Written by: Daniel Fernandez
I am known at Harbord as ‘that guy with the beard on the rugby team’, or something along those lines. I have tried to recruit pretty well everyone I’ve talked to for the team I love, but most people decide they aren’t interested in playing. ‘I don’t know man it seems kind of dangerous not wearing any padding or equipment’. I find this answer quite frustrating as an ex-football player. It’s assumed the inch and a half to two inches of plastic between you and your opponents protects unfailingly, giving people a sense of indestructibility. While padding does protect placers to a certain extent, the mindset that comes along with it can be detrimental to footballers. It leads people to believe that they’re invincible and immune to injury from the dangerous plays they make. The high impact collisions we see in football games at the high school level of play have damaging effects on body and brain. It’s not to say that Rugby Union doesn’t see its share of big hits, but the fundamental difference is that players are more careful as to how fast they’re going at the point of impact, and are more aware of their body positioning since nobody wears any padding. A rugby tackle utilizes your opponent’s forward momentum against them and brings them to the ground quickly and efficiently. A football tackle is comparable to two large trains on the same set of tracks moving at top speed towards one another, crashing in an epic display of violence and aggression.
I played football competitively for a couple of years before I joined a rugby club. I was playing a game out in a rural area, and after the hand shake there was standoff between my team and theirs. Our team was talking smack to them and vice versa, and things started escalating quickly. The situation defused when the referees separated two teams and sent us on our way. A similar situation happened in Hamilton, if I remember correctly. At one point our whole bench ran out on to the field in an intense pushing and shoving match. This is a very rare occurrence in rugby. We’re indifferent before the game, at war during the game, and after we are all back to being friends. On one occasion last year playing for Harbord as the Hooker (a position) for 7’s, I said ‘I’m hungry… anyone down for a pizza after?’ as we were lining up for a scrum engagement. I had directed this at my teammates lining up beside me. The response I got astounded me. Players from the other team said they were up for pizza after the game. When the final whistle blew we shook hands and began socializing with the opposing team. A group of us all hung out to eat pizza they were selling at the field; players from both team. You just wouldn’t see that in football.
Rugby is about community, and is just as much about the friendships you build as it is about playing the game. To paraphrase a great of mine: ‘It doesn’t matter where you go in the world, what language you speak, or where you come from. If you join a rugby club anywhere, you will have at least 20-30 people who are friends, potential hook-ups for jobs and people to stay with.’ This is very true, and is something you simply don’t get in football.