For those of you who don't live in the south eastern part if the world, or those who don't realize, the rugby world cup is going on in New Zealand right now.
Now most North Americans have little if any exposure to rugby, slotting it somewhere between soccer-with-hands and football-without-pads. And really, that's a shame. It may be one of the best sports not only to play, but to watch. Here's my top 6 of what rugby does right over other, more traditional, North American sports:
1: TV timeouts
There are none. Well not true, there's one, it's called "halftime". The game flows almost seamlessly in open play, even when the ref blows the whistle play resumes very quickly, very little downtime at all.
Speaking of halftime, it's a short 15 minutes from whistle to restart. Not the 45 minute commercial-fest we get with NFL games.
3: Mics on the refs
Yes the head ref is mic'd up, but not the terrible on/off the NFL gives us, but a constant ear in the game. Every word the ref says to anyone is broadcast. Player discipline? You hear it. Talking with a sideline official? You hear it. Great way to bring the observer into the game.
Rugby is ruled by 3 officials like soccer. One on field and one on each sideline. However there is a fourth official called the Telvision Match Official. Anytime the head ref needs an extra look at a close play, he simply talks (remember he's got a mic on) to the TMO and asks him to review it. A few seconds later the TMO reports the results and away we go. Reviews only take a few seconds, usually around 30, occasionally as long as 60. But not the agonizing 3 minute reviews the NHL and NFL are known for.
5: Game length
A game of football is timed at 60 minutes play, and takes about three times that to complete. Same goes for hockey. A game of rugby is 80 minutes, and is over in one hour forty-five minutes, IF it runs long.
6: Kiwi Announcers
Firstly they don't pander to the rugby novice by explaining every rule and law (see: NHL on NBC for an example), but the accents and phrases are unique, and honestly I sometimes don't even know what the hell they are saying.
So do yourself a favour and catch some rugby, especially in the knockout stages.
2 rules to keep in mind: You can't pass forward, and you can't be involved if you are in front of the ball. That should get ya started.
Note: Canadian fans may want to avoid the Canada-New Zealand game if that's their first view, it may get ugly. New Zealand beat 13th ranked Japan by 83-7. Canada is ranked 12th.