League vs. Union

This is the first weekend I can remember when the two codes of rugby are playing international games at the same time. Not only that, both England teams have brothers playing for the first time; but for opposite codes.

Its quite difficult to explain a) why there are two codes of rugby and b) what’s the difference between the two. This has been discussed by better more qualified people than me, but I’d like to add my twopennoth to the debate. I’m in quite a unique situation for someone who first played in the 60s, because I have played both codes, a not unusual occurrence these days. At school in Yorkshire, I played rugby league (league) right to representing York boys. We played against Hull boys and were soundly thrashed. So I continued to play league, and then in 1968 I signed on to the Royal Air Force (RAF), and of course sport was very important to young men. On the first sports afternoon, I volunteered to play ‘rugby’, there was no ‘league’ suffix added, but of course in my innocence I didn’t know there was such a thing as rugby union (union). I also didn’t notice that there were two extras players on the field. At that first game, I asked to play second row, my favoured position. At the first ruck (ground tackle) I had the ball and was about to play the ball back, a la league, when I was jumped on by a bunch of the opposing side. Thinking what the hell are they doing, I tried again to play the ball back, with howls of protest coming from the other side. The PTI (referee) blew the whistle, and took me to one side.

‘What do you think you’re doing? he asked.
‘Playing the ball back’ I replied
‘Where did you play rugby, and how many were in the sides you played?
‘In York, and 13 a side – why?’ I replied.
‘Right I think you’d better sit this half out and I’ll explain something’.

So I sat out the rest if the half while it explained to me that:

League has 13 players, union 15
League doesn’t have line outs, union does.
League doesn’t have rucks and mauls, union does.
League scores 4 points for try, union 5
League scores 1 point for a drop goal, union 3
After a tackle league plays the ball back (up to six tackles), union just fights on the ground (ruck) or in the air (maul)

So other than that, rugby is a running handling game played with an oval ball. Then so is Aussie rules, but that is a totally different kettle of fish. So why two codes, and why is league predominant in the North of England, yet union is very much countrywide? Its not now that the union game is professional, there’s been ‘expenses’ in union for years before it turned fully professional. No, the codes will always remain separate, and although to a layman don’t seem that much different from one another, there are many subtle differences, and in my opinion viva la difference and long may it continue. We have room for two codes in this country, in Australia they have both codes and Aussie Rules which also uses an oval ball, and all three games are embraced wholeheartedly. There is of course another oval ball game, American football, but that’s not a real game: discuss.

About cliverh

Retired aerospace engineer, first with the Royal Air Force and then BAE Systems. Now enjoying a variety of activities and not getting bored. I was a Games Maker Volunteer at the London 2012 Olympics and a volunteer at the Rugby World Cup 2015 in England. I was also a volunteer at the 2019 Cricket World Cup in Southampton. I intend to blog about what interests me.
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