Yesterday, the most successful team in any sport — the New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad — took to Soldier Field, Chicago, to play the US Eagles. This was a bit like the Vancouver Canucks taking on a local peewee hockey league team, and it was no real surprise that the Kiwis beat the Americans by a huge margin — 74 points to 6. The American team showed up and played hard; they were just overwhelmed by the experience and talent of the All Blacks.
But the score wasn’t so important as the fact that this wonderful game filled the stadium and was covered by a major network, NBC. According to the broadcasters, rugby is now the fastest growing team sport in America, and we can only hope that trend continues.
The commentators also mentioned that NFL teams are looking to rugby to try to understand how a rough tough full-contact sport played by men as big and strong as any in the NFL, but without any helmets or other armour, has so many fewer concussions and other injuries than American Football. This is even more remarkable when you realize that rugby is played on a continuous basis (no stoppages every ten seconds) and players play both offense and defence for the full 80 minutes.
There are, in my opinion, three major reasons why injuries are so much lower in rugby than the NFL or CFL. First, only the player with the ball can be tackled. Second, in the absence of armour and helmets, players are taught from an early age how to tackle even the biggest players without causing harm to themselves. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the spirit of the game is to win but not hurt the opponent. In the NFL, the whole idea in many games seems to be to damage as many players as possible on the other team.
In the NFL, the teams are like private armies, owned, controlled and sent into battle by billionaires with egos. In rugby, these players are the people’s champions. The whole ethos is different, and that’s what makes rugby so much more enjoyable both to play and to watch.