LONDON, England—One of the world’s largest sporting events kicks off today. The Rugby World Cup 2015 will commence with an opening ceremony at 19:00 (BST), followed immediately by the first match of the tournament between host nation England and Fiji.
In many ways Fiji is a perfect example of what makes rugby great and so wildly popular. Fiji is a tiny South Pacific nation with a rugby-mad population of 85o,000—most of whom will be watching events in London’s famous Twickenham Stadium via television and enjoying the tournament opener. But they boast a ferocious team with a fast, hard-hitting style. They take on one of the favourites, and the past winner of the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
Fijians live for rugby and they will be anything but cannon fodder for England, a traditional powerhouse in the sport. Anything can happen on the field tonight.
Meanwhile, the USA Eagles wait until Sunday for their first contest against Samoa. All 20 teams are split into four pools of five, and play each other in a round-robin format with only the top two in each progressing to the quarterfinals.
Americans have traditionally taken little note of rugby despite its popularity at the college level. However, with increased TV coverage and entertainers such as Fiji on the field, this year many expect US sports fans to wake up to the spectacle of a Rugby World Cup.
Rugby, for our American friends, is a combative sport that blends the fast passing and unbroken play of basketball with the physicality and power of the NFL. Rugby players hit as hard as they do in football but without the pads and protection.
Professional players average 120-300 impacts per-game (depending on their position), and most of the collisions have a force exceeding 8Gs. It is called the world’s most dangerous team sport, with an average of 1.4 “serious” injuries per-match.
A rugby match consists of two 40-minute halves. There are 15 players on the field, who compete the whole game unless substituted and contribute to both offense and defence.
Players run about four miles per game, but they weigh an average of 211 pounds. The heaviest player at the Rugby World Cup this year is 310 pounds.
Tackling and Contact
Unlike football, after a tackle is made, the game is still live. While the tackler and tackled player lay on the ground, the ball is “loose.” A group of players will charge in to try and secure the ball, shoving the opposition back and over the players who have gone to ground. This is known as a “ruck.”
Once the ball is secured, it will be picked up, passed and a new phase of play will begin immediately.
If the tackler fails to bring his opponent with ball to ground, other players can get behind their player in the tackle and drive them forward, whilst also trying to wrestle the ball from the opposition’s arms. This is known as a “maul.”
Passing and Play
Like basketball, rugby is a fast-paced, free-flowing game. A play in rugby is similar to that in basketball in the way it is created by the players on the field quickly adapting to the situation before them.
Players either try to outrun, sidestep, or smash through the defensive line. As in basketball, passing the ball is key. But unlike basketball and NFL, you can only pass backward.
If a player does pass the ball forward by accident, along with other none-deliberate fouls, a “scrum” is called to restart the game. A scrum consists of the eight largest, toughest players on the team—known as the “forwards”—binding together to lock heads with the opposition’s eight biggest players. The ball is inserted from the side and the winning side either pushes their opponents back, over the ball, or hook the ball back with their legs into the hands of the “backs.”
A scrum is the most common method of restarting the game. However, if a foul is judged to be deliberate by the referee, then a penalty is given. The ball can either be kicking over the goal posts for three points, or straight to one of the players on the pitch to catch and run, immediately re-commencing the action.
It’s a non-stop, brutal, yet technical sport played by some of the toughest men on the planet and watched by some of the most enthusiastic fans in the world. Oh, and a touchdown is called a “try” and is worth five points. The resulting conversion—if successful—is worth an additional two points.
Universal Sport will have live coverage of 7 matches, and UniversialSport.com will have a live stream online for all 48 matches. NBC Sports will be showing 9 live matches including the semi-final and final.