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An idiot guide to Rugby for Newcastle United fans at St James Park today

4 years ago

St James Park hosts rugby this weekend in ‘The Big One’.

There will be 2 matches; first Northumbria University take on Newcastle University, then Newcastle Falcons versus Northampton Saints (the second consecutive set of Saints to be easily dispatched at SJP no doubt…)

As a former rugby player myself, and student at both Northumbria (The Poly) and Newcastle (The Posh Kids), I feel I am relatively well qualified to fill in the average football fan (of which I am one) as to the subtleties of these fixtures.

In case you didn’t know, in rugby, players are on average, massive.  In the past, the majority of this mass was fat, big wobbly fat.  It was in my case anyway.

As a student in those days, the rugby was an inconvenience to be endured before the drinking could begin, during which horrifically embarrassing antics took place.  The groups of students I see walking in a group down Osborne Road in shirts and ties that I internally shout F… OFF YOU UTTER T…. at, are the same breed as I shamefully but completely non-regrettably was 20 years ago, obviously the Poly lot much less t….ish than the posh kids; goes without saying.

I was lucky enough to be at uni with the likes of England internationals Jonny Wilkinson and Jamie Noon, but their focus was less on booze and more on becoming world rugby’s greatest player etc. They were the exception.

Now though, the chaps (I can say chaps, this is about rugby) taking to the field representing the two unis are all athletes.  They are not fat.  They are the same size, but are now rock solid.  As for the game itself, make no mistake, this is a grudge match, it will be blood and thunder.  I have seen fights break out that would make Chuck Norris wince.  Let’s face it, SJP might not see another match with this level of local rivalry, well, ever again barring a cup draw.

That’s just the warm-up, the main event is a top level clash between a falling giant and a rising…falcon.  Newcastle are currently 4th, and with a shout of making the playoffs, they could actually win again!  With over 27,000 tickets sold, it will easily be one of the most significant moments in the club’s history, and we should be proud of having a team genuinely competing for honours, hopefully the football team can follow suit.

This is an article about football though, so I want to have a quick look at what can be learned from eggball.

Having followed NUFC for nearly 30 years, I have seen a lot of football, played a bit, and generally immersed myself in the sport.  I also played rugby for around 10 years – a back injury stopped me – and watch a fair amount too.

One of the stand-out differences for me is the way players speak to the referee.  As a rugby player I was expected to call the ref ‘Sir’ and respect any decision he made. If I disagreed with it I could make an appeal, but never in the form of calling him a blind or anything like that, whereas any football referee is subjected to abuse not only from fans (usually completely justified) but from players too.  It is a matter of respect, and if some of the respect rugby players show the officials were drilled into footballers, the ugly scenes we see of players surrounding refs could be avoided.

Beer.  At a rugby match it is mandatory, and even allowed in the stands.

Fans are mixed, there is no ‘away section’ in rugby.  Probably because rugby fans are predominantly people who play or who have played the game they are generally massive (see above), but have also learned respect (see above), so they rarely get into a scrap.

Rugby uses a TMO, which is being introduced into football as VAR.  It works very well (in rugby).  Partly because decisions tend to be more clean cut, but also because of the clock.  In rugby, when there is a stoppage for any reason the ref stops the clock, so there is no injury time but a game can go on well beyond the allotted 40 or 80 minutes.  Once the clock ticks over, the next time the ball goes dead the game is over.  I think this system would be great in football, it would make players think twice about wasting time.

To round off, here’s a quick run-down of the rules of rugby for those of you that might not know:

You can only throw the ball backwards – anything moving forward off the hand is a ‘knock-on’ and will result in a ‘scrum’

When running with the ball in-hand it is perfectly acceptable to smash opposition players in the face with your forearm/fist, this is called a ‘hand-off’

A ‘scrum’ is where both sets of forwards (the 8 fattest players) push against each other while the scrum-half (number 9!) rolls the ball directly to the feet of their own hooker (ask at the match) making a mockery of the whole thing

You can kick the ball forwards, do this really high with no real distance and it is called a ‘Garryowen’, kick it further and you are entering a ‘kicking game’.  Nobody likes a kicking game.

You cannot tackle above the shoulder – this is a ‘high tackle’ and can result in neck damage to the victim, and severe facial damage to the perpetrator

You must use your arms to tackle – if you just use your shoulder you are old-school, this is a fashion thing

Punching an opposition player is frowned upon and you can only really get away with it 2 or 3 times in a match before the ref has a word, keep doing it and you’ll have to sit on the naughty step for ten minutes

You score by putting the ball down over the try line (with ‘downward force’), this earns you 5 points, kicking the ball over the bar, but between the posts gets you an extra 2.  Hopefully this will be the only occasion Newcastle kicking the ball over the bar will be cheered by the majority of fans. 

If you kick the ball over the bar but between the posts in open play (dropkick only) or from a penalty/free-kick you get 3 points

Don’t ask about the number of points Newcastle will get when they win, it’s far too complicated

In summary, get yourself along to the match, there’s no football, so put your lungs to good use at the rugger instead.  Wear what you want, but flat caps, Barbour jackets or gilets, chinos and brogues are encouraged.

Support your local team, watch top quality sport, do something different, yell at some students, drink beer in the stands and thank your lucky stars you don’t have to be on the pitch.


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