Rugby is a game loved by its millions of fans — and foreign to almost everyone else. Those who aren't fans tend not to know much about how the game is played, what the rules are, and what traditions are followed. Every aspiring rugby fan should be aware of etiquette, especially when attending a contest in a place with strong rugby traditions such as the United Kingdom.
It's not football
When I say that "Rugby isn't football," I mean it's neither American football nor soccer, which is called football everywhere else. Both kinds of football have fan bases who follow different rules of decorum than what you will see at a rugby match. For one thing, American and English football crowds are a little more rowdy than is typical at a rugby match. Here are a few differences you should know.
The referee is right
That might sound like sport heresy to some fans. You will frequently hear soccer or American football audiences booing a bad call or chanting about the referee. However, it's bad taste at rugby matches. You just accept the decision and move on. If you question a call from the stands, you are likely to get disapproving looks from those around you.
Noise during a kick
Much like a tennis tournament is expected to go quiet when a player is serving, making noise during opposition kicks at a rugby game is looked down upon. It's a good thing I was already aware of that when I attended my first rugby event at Twickenham Stadium, England's national rugby stadium.
Learn the basics
There's nothing wrong with being new to a game. My wife is from Europe, and I'd never realized how complicated baseball could be until I tried explaining it to an adult who had never been exposed. Rugby is just as foreign to many sports fans. While it's fine to ask questions, being clearly and loudly ignorant or deriding the game because it's different are in very bad form. It's a good idea to ask a friendly fan or look up the rules before you go.
You will hear terms like "scrum," "maul," and "ruck" to describe different types of play. Scores are called tries, penalty kicks, and conversions. The field is called the pitch and touchlines are the boundaries. For more rugby terms you should know, see the Rugby Union's glossary of terms.
Applaud a great play by the other team
This is another idea some American fans will find hard to fathom. If a player on the team you aren't supporting completes a great play, it's quite acceptable to applaud the play. You don't want to be as excited as when cheering your own side, but polite acknowledgment is common.
Go have fun at a game
If you know a little about the game, are open to new experiences, and have a passion for good sporting events at a live venue, a rugby match can be lots of fun. Who knows? You might just become an avid fan.
Britain offers many opportunities to see rugby. Get game information from the Rugby Football Union (the national governing body for rugby in England), the Welsh Rugby Union or the Scottish Rugby Union for information on British clubs and schedules.
Check the Six Nations schedule for great international action.
by Jeff Musall
Top: Rugby action during a Wales vs. Argentina game. (Photo by Andrew Orchard/VisitBritain)