Rugby and Football: A Difficult Relationship

Rugby or football? Which do you prefer?


Rugby and Football have always had a difficult relationship, be it at Secondary School, College or University.

Remember those friendly games of Bulldog when it was rugby’s go out on field and the footballers conveniently headed for the canteen? Forget the perception of state school football vs. private school of rugby of older days, both sports are in close proximity now, but there doesn’t seem much love lost.

It is said that rugby originated from football in 1823, one man named William Webb Ellis deciding to pick the ball up rather than kick it. The rest is history. The two sports often crucify each other, with footballers who pride themselves on aesthetic technique labelling rugby players a mob of angry men with purely aggressive motives.

Rugby players retaliate by pointing out that footballers are wimps who dive and go down like a ton of bricks when challenged.Who’s right? Who’s wrong? You won’t find many individuals who play both sports simultaneously because there natures are too conflicting. For a footballer it is unnatural to have you feet taken from beneath you when clear through and for a rugby player being penalised for a shoulder barge is a criminal offence.

There is ongoing debate as to which sport demands greater endurance. According to Men’s Health football does come out on top. In football “you’re almost constantly on the move, averaging 85% of your maximum heart rate. Rugby will not “be making the same, consistent demands on your aerobic system”.

But a Guardian article comparing the sports says you burn fewer calories in football and the knocks that rugby players take while still getting through 80 minutes is equally impressive.

I’ve heard of some interesting tales coming out of each sports dressing room, although most are lacking truth in attempts to fuel the fire. One apparently recurring scene was a rugby squad who would sing Kelis’s ‘Milkshake’ in the showers while doing the ‘Helicopter’ (look it up at your own expense).

Unsurprisingly the source was certain everyone was joining in, the likelihood is it was one guy. And I’ve been in a football dressing room where a certain individual loved stripping down and doing obscene deeds with his genitalia.

But the sports shouldn’t be defined by off field antics. Footballers who dismiss rugby’s characteristics as animalistic are in denial. The respect for referees contrasts massively between the sports.

I’ve seen rugby players at grass root level acknowledging the authority of the official in a similar vein to that we see on TV. Whereas referees at all levels in football are abused and preyed upon in a Roy Keane-esque fashion if they dare give a penalty.

A nippy striker wouldn’t last two minutes in a scrum. But then would a top heavy rugby forward last 90 minutes playing as a winger for a football team. The demands of both sports are very contrasting.

And this is why the sports probably look on each other with such distaste, what they don’t have in skill they dismiss. Both sports have admirable qualities. The integration of pure strength and complex rules makes rugby fascinating to watch. Football’s simplicity mixed with intense speed is constantly engaging.

Ultimately if you were to ask a footballer or rugby player if they respected the other’s sport the answer is likely to be no. In reality both sports can continue to learn from each other.


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