So you want to watch rugby, but you’re a wimpy North American…

November 6, 2011

The field looks chaotic.  Carry the ball across the line to score 5 points, kick the ball through the uprights for 2 or 3 points; but where is the ball?  It is under the bodies.  The whistle sounds; why?  It is often difficult to tell, and not just for novices.  Learning rugby can be confusing and even overwhelming, although it seems as simple as most sports when broken down.  The biggest difference between rugby and North American sports is that you pass the ball backwards not forwards.  Canadian comedian Rick Mercer recently spent some time with that country’s team just back from the world cup and nicely explained and demonstrated the basics.

The Rugby World Cup began in 1987, though the Six Nations Championship, centered in the United Kingdom, started back in 1883.  The World Cup is one of the largest sporting events in the world, and the tournament lasts about two months. The first month is pool play and the second month is the playoffs.  20 teams make it to the World Cup of the 93 teams around the world with an official ranking.  This year both the United States and Canada made it, though Argentina was the only South American team (they made it to the first round of the playoffs before being beaten by New Zealand). There are many teams from Europe, some from Africa and many from Oceana. Canada has only once made it to playoff round in 1991.

When they land, you find out what the helmets and ear-wraps are for.

The Rugby World Cup tournament is organized into 4 pools with 5 teams in each. The first two teams in each pool advance to playoffs. However, there are also advantages to coming third in the pool. This had been the Canadian goal, which they were not able to meet, in part due to Tonga’s upset win against France (the French advanced anyway to finish second in the tournament). Both Canada, ranked 13th,  and the United States, 17th, are expected to make it to the next world cup. There should also be a chance for some north American players to get more experience on the world stage with the introduction of sevens rugby into the Olympics set for 2016.

Hopefully there will be some time devoted to showing the games on North American television. TSN did a good job with coverage this world cup in Canada, playing not just Canadian games and the playoffs but many of the regular pool play games as well.  In the small little pre and post game shows the commentators were optimistic about the future of rugby in this part of the world. In a culture where sport does seem to flourish hopefully there is room for one more.  After all, big league rugby has never had a ‘work stoppage.’  That’s for whiny, sniveling . . . well; not rugby players.

Kira Burt is a working towards a Masters Degree in History and a full-contact pick-up game.

Ain’t no Saints in Toronto

May 13, 2011

Toronto must be a nearly perfect city.  Nearly perfect, except for its lack of an NFL team to call its own.  Otherwise, why would a Toronto city councilor, and brother to the mayor, be sounding off about bringing in a franchise?  Surely if there were issues related to crime, or the economy, or social services, they would take precedence over a second professional football team.  Wouldn’t they?

Unfortunately for the mayor’s brother, and the mayor’s brother’s brother, Toronto is not getting an NFL team.  Not unless the Bills count, and in a certain sense Toronto already has them, and has since the previous mayor signed a 5 year deal.  That’s as far as it goes though.  This year, next year, and every year for the foreseeable future (go ahead and read that as ‘ten years minimum’).  Some people argue otherwise, but they are simply ignorant, as shown below.

The mayor’s brother’s plan involves either a new stadium built without public money, along with (get this) a monorail.  Don’t worry though, he has a backup plan, which involves simply dynamiting another few hundred feet out of the bottom of the Skydome (which he keeps calling the ‘Rogers Centre’) to add over ten thousand seats.  The number he mentions would make the stadium smaller than most current league stadiums.  Again, he does not offer city funds, just hilarious suggestions.

The coup de grace for this round of nonsense is the suggestion that the Jaguars and Saints might be moved, while neither is for sale.  Sometimes teams are not for sale but in fact they actually may be for sale, if you know what I mean.  The Saints and Jaguars are just not for sale.  Ford has already apologized to a newspaper in Louisiana for even daring to suggest that such a move was possible.

There are a lot of other barriers to an NFL team being owned and operated outside of the U.S.A.  In Toronto, no known buyer exists.  The internet peanut gallery’s favorite suggestion is media giant Rogers, but as a corporation Rogers is not eligible, according to league rules, to own a team.  The other main barriers, aside from no team, no stadium and no owner, are differences in the tax code and advertising considerations, which are referred to here and here.  Of course the show stopper is that Toronto’s little audition with the NFL has gone poorly.

In conclusion, Toronto is perfect now, except for its lack of an NFL team, which it can never have.  Also, the Leafs.  Oh, and–

Brain damage.

February 19, 2011

When the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins collectively lost their minds all over the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum ice last Friday night, they set up a media frenzy.  After the announcement of suspensions and comments from Penguins owner Mario the Magnificent, the story was lead news on CBC and actually reported in Pittsburgh sports pages!  Hopefully some rational discussion and decision will come of this great accumulation of nonsense.

To wit:

This is a guy who’s paychecks Mario signs, so he’s not only being hypocritical, some would say that he’s the wolf in sheep’s clothes.  That, however, would be both unfair and beside the point.  Mario’s reaction is an institutional reaction, because hockey ‘scores’ that were not settled by the referees but were deemed sufficiently egregious — usually meaning dangerous – have always been addressed by the players according to a code.  Some players may hold it dearer than others, some may even deny it, and I make no claim to know its finer points, but it is verifiably true.

So, bringing Matt Cooke back, please watch this clip of Don Cherry also reacting institutionally.  This was a very popular Coaches’ Corner segment, and his finger-wagging story is the kind of thing that has beautified him in some circles, but this is also an institutional response.  Nothing is gained.  I believe all is explained, and the Friday night incident was as predictable as the Leafs trading for youth in February.  To emphasize that point, if you follow NHL hockey closely, and you knew they were playing Friday, either you knew that was going to happen or you are a moron.

So what gives?  Why?  Both to Lemieux and Cherry: why?  Why do you have Matt Cooke?  At least Burke both gets the best fighters and acknowledges why he’s doing it.  Colton Orr hasn’t ended any careers lately.  One of Lemieux’ goons is the Ulf Samuelsson of his – oh!  See how that works everybody!*  What should happen is that both Lemieux and Cherry should team up and apply pressure on the league to give out meaningful suspensions.

The league’s response was also predictable, and the reaction from the league’s goons, and subsequent counter-reaction from their victims’ team’s fighters and goons, is equally predictable.  In that sense, Mario is right.  In the more meaningful sense, Mario is wrong in the sense that people trying to navigate by clouds are wrong.  You may be momentarily pointed in the right direction.  You cannot get where you are trying to go that way.

*for those too young to recall, Ulf Samuelsson was ostensibly a Lemieux bodyguard a la Semenko, but without fighting prowess.

The Sportsvssports suspension system:

Multi-time offender auto 1 game or 2x

Minimum penalty

Attempt to injure –            10

Head shot-                        1

Leaving feet-                     1

Injurious elbow,                1 with no swinging motion

kick, or high stick              3 with swinging motion

leaving bench                   10

sucker punch                     5

from behind                       2 if questionable.  5 if clear

All penalties are cumulative, so Cooke on Tyutin carries a minimum of 30 games, as opposed to the 4 he actually got.