Rugger or Rugby ?

An analysis of the two rugby football games now battling for supremacy in Canada

H. H. ROXBOROUGH November 15 1929

Rugger or Rugby ?

An analysis of the two rugby football games now battling for supremacy in Canada

H. H. ROXBOROUGH November 15 1929

Rugger or Rugby ?

An analysis of the two rugby football games now battling for supremacy in Canada


THE British Isles have long enjoyed an enviable reputation for originating an enormous export trade. This exportation is usually associated with raw materials and manufactured products, but it could quite as easily refer to the production and distribution of games, for the sporting world owes more to England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales than it does to any other country. And if you think that assertion is an exaggeration, recall that golf, lawn-tennis, bowling, curling, cricket, association football and rugby football are known and played around the globe, and that each originated in some portion of the United Kingdom. Possibly, the most widely played of these games is association football, for this kicking pastime has branches in fifty-seven countries; and the most formidable competitor in popularity is another booting sport familiarly known as rugger—otherwise English rugby football.

“Peculiarly an Empire Game”

THIS rugby football is peculiarly an Empire game. It is played in all parts of Great Britain, of course, and it is not unusual for international games to attract upward of seventy thousand spectators. More than forty years ago New Zealand formed an association, and its famous “All Blacks” have not only broken world records for weird, soul-stirring battle-cries, but they have also conquered the best teams, both club and international, that the Old Country could muster. South Africa has done much the same thing. Australia, too, has demonstrated quite conclusively that the Commonwealth can develop not only great cricketers and world-famous oarsmen, but also sturdy rugger players quite capable of successfully battling England’s best. India, the West Indies, Singapore, and most other portions of the Empire have been bitten by the rugger bug.

But do not assume that it is Imperial sentiment only that has sent this game around the world; for France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, the South American republics, and even the United States, have adopted English rugby, not because of its name or its traditions but because of its true worth. Indeed, the Californians with characteristic energy received the game so enthusiastically that they developed a team that won the Olympic rugby championship at Paris in 1924.

Canada, too, has had a lengthy acquaintance with rugger, but not until last September did she officially link herself with the rest of the rugby world, for it is just two months since a national gathering at Winnipeg formed the Rugby Union of Canada. If you doubt the social prestige of the newcomer in the ranks of our national sport-governing bodies, run your eye over the names of such distinguished patrons as Viscount

Willingdon, E. W. Beatty, K.C., Sir Arthur Currie, Hon. Randolph Bruce, C. J. Yorath, G. Montague-Black, Hon. G. Howard Ferguson, A. D. MacTier and the Hon. F. B. McCurdy. True, they are honorary officers, but their acceptances indicate more than an ordinary interest, and give rugger a distinction that few other games possess. But the formation of the new Rugby Union has not only received the endorsement of the high and mighty, but it has also aroused the interest of the rank and file of fandom. Newspapers throughout the Dominion are quickly increasing their publicity allotment to rugger, and many sportsmen, hitherto familiar with only the Canadian branch of the rugby tree, are now enquiring: “How long has English rugby been played in this country?” “What progress has it made?” “In what respects does it resemble the Canadian game?” “What merit does it possess?” “Will it ever replace the native brand?”

A Rugger Revival

VITELL, there is no contesting the right of English * * rugby to be played in this country. Indeed, it should almost enjoy “squatter’s rights” for it was the first rugby game to be played in Canada; it was even the parent of the United States football, and as the Canadian game was an offspring from the American species, British rugger is genealogically the grandfather of the Canadian game. The origin of English rugby itself dates back to more than a century ago when a tradition-defying student at the famous Rugby School picked up the ball, ran with it, and demonstrated the possibilities of a new game. Just when the first scrummage was formed in Canada, or who scored the first try is not historically established, but it is quite definitely

known that in the early seventies of the last century the game was very much at home on Canadian soil.

In British Columbia rugger has had its own Association for forty years, and consequently it is not surprising that in British Columbia the Inter-High-School Rugby League sponsors the English rugby activities of no less than thirty-six teams, and that eight intermediate and senior teams swing into action each week. Calgary and Edmonton have half-adozen good sides; the sportsmen of Manitoba are quite friendly to rugger, the game is encouraged in the schools, and over thirty clubs are in operation; in the Province of Quebec a five-team league, including teams from McGill University, Bank of Montreal, Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, Westward Club and Vickers, attracts large crowds; while in the Maritimes English rugby almost wholly replaces the home-grown product. Away down east the high schools, the universities and the city teams are all definitely committed to it. In Ontario, the game lapsed for many years but it did not die, for it was only sleeping, and now a real awakening has occurred. Two years ago only two teams operated in this province, and the numerical strength of even these two was far from striking; but this year eight clubs—Toronto Rugby, Toronto Irish, Toronto Scottish, Toronto Welsh, British Public Schools, University of Toronto, Woodstock and Hamilton British—are firmly established and playing weekly games; enclosed grounds have been secured; and the public support is steadily increasing. This growth in patronage is not due entirely to a rallying of the British-born, for many Canadians are being attracted and are slowly learning “what it is all about.”

What is this English Rugby?

THE older Canadian rugby fan will find many similarities with the English game of today and that played in the Dominion twenty-five years ago. The old-time “wrestling” scrummage, the heeling-out of the ball from scrummage, the throw-in from the sidelines to the long avenue of upward-reaching forwards, and the numerous backs are reminders of earlier days before the rugby leaders began whittling and carving the football rules. But the more modern follower of Canadian rugby will observe considerably more contrast than similarity in the two games.

This contrast begins with the number and positions of the players. In Canadian rugby the team is composed of twelve men who are assigned the titles of centre, right and left half-backs, quarter-back, flying wing, snap; and right and left inside, middle and outside wings. The rugger code, however, specifies fifteen players, and while different formations are permissible, the usual line-up contains one full-back, four three-quarter-backs, two half-backs and eight forwards.

Not only is there thus a great distinction in the number of players and their positions, but there is even more variation in the conditions governing substitutes. In Canadian rugby six or eight substitutes—depending upon the league—are allowed to enter the game at any time and replace any of the twelve originals, and the only restrictions are that substitution shall be made while the ball is not in play, and that a player once removed from the game must not re-enter during that quarter in which he was retired.

The English regulations are entirely different, for the fifteen originals must continue throughout the entire game unless removed by injuries, and even in that unfortunate event no replacement can be arranged and the team must continue with a reduced line-up. Thus Canadian rules not only permit more players to take part in a single match, but they also maintain a numerical advantage in the quantity of officials. Canadian rugby requires one referee, one umpire, one head linesman, two yardsmen, two timekeepers and a penalty timekeeper. This array of officialdom seems quite imposing when contrasted with the one referee and two linesmen required in rugger. And the meagre roster of the latter game is not inspired by thrift, for the other officials are not needed. There are no positions

for yardsmen, for yardsticks are not used, and where there are no time penalties there can be no penalty timekeeper.

In the Canadian game, players who break rules or intentionally become excessively rough may be sentenced to various lengths of retirement depending upon the nature of the offense and, conj sequently, a penalty timekeeper is required to see that the penalties are J enforced. But rugger exacts only one i punishment, which is inflicted upon the player who is deliberately “dirty,” and as the sentence means banishment for the | remainder of the game it is not necessary ; that a stop-watch should govern his movements. For a similar reason, the two yardsmen are non-essentials to the English game. Canadian rugby rules stipulate that an attacking team must

advance the ball at least ten yards on three successive downs, or give possession of the “prolate spheroid,” (specified by the code) to the opposing club. Naturally, the yardsticks must tell the story of this progress to the officials or players. But so far as the English game is concerned, “down” is simply a growth on a schoolboy’s cheeks, and has no place at all in a rugger match where the number of scrummages and the distances gained have no relation to the ownership of the ball.

Then there is the great difference in clothing. The Canadian players are well protected with padded uniforms and stout leather helmets, while the English rugger player is lightly dressed in a low-necked jersey, loose knickers, and socks so abbreviated that knee-action is quite undisturbed. This is, of course, no reflection on the hardiness of the Canadian, but simply because, as will be demonstrated in a moment, the essentials of the two games are different, the Canadian game “playing the man” in opposition to the English rugger tactics of “playing the ball.” In other words, pads are a simple necessity in any game in which shock tactics are used to the extent they are in Canadian rqgby.

The English “Scrum”

"DOTH games begin with a kick-off at U centre, but immediately tactics conflict, for while the kicker in the Canadian game endeavors to hoof the ball to some unguarded spot, the English player deliberately kicks to that side of the field where his opponents are most freely assembled. Then if the rugger player who receives the kick-off is tackled, he must either ground the ball in front of him—in which case it must be touched by one of the kicking side before coming into play— or, if the ball was so “smothered” that it could not be brought into play, a scrummage is formed. This scrum is normally composed of eight men on each side, who form up in three rows of three, two, and three players respectively, all tight interlocked. Immediately upon contact, these two octettes push against each other as though a freight train was being shunted up-grade. While this bucking operation continues, the ball is rolled into the centre of the human whirlpool and the opposing centre men at once struggle to boot the ball backward, so that it may rapidly be heeled through the “scrum” out to the eager scrum-half, who speedily whips it to the three-quarter-backs for them to develop a running attack. The scrummage is thus vastly different from the Canadian scrummage, for in the latter formation the two opposing lines are separated by at least a yard; no players are permitted to lock arms or hold hands, and while all the linesmen are motionless, the ball is snapped out to the awaiting quarterback who feeds it to the other players.


rT"'HERE is also a striking contrast in ■lthe rules governing a ball that has travelled over the sidelines. In Canadian rugby if a ball is kicked into touch the ball is brought in ten yards directly opposite the point where the ball crossed over the sideline, and is given to the nonkicking team who immediately begin to put it into scrummage. But in rugger, after such a kick as just described, the ball would be given to the non-kicking team and at once the opposing forwards would line up where the ball crossed the sideline and the ball would be tossed from the side into the midst of the awaiting players.

A great difference is also noticeable in the method of scoring. In the Canadian game a try counts five points and a convert one point, and in rugger the former receives three points and the convert two; a drop goal under Canadian rules gains three points and in rugger it is awarded four points, while a successful penalty kick in the latter sport is entitled

to three points. Then in rugger there is no reward for a team which kicks over the opponent’s dead-ball line, or which prevents the defenders from running out a ball that has been kicked over their own goal line, while in the Canadian game each of such plays is called a rouge and entitles the attackers to one point.

A Clean, Fast Game

TT IS quite evident, therefore, that a I close examination of the two games reveals considerable difference not generally appreciated. But after all, the chief concern of those of us who are making our first acquaintance with rugger is not “What are the contrasts in the two games?” but rather, “What are the respective merits of the two games from the point of view of the player and the spectator?”

English rugby, it seems to me, is cleaner, speedier, more open, is a better team game, and has the added advantage of being suitable for imperial and international competition.

It is cleaner, not in the least because of the type of men playing it, but because it is more open, faster, and probably less trying on the temper than the Canadian and American games. English rugby plays the ball all the time: there is no such thing as interference, and the only man that can be tackled is the man with the ball. There is a lot of shoving, of course, in the “scrum,” as anyone who has played forward knows; and in the open rushes there are some chances for “dirty work,” but they would be at once spotted by any referee. But taking it by and large, rugger puts a much lower premium on mere gladiatorial strength than the game played on this side; which accounts at once for the game being played without padding or protection, for the comparatively small number of strains or injuries, and for the so-called greater cleanness of the game. Observe, this is not to say that English rugby is in any sense ladylike. If you think so, go try it and see, either

in the front row of the scrum, or as fullback with eight husky forwards on top of you most of the time.

Rugger is, also, more open, for possession is so easily regained that players take more chances and pass more freely; and dribble the ball quite frequently. Therefore it is not surprising that ownership changes rapidly, and play shifts from end to end of the field, with greater rapidity than under Canadian rules.

A True International Game

"|H IN ALLY rugger possesses the very

attractive feature that it provides almost unlimited opportunities to weld more strongly the bonds of Empire, and to stimulate international understanding. One of the very best instances of this is the rise of France as a rugby country. One does not have to be an ancient of days to recollect when the Frenchmen were popularly supposed to be addicted rather to boudoirs than to manly sports; but twenty years ago or thereabouts they took to le rugby, and now you may see them yearly at grips with the international teams of the British Isles, and acquitting themselves by no means so dustily, either.

If those Hamilton sportsmen who are now busily planning the Empire games to be held next year, are successful in arranging a rugby competition, the game that is played will certainly be under the rugger code, for the Canadian game is absolutely unknown to the athletes of any other country in the world.

Will rugger ever replace the Canadian game in public esteem and in popularity? Well, merit and recognition are not necessarily synonymous terms, but it would seem that in the Maritimes, British Columbia and Manitoba, where the English game is known, it will continue to assert its superiority, and in the other provinces, and particularly Ontario and Quebec, it is certain to have a surprising increase in players and support, for it is one of those games that “grow on acquaintance.”