In recent months there has been a lot of chatter about what it means to be involved in rugby. Not just the professional game – with its obsession with size as tee-total monsters opt for a trough of protein shakes over pints – but the grass-roots stuff too.
Perhaps it’s because the Rugby World Cup is just over a month away or it’s because we’re in that awkward dead time between major leagues and national competitions in so many sports (with the exception of cricket and athletics of course) that we are forced to reflect. Maybe it’s because we all love patting ourselves on the back.
Whatever the reason, a question keeps swirling round like wasp in your glass of Coke: is there such a thing as rugby culture?
Okay, we will take for granted the character traits instilled from the start of training for all team sports; the camaraderie and dedication to hard work, as well as the sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself while all the time trying to have some bloody fun. We’re talking more about the Culture, with a capital ‘C’. What sets rugby apart?
Well, firstly, if you’ve ever seen hungover students going to the corner shop on any Sunday, you will notice that most of the time they are wearing their Canterbury Stadium Pants. There’s a fashion to rugby that you may only spot if you have the trained eye. For example, if the sun even hints at peaking around a cloud the average rugby player will have the pink shorts out and the flip-flops on.
Summertime for the average rugby player is not just a time to recover from the bumps and bruises of a regular season, but also a chance to go on tour. The magical mystery tour is one of rugby’s finest traditions. Walk into a bookshop and you’ll see a section all of its own dedicated to the memories of ex-internationals, pouring out their tales from tours.
A rugby tour, in short, is a trip to a foreign clime – whether there is a rugby tournament or opposition side there is largely irrelevant – and everyone must adhere to a loose dress code and a shoddy schedule. Because you need a semblance of order before a group of players descends on a continental town and do everything they can to out-do each other in feats of drinking and nonsense.
In years gone by, rugby Culture also meant having a pint in the clubhouse after Thursday training. That’s probably gone the way of the neoprene knee-support as it’s slowly died out in the more ambitious clubs, though some would argue that like that old classic the head-tape, it should come back into fashion. But teams with a strong community feel are always the ones with a jam-packed clubbie on a Saturday after their home games, and those sides tend to do a bit better than the other clubs at their level, who tend to shy away from big shows of togetherness (with or without booze).
More importantly than all of that, though, is that however unpleasant an atmosphere may be to play in as an away side, most rugby clubs do their best to welcome outsiders pre- and post-match. That’s a good Culture to have.
These things are all easily identifiable at any level. If one of these is missing from your side or your rugby mates, though, maybe it’s time to admit you’re doing it wrong.