More Than a Century After Influencing Football, Rugby Again Leaves Its Mark on the Gridiron

Bill Good, president of the Massachusetts Youth Rugby Organization, tells Breitbart Sports that football increasingly looks to rugby for guidance in tackling.

“Because they’re both collision sports, contact sports, people think of rugby and football being as very similar,” Good explains to Breitbart Sports. “But there’s a substantial difference. And that’s the equipment.

“Because there is no equipment in rugby, players use completely different techniques. We tackle with our heads behind the player. We have to wrap. We can’t leave the ground when we tackle. We can’t shoulder charge. So, all of those contribute to a safer form of contact.”

American football traded in the scrummage for downs from scrimmage. But it owes its prolate spheroid—introduced by McGill in a game against Harvard in the 1870s and then insisted upon as a replacement for the foot-ball by the Crimson when playing U.S. collegiate teams—and some of its rules to rugby (and its goalpost and much else to the other football, soccer). Increasingly, football looks to its forebear for advice on tackling techniques.

“Football players, because of the historic way they’ve been taught—they’re starting to change now— they’ve always used their heads as part of the tackle,” Good told Breitbart Sports at a pre-screening of Concussion hosted by MomsTeam in Boston. “That leads to injuries. Lately you see more and more football teams bringing rugby coaches in to help them with that tackling.”

The Seattle Seahawks embrace a style of tackling akin to what Good describes. The Super Bowl 48 winners have hosted rugby experts at their facilities and openly brag of cribbing their techniques from the game born in the West Midlands. Pete Carroll stresses a shoulder-based tackling “inspired by those who play rugby around the world” that removes the head from the equation. They field the league’s best defense in recent years and rank near the bottom in concussions.

When football faced an existential crisis over player casualties rather than concussions in the first decade of the 20th Century, Berkeley, Stanford, and other universities traded in the gridiron sport pioneered at American colleges for one of its forebears developed at an English boarding school. “In my opinion, the whole country will within five years be playing the Rugby game,” Stanford President David Starr Jordan wrote football founding father Walter Camp following the American sport’s pivotal 1905 season. Jordan’s prophecy failed to come true. And more than a century later, rather than conquering football rugby cooperates with it.

As football players learn from rugby, one of the world’s best rugby players learned football in on-the-job training this season for the San Francisco 49ers. In limited action, Jarryd Hayne rushed for 52 yards, caught six passes, and returned a punt for 37 yards. Rugby fans interested in Hayne necessarily became interested in football.

And in the United States, young people increasingly show interest in Hayne’s sport.

Bill Good, enthused that the body governing high school athletics in Massachusetts recently sanctioned rugby as a sport, noted his work with freshman players at a local high school. “I basically had to, in effect, un-coach the Pop Warner football players from their tackling style to get them used to a rugby style of tackling,” he explained, “which I think is safer for them and certainly reduces the number of injuries.”

And as football grows safer through rugby’s influence, it needn’t worry about competition from rugby making the world even less safe for football. Good’s home state recognizes rugby as a spring sport, leaving the field clear for football in the fall—and providing rough boys a second helping of necessary roughness once the thaw arrives.


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