and his leaping abilities could come in useful in line-outs, so he's a potential flanker. Or a centre, if you really want him in the backs.
They could also be involved during a mission:
- South African rugby officials (or officials from some made up but startlingly similar place) could be visiting England to attempt to organise a tour. Danger could arise from groups opposed to the tour itself, or opposing other changes, such as those South Africa made in 1977 to desegregate their RU associations.
- A person they are protecting wants to go to a rugby game
- a general public threat at the same time there's a major international test match scheduled.... etc.
They could be undercover:
- as players, although this would be difficult- see above
- a security men
- as trainers/masseuses
I'd better stop now - I could go on forever. As it is I suspect people who know about rugby will think I've oversimplified/missed lots of things, and those who don't will still be confused. But at least I feel better *g*.