Sitting down with a beer to watch the thrill of the Stanley Cup playoffs is one of the most exciting times for Canadian sports fans. However, as exciting as we find hockey, there is a sport that we are not giving enough attention to, one that our Australian friends down under enjoy more frequently: rugby.
Australia has a rich sports culture that spans many different sports. The continent has an extensive cricket culture, plays Australian football and hosts the Australian Open for tennis. Australia even has success in winter sports, regardless of most of the country being sub-tropical. However, the sport most associated with Australia might be rugby.
To provide a quick overview of rugby for those who are not familiar with the sport, it is a fast-paced, full-contact field sport in which seven- or 15-player teams try to move a ball to the opposite end of the pitch by either running, kicking or passing the ball. The player tossing the ball throws it between two rows of players, one from each team. The people in the rows lift up players to scoop the ball back to their team in a similar action to a jump ball in basketball. The game is won by the team who scores the most tries, which are similar to touchdowns in football, or through points scored by kicking the ball through the uprights.
The history of rugby in Australia dates back to 1864, when the first rugby club was created. Australia claims to have four elite football codes, two of which are rugby. The sport has since become so ingrained into the region’s culture that in 2003, when the Australians hosted and won the World Cup of Rugby, the event was the fourth largest sporting event in the world, beaten by only the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup and the World Athletics Championships. The Wallabies, the Australian football team, are one of only four teams to have ever won the men’s World Cup of Rugby.
Although the sport arguably has the most popularity in Australia and the South Pacific, other places such as Great Britain, Japan, Argentina and South Africa have been significant forces in global rugby competitions.
North America has had its own levels of success in the world of rugby. In 2014, Canada’s women’s team claimed second place to England at the Women’s Rugby World Cup. The next women’s World Cup will be held in Ireland in four months.
The men’s team has had a decent rivalry with the American team as Canada defeated them in order to qualify for the 2015 World Cup. In the 2011 World Cup, Canada pulled off an upset, beating Tonga and tieing with Japan.
Saskatchewan itself has a fairly active rugby culture. Every once and awhile a team will be stationed in the Arts Tunnel, which is a great way to get involved. There are both men and women’s leagues in the city, as well as Rookie Rugby and Mini Rugby for kids. With nine teams through two divisions in the province, there is no shortage of opportunities to get into the exciting game.
Graphic: Shamille Sarcuga