Why rugby is unique

Rugby Union is a popular sport played by men - and increasingly by women - of every race and creed, from age five to 90, in more than 100 countries worldwide. In a few of those countries - New Zealand, Western Samoa, Tonga, Wales for instance - it is the national sport.

It is a major sport in South Africa but in the other main rugby playing countries such as Australia, England, France, Ireland and Scotland it may only be the third, fourth or even fifth most popular sport.

Rugby union is a different sport to rugby league. 'League' has been a professional sport for which the players were paid for playing since 1895. It is only seriously played in Australia and the north of England.

Rugby union was a strictly amateur sport until 1995 when the game's rulers decided that it was time that players should be paid for the sacrifices they had to make and in light of the enormous sums of money their efforts were generating for rugby.

Why rugby is different

Rugby is a unique sport for many reasons not least because it is a game that can be played by all shapes and sizes of people.

The light and fast man (an 80kg winger) or the bigger and slower man (such a 120kg prop) both play in the same Springbok team, doing their very different but equally important jobs.

In the same way there is a special place in the game for the very tall (the tallest South African international of all time was 2,05m) while the very small (the shortest was only 1,60m) can also thrive because of rugby's unique demands.

Rugby is also unique because of its very large number of Laws.

It is also different because there are four different ways of scoring points - all with differing values - that require teams to think carefully about their tactics at different stages of the game. Rugby is different because it has more players on the field at any one time than any other major sport with 30 players engaged in trying to secure possession of the ball for the full 80 minutes of each game.

It has phases of the game such as the scrum and the lineout that make it unlike any other sport and require a variety of physiques unlike any other sport. And rugby has specific Laws on how the ball may be moved and how players may be stopped that make it quite different from any of the other 'football' and handling sports with the exception of rugby league.

Photo: Jan Hamman, Beeld