|Posted on February 23, 2014 at 9:50 AM|
Written by Peter McCall
What, if any, are the appeals of rugby for you? Is it the immense hits and tackles? Is it the spectacular athleticism? Or is it the intuitive tactical battles in which teams immerse themselves? When I write about ‘rugby’ you would not be alone in thinking that I was writing about the well-known sport, Rugby Union. In some areas of England, though, you would be mocked for making such an assumption. The game that many Northerners refer to as ‘rugby’ is, in fact, Rugby League.
Rugby League was created in 1895 in Huddersfield, Yorkshire when the Northern Rugby Football Union broke away from the established Rugby Football Union (RFU) due to a debate over ‘broken-time’. The southern based, upper class who dominated the RFU refused to condone ‘broken-time’ payments (payments for playing rugby instead of working) as they breached the ‘amateur ethos’ of Rugby Union. The Northern clubs were manned mainly by working class players who worked in factories or mines and could ill afford to sacrifice the wages lost by playing on Saturdays (which in the 19th Century was a normal working day).This is why both Rugby Union and Rugby League exist today. What that doesn’t explain, though, is why there is such a difference in the popularity of the sports in different areas of the country. It seems to me that there is a north-south divide between the two sports with League dominating the North and Union dominating the South. The images above show the locations of the clubs in the top division of each of the sport.
The divide can be investigated further by highlighting the clubs’ locations relative to Birmingham, a city which many see as the centre of the Midlands. Rugby League’s ‘Super League’ contains 14 teams, 12 of which are located North of Birmingham, 1 of which is in France and 1 of which is in London but has recently expressed its intentions to go into administration due to its lack of players. Whilst Union’s ‘Premiership’ has a more even spread, it certainly shows the majority of clubs lying South of the Midlands. The ‘Premiership’ contains 12 teams and only 3 of these are located north of Birmingham.
I thought it would be interesting to research the differences between the two sports. In Rugby League each team has 13 players compared to the 15 of Union. The object is to score tries, whilst the opposition tries to stop you by tackling. The major differences between the two sports are that in Rugby League once a player is tackled, they must get up and play the ball by pushing it with the foot back between their legs to a teammate and furthermore, the attacking team are given just 5 tackles to score. In my experience, this gives the sport an increased tempo and a high urgency making it exhilarating to watch.
With parents from different parts of England, I have grown up watching both forms of rugby. As you may have picked up already, I am a fan of Rugby League and I see people dismiss Rugby League far too often for my liking so I decided to spend some time asking members of Berkhamsted Sixth Form which their preferred form of rugby is and why. The results further emphasised my point. Of the 25 people I asked, 24 said they preferred Rugby Union and when asked for a reason the majority described Union simply as ‘better’ because they had grown up watching it.
What many of you Rugby Union fans may not know is that Rugby League provided the base from which many of the famous Union stars (such as England’s Chris Ashton and Joel Tomkins as well as legend Jason Robinson) rose up from. It is a highly physical sport which revolves more around the tackle than the set piece, resulting in bigger hits for the viewer to feast their eyes upon.
I am not writing this article to encourage any of you to stop watching Rugby Union, far from it, but instead because I feel Rugby League is a highly entertaining, fast-paced sport that many of you may enjoy. I want to challenge the trend among Southerners of dismissing Rugby League as ‘worse’ than Union. I feel both sports can coexist in all areas of the country because both sports have their merits.