Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Rugby Guide articles

Rugby Guide articles

by Wes Clark

I used to write a monthly column for the Rugby Guide site, which is now no longer found on the Internet. Here they are.

My Little Corner of the Scrum (September 1999)
by Wes Clark

Hello; let me introduce myself. My name is Wes Clark, and I play rugby.

Let me qualify that. I've been playing rugby since I discovered Fox Sports World's "Championship Rugby" on TV last year. Other than in the high school stuff I was compelled to do - football, baseball, basketball - I have never played a team sport until rugby came along for me, at age 42. (When I was in high school I was a chess club geek. A kind lady suggests that then I was merely experiencing combat on a more cerebral plane.)

I'm an American; more specifically, a Virginian. (Although I was raised in Los Angeles.) This means I play rugby union, not rugby league, which is unknown here. One of these days I plan to visit the U.K. and see what rugby league is all about.

The position I play - the only position I play - is lock, also called second row. I'm of Homeric proportions (6'4" and 250 pounds), so physically I'm suited for it. I'm also mentally suited for it: for me, the scrum defines rugby more than anything else save for the Webb Ellisian action of running with the ball - which I don't get to do very often. The scrum is unique, and I am content to be in "the engine room." The best thing in rugby for me is the triumphant feeling I get when we're able to make the opposition pack take backwards steps, either in a scrum or a maul. (When you think about it, a maul is just a scrum without the formalities.) After all, a successful scrum fulfills item two of Conan the Barbarian's What-is-best-in-Life: "Crush your enemies, drive them before you, hear the lamentations of the women!"

I'd say the best thing in rugby is making a try, but I haven't made one of those yet. I'll report when I do.

My all-time greatest rugby desire is to play prop - the hands-down best position in rugby. (I'll explain this view in a future article.) But that probably won't happen, for reasons I'll explain in the same future article.

I'm proud to play rugby with the two-fisted toughs of the Western Suburbs Rugby Football Club of Merrifield, Virginia. They taught me how to play. The good aspects of my play I owe to them; the bad stuff is my doing. I currently serve as a club secretary and webmaster; you can see my HTML handiwork at http://www.rugbyfootball.com. (Pretty cool that we were able to get that URL, huh?) My rugby skills aren't likely to instill abject terror in younger, faster and stronger players, but I do want to put together the best club web site on the Internet. But don't take my word for it - see for yourself.

Western Suburbs is a Division II club, which, for you non-U.S. readers, means that while we are competitive with other clubs we have a social side as well. In other words, we're not as intense and committed as Division I clubs, and bigger and somewhat better organized than Division III clubs. I remember reading this statement by a player on a web site: "The only difference between the rugby you play and the U.S. Eagles is commitment." That applies to my club and your club as well.

Suburbs is part of the Mid-Atlantic Rugby Football Union, which encompasses Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia and North Carolina. But, owing to the nature of rugby in the "sleeping giant" U.S., don't take this to mean that we're a wealthy club, or that players here get paid to play rugby. (This is for the benefit of non-U.S. players and coaches who contact us looking for paid positions as players and coaches.) The opposite is true - we pay to play. There are few opportunities to make a living at rugby in the U.S., where the game is still essentially amateur.

I mention this to not only point out that the purer rugby we play here in the States is closer to the game's noble, altruistic roots, but to help mitigate the recent 106-8 drubbing we took at the hands of the professional English. They were probably kinder when they burned the White House in 1814.

Given the major lack of in-depth knowledge I have admitted to above, Brian Reimer, the proprietor of this web site, still wants me to write a monthly rugby article. Obviously, "how-to's" are out of the question. But future topics will include Rugby as Warfare, Men Behaving Badly, Props Rool, The Genius of the English Schoolboy, Rugby Movies, Famous Ruggers, Sevens: Who Needs It? and Electrical Tape as a Fashion Statement. Thanks for listening.

More of Wes Clark's gormless mental meanderings can be found on his rugby web site, "the Rugby Reader's Review."


What makes rugby so addictive?

by Wes "Brigham" Clark
October 1999

Remember that old Saturday Night Live skit, where the two tradesmen meet for lunch and relate doing stupid and painful things to themselves? ("You know how you sometimes stick a Phillips screwdriver into your ear, and then start banging it with a hammer? I hate when that happens.") To many - maybe even most - of the public, rugby must seem like that.

There's a fellow who works with me who physically would seem to make a natural rugger: he works out during lunch and keeps himself fit. What's more, he has an aggressive, assertive attitude and occasionally gets in people's faces. Like me, he used to be in the Marines. Yet, when I occasionally invite him to rugby practice, he acts as if I'm inviting him to stick a Phillips screwdriver in his ear. "Y'all are crazy! I used to know a guy who played rugby. Broke his collarbone, arm and busted up his knee. He still plays! I ain't doin' that!" The reflective part of me (that I normally shut down on the pitch) is thinking he has a point. After all, as I write this I feel twinges of lower back pain from last Saturday's match, and it is only a day or so ago that I could touch my toes without a breathtaking pain stopping me short.

But I wistfully think about the epic conflict that caused that pain at work during meetings, oblivious to the "issues and concerns" being "expressed." (I hate workplace jargon.) We valiant members of Western Suburbs RFC drove four hours south to give the Raleigh, NC RFC a match on their home turf. We traveled light, so Yours Truly found himself playing a-side, or what my high school age lacrosse-playing son would call "varsity." Me. An a-side second row. At age 43. Diagonally-striped club jersey and all. (Note to ambitious b-siders: If you want to play a-side, travel.) Anyway, we weren't expected to win, Raleigh being the local Division II champs last fall. In contrast, our season started poorly with three losses. Deep down inside where we didn't vocalize it, we felt something like sacrificial lambs. But for about 35 glorious minutes in the first half we played rugby as well as they did. They attacked, we countered. We attacked, they countered. For nearly all of the first half neither of us scored, and the realization that we were extending ourselves into something better than we initially thought we were fueled us on, and our gallant captain inspired us by word and example. Then, the tide turned.

Our dashing young fly-half had to go out with a knee injury, and, setting myself up for scrums, I could feel the back injury I sustained during the prior weekend's Old Boys game becoming more painful and insistent. In one scrum, I couldn't push strongly. When we reset, I had difficulty remaining bound and caused my prop to get flung backwards violently. Finally, when I couldn’t even bend down to get into position for a third scrum, I knew I was done for the day. What a disappointment! I painfully limped off the pitch over to the shade, past Raleigh's many onlookers, and popped 1.2 grams (six 200 mg. tablets) of ibuprofen to numb the pain, and slowly sat down at a picnic bench with two women who were pretty much oblivious to the match, discussing children. I suppose in some primitive cultures sitting with the women would have made my humiliation complete, and so it felt.

We lost 6-45; I'm not sure how as I wasn't ambulatory during the second half. And while many of the a-siders manfully recycled to play the required b-side match, I found myself only capable of taking pictures for the club website, and helping to distribute water to players. (The b-side match was a lopsided 0-35 loss.)

But you know what? On my long drive back home with one of the club's stalwart forwards we started sharing notes. We traveled. We stepped up to play the game. Both of them. And while we didn't prevail, we did take a certain degree of satisfaction out of that first half. We felt bested but not beaten. Bloodied but not demoralized. And, personally speaking, I recognized the fact that unlike the great majority of my friends and co-workers, I dared to attempt such a thing. An eight hour roundtrip drive to play perhaps two and a half hours of this grueling game, in one day, at my age? Madness.

So given all this, what's the addiction of this game? The only answer I can come up with is that it must instinctively appeal to men who are genetically wired to do such things. Or, as Abe Lincoln once memorably said, "Those who like this kind of thing will find that this is the kind of thing they like." I was thumbing though an interesting book at the library the other day, entitled "The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence," by Michael P. Ghiglieri. In it, Ghiglieri tries to reason why men commit crimes and wage war. (In addition to other nastiness. There was no chapter on rugby.) The war chapter was interesting. In it, Ghiglieri states that while it is true that men fight for home, love of country, defense, etc., what they're really fighting for is each other and for each other's survival and honor. I saw the quotes that I had seen in other works about war - "We had become brothers, or closer than brothers, the only people that would understand…" - and recognized the truth of the matter as it applies in a limited but associated sense to the game of rugby. There is stuff that goes on during practice and games that we cannot possibly explain at work. It isn't really sport, because bowling, softball or badminton is sport. Rugby is more than that. And after we've survived it, we've accomplished something. We've steeled ourselves, dared the fates, played ourselves to exhaustion and made life more real and much less commonplace. The extreme nature of rugby is what makes it addictive; perhaps the English schoolboys who invented the game were more in touch with that than we are.

A wise man describes the addiction well: "In our country, true teams rarely exist . . . social barriers and personal ambitions have reduced athletes to dissolute cliques or individuals thrown together for mutual profit . . . Yet these rugby players, with their muddied, cracked bodies, are struggling to hold onto a sense of humanity that we in America have lost and are unlikely to regain. The game may only be to move a ball forward on a dirt field, but the task can be accomplished with an unshackled joy and its memories will be a permanent delight. The women and men who play on that rugby field are more alive than too many of us will ever be. The foolish emptiness we think we perceive in their existence is only our own." - Victor Cahn

Oddly enough, I will always have an unshackled joy remembering that match at Raleigh, despite the defeat.


Old Boys will be Boys

by Wes "Brigham" Clark

November 1999

Rugby is tough. Growing old is tougher, and playing rugby at any age above, say, 35, is toughest yet! (Just ask any Old Boy - and even if what I write isn't true, you'd never get an Old Boy to admit it. There's too much credibility at stake - after all, "The older you are, the better you were.")

Old Boys hurt more because we're older. Don't bother describing how much more intense your first side match is, and how much more sore the bruises are - that's immaterial. It's sort of like Farina's comment to a barnyard animal in an Old Gang short: "Chicken, I is four times more tired than you because I is four times bigger than you."

There is something endearing about the sight of middle-aged men "sprinting" down a field with a rugby ball, doing lineouts and scrums. Incredibly, this happens all across America (and elsewhere in the rugby world) daily, as if rugby wasn't one of the world's toughest and most body-damaging sports. What are those old guys thinking?

Well, we're thinking we're young again, and we're regaining the basic joy of running on a field while handling a ball. (And also ritualistically wrapping our heads with electrical tape.) After all, rugby was invented by English schoolboy geniuses; what may have been unexpected is that deep down inside we're still all English schoolboys, the pitch is green and lush, and there's a nice cooling breeze and onlookers interested in watching us play.

My very first rugby match was an Old Boys game between the Western Suburbs' "Suburbs Old Boys" (S.O.B.s) and our arch-rivals, the Poltroons. Apparently sometime in the past the Poltroons wouldn't allow guys from our club to play with them, so we formed an Old Boys side of our own more or less for the express purpose of taking them on. (Nyahh, nyahh!) But the Poltroons are a class act, with an admirable sense of fun. Their jerseys feature a yellow streak down the back, and their club patch features a little beer mug with the motto "Hostile - Senile - Fragile." I was stunned to see one Poltroon out on the field who was described to me as being 65. (As Buzz McClain points out in his sidebar, while remarkable, this is no record.) I would see some more guys in their sixties at subsequent matches, and this has always heartened and inspired me. Perhaps what Ponce de Leon was looking for is actually found on grassy fields all across America.

Old Boys play was described to me as being more light-hearted, recreational and fun. What's more, it's more accommodating to the player who does not attend practice (older men have better things to do). Matches are broken up into three twenty minute periods, with unlimited substitutions and water breaks on very hot days. When this was first described to me by the Old Boys referee encouraging me to learn the game as a 42-year-old, I was heartened. Sounds very fraternal and good-natured, thought I, with nary a bad feeling expressed within the Grand Fellowship of Testosterone.


I can honestly say that a majority of the Old Boys matches I've been in (or heard tell of) included a fight of some sort breaking out! So Rugby Lite it ain't.

What's going on here? Aren't we supposed to mellow as we get older? Apparently ruggers don't. In complete agreement with Dylan Thomas' admonition to "Do not go gentle into that good night," I've found that Old Boys matches are usually more grueling than the b-side matches I generally play. Why?

  1. Old Boys are, on the average, heavier - and it ain't muscle. This extra heft makes pile-ups and scrums unforgettable experiences. If you’re a lock you don't need to worry about getting low if a 290-pound prop is perched on your upper back. The worry is about requiring corrective spinal surgery.
  2. Old Boys can be meaner, no doubt about it. This makes sense as people tend to get crankier and more ornery with age. A-siders usually take a more professional approach to play - Old Boys play as if they're physically working out resentments against insolent, know-it-all teenage sons or formidable wives.
  3. Old Boys often cheat like mad, and are often willfully off-sides. I've haven't figured out if this is due to senility or the "Who cares?" attitude that is often a precursor to retirement.
  4. Not all Old Boys are "old"; around 35 seems to be the entry age. But the admissions standard for Old Boys play that I've seen seems to center on hair. It has to be missing from the top, somewhat gray or growing on one's back. But many Old Boys have kept themselves in pretty good shape. In my first match I was locking with a magnificent physical specimen in his thirties who would have done credit to anyone's a-side. Apparently he was in some career field that allowed him to lift weights when on duty, and the guy was buff. Not mentally all there, but buff. (An ideal combination for rugby.) Also, the Western Suburbs SOB's have a good mixture of former a-siders who can still credibly play a-side. (This is reflected in our current 8 wins-1 loss record over the past three seasons.) One of them - a flanker - is a veritable Mercury, his shock of white hair flying as he bolts down the pitch with those little cartoon whisk lines in his wake. Another SOB, a back, claims he's "…still the fastest guy in the club," and our coach affirms he's probably right.
  5. Every Old Boy is a referee, and has the experience and assertiveness to point out where and when infractions of the laws have taken place. This makes Old Boys play an often talky experience. I think if I were a ref, presiding over an Old Boys match would be something I wouldn't look forward to.

What's more, there seems to be a lot of kicking in an Old Boys match - very little of it any good. After all, if you're badly out of breath and the ball is within reach, why bend over to pick it up when you can simply kick it and turn the game into a soccer match?

Back to our arch-rivals, the Poltroons. It quickly dawned on me that there existed some real resentment for them, simmering just below the surface. In one circle-up during yesterday's match (which we won 17-5, by the way), there was a brief mention of getting and giving "the boot," which I found somewhat unseemly coming from guys in their 30's and 40's. At the time I could imagine two little translucent rugby players perched on my shoulders, each whispering in an ear. The one on the right said, "Now, Brother Brigham, rugby is a game for gentlemen, and gentlemen don't take out their aggressions by trying to maim other gentlemen. Besides, what kind of an example is this for your teenage son? And when in your life have you ever desired to cause physical pain to your brother man?" The other little rugger was dressed in a scarlet jersey with a horned scrum cap and yelled, "Give 'em the boot! Give 'em the boot!" The pack instinct runs high on these occasions - especially if you’re a forward - and it's difficult for one to emphasize the better angels of one's nature; which sort of sums up rugby in a nutshell, doesn't it?

So, there we have it. Geezers beating the Kapok out of themselves and each other in a way that would do the English schoolboys who invented the game proud. Old Boys: Your future in rugby!

A Bit of Old Rome

The oldest rugby player I've ever seen was in a match I refereed in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was part of the Golden Oldies Rugby Festival, where some 4,000 players - all of them over 35 - congregated for a week of revelry and devilry.

He was Italian, and showed up at the tournament wearing a Roman Legion gladiator tunic and feathered helmet. He was 96. He wore purple shorts during the match against an Australian side; the purple is the Golden Oldies signal that he is over 65 and is not allowed to be touched - not just not tackled or held, but not touched at all. You get brittle with age, but this guy was robust and seemingly flexible. That's what a lifetime of rugby will do for you.

He scored a try during the match. He stepped onto the pitch once his team managed to get the ball to the 22 and they handed it to him. As no score is kept, this infraction meant nothing. The members of the other team, in a wonderful demonstration of sportsmanship, dashed in front of him and he proceeded to "knock them backward" with a stiff arm. All 15 players fell to the floor as he went in-goal to ground the ball. He bent toward the ground slowly, an inch at a time, and that's how my arm went up to signal the try, in tiny increments that seemed to take a full minute. When the whistle went, a cheer went up from both sides of the field - truly a heart-warming moment.

He scored twice that day.

Buzz McClain

More of Brigham's senility is on display at his rugby web site, "the Rugby Reader's Review."


Ho, ho, ho - it's the Front Row!

by Wes "Brigham" Clark

December 1999

It's that time again, when our thoughts are turned to quiet evenings at home by the fire, gift-giving and the spirit of the season. Perhaps December is most fully characterized by that jolly fellow with the twinkle in his eye, who wears a reddened nose and bears a protuberant tummy that shakes like Jell-O.

I am, of course, referring to the prop forward.

Props rule, no doubt in my mind. I once saw a tee-shirt that sums it all up: "Beer was invented to keep props from ruling the world." While it is true they are rarely in a position to score the tries that are the most celebrated and commented-upon part of rugby, props are indispensable. After all, is there anything more characteristic of rugby than the scrum? You can't have a scrum without props, and who would want a life without rugby? In fact, the two positions in the front row - prop and hooker - are the only ones defined as requiring training and experience. According to requirements, spare props - in case of injury - must be on hand for an international side to continue play. Sure, an untrained, inexperienced fly-half or fullback might make a shambles of play, but at least the game can continue.

And yet, props seem to get little respect. In fact, one of my club's props is a constant source of humor, both in what he has done in the past and speculating upon what he could do in the future. (Under certain circumstances simply mentioning his name provokes smiles.)

I once discussed the respect issue with a fellow who stated it's because physically, props closely resemble fireplugs or beer kegs - and this makes people smile. Another prop assures me it's because the gentlemen in his profession are associated with the humorous fat sidekicks in American humor: Oliver Hardy and Lou Costello are two such examples. John Belushi was clearly the funnier Blues Brother. And to complete the circle, would you be entirely surprised to know that Chris Farley once played prop? It's true.

I will admit to being a wanna-be prop. One of my first exposures to rugby was one of those U.S. Rugby newsletter mailings. This one had a photo of the Eagles front row setting up before a scrum, with the caption, "The Eagles front row - tough men to the front." When I saw that a little "bing!" happened in my head - the same "bing!" that led me to enlist in the Marines when I was 18. (I also considered the Air Force and the Army, but I knew some day I would want to be able to say that I was a Marine.) So, mentally, I'm a prop. Forget fly-half, full-back and all those other glorious, try-making positions - my greatest rugby desire is to play prop. But... being a wise man of advancing years, I can read the writing on the wall. Every prop I have spoken to about this says, for me, it is a real bad idea. I'm too tall and/or too old. (One grizzled old prop in my club gives it as his opinion that all the really good front rowers, like Sean Fitzpatrick, have 20" necks. While I can grow the neck - I'm at 17 1/2 inches already - I recognize that it is a bad idea.) My long legs are too well-suited to locking. So I play lock.

Props are often immediately distinguishable from their fellow players. So much so, that I've created a little mental game for myself called "Spot the Prop." Since rugby is not yet the universal game it should be, there are a lot of people out there who are natural props but just don't know it. Not following me? Well, since a picture speaks a thousand words, let's use a few. "Spot the Prop" is a game I created for my club's website.

Enough of my speculations. Let's hear from a couple of literate props. (Yes, there is such a thing.)

There's a fellow in England who has written, I think, the absolute last word on propping. His name is Ian Diddams, and he plays for Devizes RFC in England; he calls himself "Didds." He also calls himself "the World's Only Literate Prop Forward." John "Montana" Thomas - another prop - has called him something better: "the Mark Twain of the Front Row." With his permission I have collected his writing and posted it here, but for now you should read what he has to say about props, in his Prop's Guide.

So there we have it, the prop. Instead of slagging the fellow off, follow Didds' recommendation and buy him a pint. Or, better yet, since it's December, leave him a couple of cookies on a plate with a note thanking him for his efforts.

Brigham plays lock - sort of - for the Western Suburbs RFC in Merrifield, Virginia. More of his foolish speculations can be found on Brigham's rugby web site, "the Rugby Reader's Review."


Written in the waning days of 1999 by Rugby Futurist and Visionary Wes "Brigham" Clark

Rugby as we know it is about to change. We stand on the threshold of a bold new era, fraught with technical innovation that can only benefit the game we all love.
In the Year 2000...

  • Innovations in superconductive microcircuits woven into jerseys will make possible the personal force field, which will interact with the magnetic field of the earth to create cushier tackles, allowing players to play longer without fear of body-injuring impacts to the ground. Since players' personal force fields will interact to create repulsive fields, pads will become a thing of the past.
  • A blessing to second row players will be the introduction of Bike's new Front Row Odor-No Jockstrap. The cotton jock contains micro-cell mist generators, which continuously spray Mennen's patented new ultra-deodorant formulation, which entirely nullifies the smell of front row players. The scrum becomes a more pleasant, odor-free environment.
  • Jerseys, shorts, compression shorts, jockstraps and rugby socks will be woven with high-tech controllably-transparent material, allowing the player to zulu at will while remaining warm and dressed, thus preserving the frequent public nudity that so characterizes the game of rugby.
  • The advanced Y2K scrum cap will be composed of fluid cells in addition to the usual padding. These cells can be filled with restorative fluids (water, carb drink or Guinness) that can be fed to players via tubes terminated in the mouth by porous mouthguards. All a player need do to become instantly refreshed is suck on his teeth. (Models fitted with teeth can be supplied to Old Boys.)
  • Mitre will introduce the Y2K rugby boot, the Mitre PosiTrac Barbarian. Advances in micromotor and ground sensing technology will allow infinitely controllable, shock absorbing telescopic studs to be fitted to soles. This will allow continuously varying stud lengths optimized to pitch conditions, load and velocity. (On hard pitches studs will shorten; upon sensing mud, studs will lengthen to the full 1 1/2" PosiTrac position. At a full sprint studs will retract to increase surface area contact in much the same way the F-111's wings retract into its fuselage.) Shin splints and sore ankles will be relics of a distant age.
  • Drunken players will no longer have to fear wetting themselves since bio-mechanical micropumps and fluid evaporation systems will make the nickname "Puddles" a thing of the past. Urine evap systems will also be a blessing to players during games. (Used in conjunction with Mennen's high tech ultra-deodorant.)
  • Rugby balls will also benefit from Y2K engineering. The Gilbert Auto-Flite will contain yaw, spin and pitch sensors that control extendable fins and microjets, thus ensuring that penalty or conversion kicks get slotted between the posts every time. Now mediocre kickers will be able to walk off the pitch with pride, knowing that his kicks made points contributions to his side's score.
  • Microjet and voice recognition technology will also be used to create jet-assisted overtake and tackle boots. Now all an exhausted defending player need do is cry out "Go go gadget jets!" to rapidly overtake and make a try-saving tackle on the ball carrier.
  • Conformably soft but stiff space age materials will be used for Y2K goalposts, removing the need for goalpost pads. Ball sensors in the uprights can trigger audible signals that take the guesswork out of touch judging during kicks at goal.
  • Conventional pitches will be replaced with Scott's UltraPitch 2000, which not only contains smart sensing micropumps that wick away excess water and mud, but create kicking tees upon demand anywhere on the field. Also, embedded liquid crystals and high-intensity LED's can be used to display scores, sponsors' logos or public announcements (humorous or otherwise) on the pitch.
  • The smart scrum sled will contain microchips and sensing devices that enable it to determine impact location and force. Digital signal processors can be used to create high volume motivating announcements, such as "Get your butts lower!' or "How about you flankers pushing for a change?"
  • Stealth technology currently used to develop radar-absorbing and reflectance materials can be modified to create visible wavelength-absorbing and reflectance fabric for jerseys and kit. The New Zealand All-Blacks could become the Year 2K All-Gones, for example.
  • Lime and spray paint for marking lines on the pitch will be replaced by high intensity laser beams. Players venturing into touch will be sensed and marked by the release of paintballs, thus removing guesswork and the need for touch judges.
  • Perhaps the greatest improvement will be that the "utility back" gets replaced by the "utility rugger." Medical advances will make possible the interchangeable head, allowing players who were formerly backs to exchange bodies with players who were formerly forwards, and vice versa. Now, when a prop wants to know what it's like being a fleet-footed fullback he need only exchange heads. An added benefit is the improvements in cultural understanding that result from dissimilar players exchanging bodies with one another. For instance, Frenchmen can exchange bodies with Englishmen. Englishmen can exchange bodies with Welshmen. Most provocatively, male ruggers can exchange heads with female ruggers.

There are obviously many new improvements to the game occasioned by the use of innovative emerging technologies. I'm sure I'm not the only visionary in rugby - perhaps you can think of a few yourselves!


Rugger my Pleasure

by Wes "Brigham" Clark

February 2000

Background: There is a funny - if somewhat grumpy - fellow writing rugby-related articles who calls himself Master William Webb Ellis. (If you’re going to use a pseudonym, get a well-known one, I guess.) His monthly column is entitled "A Fine Disregard" - obviously after the famous inscription over the original William Webb Ellis' grave. In December of 1999 he called for essays for a contest entitled "Who really won the 1999 Rugby World Cup and Why?" I entered it and won a tee shirt, some rugby programs and a book. You can read all about it here if you want, but I hereby thank US Eagle Juan Grobler for not only scoring the only try against the world champion Wallabies, but scoring me a free tee shirt as well.

Webb Ellis, knowing that I'm an Anglophile, threw the book in with the tee shirt as a kind gesture; he mentioned that he found it for a small sum at a used bookseller. Books like this are much more common in the U.K. than here in the U.S., but I think if he knew what it was that he was giving away he'd have second thoughts!

The book is entitled Rugger my Pleasure. Yes, I know… funny name. It's by A.A.Thomson and was published by the Sportsmen's Book Club of London in 1957.

1957. In America, couples were having children in record numbers, for this was the peak of the so-called "baby boom." In Los Angeles my mother was changing the diapers of her year-old son, me. In England, it was a time of postwar austerity, Ealing comedies, Powell and Pressburger films and the skiffle fad (a British variation of bluegrass and American folk). John Lennon and Paul McCartney met in 1957, so their part in the social upheavals of the 1960's, when London became "swinging" and the whole world aped Carnaby Street fashion, was just beginning. (In this year John's Aunt Mimi famously said, "John, the guitar is all very well but you'll never make a living by it.") In 1957 David Lean and Alec Guinness had defined the British professional soldier for the world in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai." Only five years prior, Queen Elizabeth II was crowned and presided over a whittled-down empire that, in many ways, still resembled what was in place for the previous hundred years.

As this charming book makes evident, back in those days there was rugby and rugger. I'm not entirely certain of the details, but there seems to be the class distinction between the two that seems to be evident in nearly every part of British life. Rugby was a rough and tumble, more working class (we call it "blue collar") game that was perhaps a notch up in distinction from rugby league. Rugger was a more aristocratic game, characterized by thrilling tries scored by dashing wing threequarters (in the US, wingers), who seemed to dominate the game. In one episode of television's the Avengers, the polished and gentlemanly John Steed was accused of being a scrum-half, and replied that he played wing-threequarters. Get the reference now?

In fact, one wing-threequarters who played for the England side was an honest-to-goodness prince: the Russian Prince Obolensky. But he was not alone in distinction. In this wistful little book from a bygone era, A.A. Thomson describes the world-class players of the Twenties and Thirties, and even earlier. He maintains that they were all noble fellows, and it seems they were. While they weren't as fast, strong or as athletic as modern, scientifically-trained professional players - the photographs indicate that few of them are what we would call well-muscled today - they played for sheer love of the game, and were not paid. There is a certain virtue in being an accomplished amateur, as this book makes clear.

A touching part of this book is mention of how many ruggers died in two world wars. The hero of Thomson's youth and a mighty man of valor, R.W. Poulton (the "R" is for Ronald; all those early players had initialized first names), died with his regiment in 1915. Of him, Thomson writes: "A beautiful player, a character of the highest integrity, one of 'the loveliest and the best.' With his fair hair and his fleet limbs, he might have stood as a symbol of the heart of England, of Rupert Brooke's generation, of the golden young men who died faithfully and fearlessly in a war where much that was of value beyond price in an imperfect world perished, too." The names Lambert, Maclear, Bedell-Sivright, R.A. Gerrard, V.G. Davies, L.A. Booth, C.C. Tanner, B.H. Black, M.J. Turnbull and too many others who died in wars are mostly unknown to us now, but to A.A. Thompson each was a gallant gentleman and gets his proper mention. Prince Obolensky, too, died in a war-related aviation accident in 1940.

Reading this book is often a sad kind of thing, like watching one of those Masterpiece Theatre productions set in England in the period between world wars. In 1957 the institutions of British society were still more or less intact. There will always be a respect for tradition, of course, but there is also a growing sense that things will never again be as good as they were before, and that something noble and hard-to-define has been lost. It is occasionally wistful: "The players you saw when you were a boy are the ones you remember best; they are touched with a bright magic and you still see them by an enchanted glow. This might be a question of relativity, or merely a sentimental memory. The good old days occurred when you or I were young, whatever your age or mine may be now."

What especially stuck me about this book was its tone and sense of decency. It was written by a gentleman for other gentlemen to read. Nowadays, vulgarity and appeals to the baser emotions are all too common in society - especially in rugby. (I was once surprised to see an explicit Hustler-style cartoon appear in a local club's sevens tournament booklet. I may be accused of being a prude, but I thought this was inappropriate.) While it may be argued modern society is freer, it is also true that, once again, something of value to society has been lost.

Another underlying theme in this book is Thomson's idea of an epic nobility of manhood, which consists of exchanging fair blows and rough play, only to strengthen bonds of friendship and respect afterwards. (This reflects an old tradition in English literature, and can be traced to Robin Hood and Friar Tuck standing on a log bridge battering each other with oaken staves, or Robin and King Richard exchanging punches. Even King Arthur and Lancelot jousted and fought with each other before becoming best friends.) In modern, post-feminist America, such notions are regarded as being shamefully aggressive and embarrassingly male - but Thomson and his British society of the late-Fifties knew better. Back then men were men.

As much as I would like to recommend Rugger My Pleasure, I cannot, for it is probably long out of print. However, you can read a chapter from it if you like. Chapter two is entitled "Unhistorical Survey"; Thomson's take on rugby history. I liked it so much I scanned it for my rugby website. You can read it by clicking here.

More of Brigham's babbling is on display at his rugby web site, "the Rugby Reader's Review."


Famous Ruggers

March 2000

This article can be found here.


The MatchMeter

April 2000

This article can be found here.


May 2000

"All day long" - For the next 80 minutes or less, depending on if this is said at the beginning of the match or during half-time. It illustrates an interesting time-dilation property of rugby, wherein two 40-minute halves can seem like an entire day. (An example is, "We can run the ball off the base all day long.")

"At pace" - Doing whatever it is you’re doing while gasping badly for air.

"Ball's out!" - You can stop kicking, hitting, biting and shoving now.

Boots - Studded sneakers.

Charge down the ball - Why old rugby players have arthritis in their knuckle joints.

"Forwards don't kick!" - What onlookers sometimes chant after a forward's really awful kick. I have heard a really bad one referred to specifically as "a flanker's kick" once in televised rugby.

"Get behind the kicker!" - He's sensitive about others getting into the photograph.

"Get lower, second row!" - This is what loose forwards say when they want to be helpful in the scrum. Pushing harder themselves doesn't seem to suggest itself as a remedy.

"Good game!" - What is automatically said to members of the opposing side at the conclusion of the match. Whether or not it was a satisfactory game is another matter entirely.

Hoik - A verb describing when a rugger jams a finger into one nostril and forcibly sends air out the other, clearing the nasal passage of debris and providing people standing on the sidelines with a Kodak Moment.

Hrk - The noise a player makes when being high-tackled.

"It ain't a round ball." - A defensive statement that explains why you didn't catch that wildly bouncing ball. Or, after a loss, an attempt to explain the ways of Dame Fortune. Or, an attempt to explain life itself. Japanese Prime Minister and former rugger Yoshiro Mori once said: "Life is like a rugby ball. You never know in what direction it will bounce next!"

"Make a target" - Show the ball-thrower your open hands so that he can throw to them. This way, if you miss catching it, it's not your fault.

Motley - Anything other than the First XV. This word has an association with foolishness, but I'm not sure how to describe it.

"Pack's right (or left)!" - A good way to irritate the forwards. When most of them are on the right, call "pack's left!" and vice versa.

"Pass flat" - Make the guy you’re passing to have to accelerate to catch the ball. This way he can get a higher velocity flattening by the opposition tackler.

"Put a name on it!" - An exhortation to loudly proclaim that you’re going to attempt to catch the ball at kick-off when it comes your way, thereby giving yourself all the embarrassment in trying to catch it.

Rugby Queen - The players' attempt to turn the clock back to the good old days before feminism and political correctness.

Sin bin - Where a player has to cool his heels for assuming that rugby was sanctioned by the World Wrestling Federation.

Sir - What players call the ref when they know they're on dodgy ground.

"Tackle low!" - Prepare for a kneecap in your eye socket.

"Thank you <fill in the kicker's name>" - What is said to the player (usually a back) who makes a successful clearing or penalty kick. He is the only person to be verbally thanked during the course of a match. Never mind that the forwards may have turned their larger bones into shards to retain possession, the kicker gets thanked for abusing a little inflated leather ball. I hope he appreciates it.

"They were the better team on the day." - They beat the crap out of us when we didn't expect them to, but we still think they suck.

"What goes on tour stays on tour." (a.k.a. "Rule #42") - I plan to cheat on my wife or girlfriend. Might get some bodily fluids (my own or someone else's) on myself, too.

Wheels - Legs. This metaphor usually falls apart under scrutiny. (If a human being has "wheels," where is his stick shift? Never mind.)

"Who wants it?" - A metaphorical question asked at kick off. The idea is that one is supposed to burst down the field and wrest the ball from one of fifteen guys, all of whom have other ideas on the matter.

"With you!" - Give me the ball, stupid.


Cranky Season

by Wes "Brigham" Clark

June 2000

As I type this, my eyes are itching and watery, and the part of my eyes that are normally white are red. A long string of mucous is trailing from my nose to the keyboard, causing my figures to slip on the surface of the keys. It's pollen season here in Virginia, folks, and although I've been assured that the pollen count is low, there is something growing out there that is driving my immune system nuts. Grass, some sort of tree… who knows? This never happened to me when I lived in Southern California.

So if I seem cranky, this is one reason why.

But the crankiness I wish to discuss is mental or emotional. It's late May and the end of spring season, you see, and the only rugby to be had through the summer is Sevens, which I will return to in a moment.

Have I mentioned that I used to do Civil War reenacting? Nowadays rugby takes the place of reenacting, when I used to dress up in blue or gray wool uniforms (mine was Union blue) and show up for reenacted battles on historic sites all across the country (but primarily on the Eastern Seaboard). Traditionally, the season ends in November, and the usual last event is a memorial parade at Gettysburg. Then reenactors would have to put their stuff away until April. I used to run a Civil War reenacting Internet list, and one of the members identified Late October-November as "cranky season," when buffs seemed to get short-tempered, being deprived of their hobby and the company of their pards.

I know that in April, when the first big events begin, just being out in the field with the sights, sounds, smells once again gave me reason to celebrate.

Cranky season happens in rugby, too. John "Montana" Thomas - a big prop who is something of an advocate of the position - noted the end-of-spring-season blues to me. He thinks summer is when, "…the big beasts of burden are put out to stud during the summer, when they go through a bit of depression and shock because of their lack of activity. Sevens is fascist and backs control the game."

My beefy friend continues: "After my 1996 rugby spring with the Denver Highlanders we ended the season with a tour to Missoula, Montana and the Maggotfest. The tournament was a lot of fun. Several of the guys ventured up to the Unibomber's cabin and posed with FBI agents. We won the tournament and returned to Denver victorious, and we all met during the following weeks and retold our stories of conquest at McNichols Arena. The Colorado Avalanche, Denver's new hockey team, was in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and we had several seats for the series. When the Avalanche won the cup, our rugby team partied and had a great time. Then the depression set in. There was no more 15's. No more hockey. All there was was loneliness. Okay, a bit melodramatic, but honestly, I call the two months of summer the Post Rugby Depression. There is little structure. You don't hang out with your mates as much as you once did."

Rugby makes something that most people look forward to - the summer season - into a time for depression!

I will admit to having no interest in Sevens rugby at all. To me, it isn't even rugby. It's a bunch of backs running about for short periods of time. Track and field, in other words. Eh. Frankly, I don't care how fast they can run, or how many points somebody can score in two seven minute periods. If I want to watch guys dashing about in a field, I'll go watch a lacrosse game and see them hitting each other with sticks while doing so. Soccer? Good fitness practice for rugby, but that's about it. Baseball? Boring. Football? Ditto. (I can't believe how much rest those guys get, compared to rugby!) But clearly, I digress.

Montana, being an inventive sort, came up with a solution for the cranky season: "I invented the WHORS (Washington Handsome Overweight Rugby Side) and this year's team, the USSR (United Socialist Sluts of Rugby). I needed a 15's fix mid summer. So I figure I can survive June and hold off until July 7 to do my rugby thing. Then it's only three weeks till 15s starts again!"

Hope springs eternal.

As for me, being somewhat older than Montana I'll spend the summer doing family stuff, sitting out by the pool eating pizza and dreading the first practice of fall season. Trying to keep up with guys half one's age is enough to make anyone cranky.

More of Wes Clark's feeble writing can be found on his rugby web site, "the Rugby Reader's Review."


Rugby Movies

July 2000


501(c)(3) for your Rugby Club

by Wes "Brigham" Clark

August 2000

For years, now, the officers and members of my rugby club - Western Suburbs RFC - have considered incorporation to gain certain benefits to our club and its members. (Namely, legal protection as a corporation and the tax deduction benefits of tax-exempt status with the Internal Revenue Service.) This hasn't been done because of a belief that filing the paperwork requires several thousands of dollars and assistance from a lawyer.

The fact is, the appropriate paperwork can be filed using the forms and guides provided by online sites maintained by your state government and the Internal Revenue Service. In our case, the state agency was the Virginia State Corporation Commission. For your state, you need to find your state's web site, and then do a search under an appropriate term, say "incorporation." My guess that you'll find the information you need there.

I learned an interesting fact in the process of getting our club incorporated: did you know that something like a third of all US corporations are incorporated through the state of Delaware? As it turns out, the laws there are favorable for that sort of thing. Anyway, the likelihood is that unless you plan to sell shares of stock or employ people you can just as easily incorporate with your own state, so you should start by investigating there.

For us, the first step was to incorporate Western Suburbs as a domestic, not-for-profit corporation in the State of Virginia. Then, I filled out the necessary paperwork to be granted tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. (The IRS publication 557, "Tax-Exempt Status for your Organization" describes the process and paperwork. You can obtain a copy of this online by going to the IRS site and doing a search.)

There are a number of direct benefits for a rugby club to become a 501(c)(3) corporation:
  • In the case of legal action involving the club, individual members may not be sued. The corporation is the legal entity that would have to be sued. This protects the members.
  • Any money donated to the 501(c)(3) corporation is tax-deductible. This should enable us to raise money for operating funds more easily, and perhaps help us to find sponsorship. (Possibly a corporate sponsor.)
  • Allowed expenses (donations, kit, etc.) and the mileage you drive to take part in rugby activities may be deducted at income tax time, if you file the long forms and deduct expenses. The value of your time, however, is not deductible. (Note: I am not a professional tax preparer and this is not to be taken as tax advice. Consult your own tax preparer or do your own research!)
  • Incorporation brings with it a certain amount of credibility and prestige with the public who is not familiar with rugby (or is content to accept the negative stereotypes).
Benefits bring responsibilities. Your club treasurer should give you a receipt for any donation you make to the club for your tax records. Also, as a corporation, your club should prepare income tax forms every April. While this is not currently necessary until it manages to raise more than $25,000 in the previous taxable year, it is a good idea. So the treasurer the club elects every December is an important person, and must be responsible. Also, your club may need to pay a yearly fee to the state in order to maintain a corporate status. (In Virginia it's a nominal $25 fee to the State Corporation Commission.)

So what kind of experience was this, and do you need to possess a keen, legal mind to get through it all? No. Persistence and an ability to read directions are basically what's required. 

By the way, all forms and correspondence become public. This is not a big deal as far as the official paperwork is concerned, but if you don't like junk mail, beware. As the incorporator I get all sorts of small-business-related mail, which, after it annoys my wife, goes directly into the circular file.

Good luck!


Brigham's rugby web site is "the Rugby Reader's Review."

After this the Rugby Guide ceased to exist.

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