The eight nations competing in the Quarter Final of the 5Th Rugby World Cup in France beginning Saturday 6 October 2007 are vying for the prestigious Webb Ellis Cup named after the considered founder of the game. Webb Ellis Cup is what Thomas Cup is to badminton or Jules Rimet Cup ( Fifa World Cup) is to football. The three have world followings.
Back in the early 1950's , the soggy SAHC ( Sultan Abdul Hamid College) field would see the school rugby team testing their prowess against opponents from Penang Free School or the Edwardians of Taiping.. The three Alma maters were Rugby Unions champ in their respective state. Other schools tried hard to emulate them. The three schools had headmasters who had toiled in the grandeur of Eton, where the game was supposed to have originated and as such the competitiveness and backing.
Decades later residential schools Sekolah Menengah Sultan Abdul Halim Jitra ( SMSAH), Sekolah Tuanku Abdul Rahman Ipoh (STAR) or Sekolah Dato Syed Omar Alor Star (SMDSO) rose to the occasion.
I played rugby then and represented the school and the Kedah State XV. At Kirkby Teachers Training College I won the College Colors and represented the College XV when we played against local English Rugby teams 1956 - 1958. Playing the game in England in sometimes near freezing weather and on undulating field alongside strays cows could be daunting. Yet I always experienced a certain euphoria when on the field during the double 40 minutes sessions. On one occasion I traveled to Twikenham London to see the game at what was then the exclusive rugby field in Britain. One exciting experience when we played in Britain was to strip bare and have our warm showers together with both playing team after the game. What a finale!
They call it a gentleman's game. Far from being rough, scary and disorderly as many envisaged it to be. Have you ever seen players mowed down or blood oozing from their faces or bodies? Likely you would spot it in the football field. Then again how many people know and understand the game. Because very few schools in Malaysia play the game now. The die-hards who were rugby players like me have all retired. I had a spate of time coaching school and state players in the 1960's when I was in Brunei and at SMSAH. Alas our playing days are over.
So when the current world cup comes every four years and this being its fifth time since the Webb Ellis appeared on the rugby scene there are surely many fans including old players like me attached to the TV at least. Rugby has remained the active and popular sports in Australia, Fiji, New Zealand,England and South Africa. Argentina, France, Samoa, Scotland and Wales are equally in the same leagues.
When the Quarter Finals begin this Saturday we will see the following nations competing.
6/10/2007 Australia ( Wallabies) vs England venue Marseille
New Zealand ( All Blacks) vs France venue Cardiff
7/10/2007 Republic South Africa ( Springboks) vs Fiji venue Marseille
Argentina (Pumas) vs Scotland venue St. Denis
Hard to predict who will get into the Semis. The Wallabies, Fiji and All Blacks are equally strong and fast. International Rugby players in the competition are in the range of sixth footers and 85 - 105 kg in weight. They can be devastating but agile and fast. The margin of scoring varies. e.g Aus vs Japan 91- 3, Aus vs Fiji 55 - 12; Eng vs USA 28 - 10, RSA vs England 36 -0 ; Eng vs Samoa 44 - 2.
For friends who are new to the game please remember there are 15 players in each side. There is no goal scoring. Players make a try when they crossed the opponent's goal line scoring 5 points. Then a conversion is made with a 'place kick' or a 'drop kick' earning 2 points. A penalty when given and taken successfully earn 3 points. Again the ball must be kicked so that it goes in between the two uprights of the H shape goal post. Players play with hands and feet. The oval ball like 'buah kana' is the object of the 'scrums', 'line outs', 'passing', 'throw in' etc. The ball must be passed backwards. Throwing or passing in front is a fault. The players play in such positions as ' hooker'.'prop'.'lock'. wing forward', '8th man'. 'scrum half', 'fly half', 'side wing', 'centre' and full back'.
Mind you no goalkeepers. Most exciting when a player flies in, diving with the ball after a run through the barriers of opponents. What excitement and relishment. Even after all these years there remain the joy of rugby game.
Enjoy the game and look for the Finals too. The next Rugby World Cup will be played in New Zealand four years from now 2011. Let me know how exciting it is.