Shaun Botterill - Getty Images
What are you going to do without the NHL? Here I give you alternative sports to watch since it looks like it will be a while before we see the Isles skating.
Hello again LHH folks. Don't call it a comeback, but I've decided to rejoin the writing ranks here. Of course I do this, we have no upper level hockey thanks to the Lockout. So I'm here to help you figure out alternatives now that you have several hours a week free. Why do something meaningful in your life when there are other sports to dedicate your time to? There are several sports taking place over what was once the NHL season.
Today's initial installment is rugby. Why rugby? Why it's a fast paced game with a very physical side. Honestly I'm surprised why rugby hasn't become more popular State side considering it has all the hallmarks of a sport Americans love: Speed, physicality, constant action, dominated by foreigners... Oh wait, now I remember why it's not popular!
But seriously rugby is an entertaining game to watch and play and is readily available to be watched on line and on cable with Fox Soccer Plus. Join me after the jump for a brief tutorial on one of the most popular sports in the world.
There are two main flavors of rugby: the 15 man a side Rugby Union and the 13 man a side Rugby League. The divisions between the two are old, cultural and way too complicated for me to get into here. I will be talking about rugby union since that is what I am a fan of and is generally what people think of when they hear "rugby." Rugby is played all over the world, from Argentina to New Zealand to Scotland to Italy. It is a year round sport, right now the club rugby campains are about a month old in Europe while the Nations Championship between the four big Southern Hemisphere national teams is wrapping up. Next month begins the Fall International series where the Southern Hemisphere teams come up north to play the national teams of Europe. Then in the winter comes the Six Nations between the four Home Nations, France and Italy followed in the summer by the British and Irish Lions touring Australia.
Each national team has it's own playing style too. The Welsh play "Welsh" rugby, the Samoans hit hard, the Kiwis tend to be very, very good except in big tournaments. Fandom tends to be mainly national based in rugby so let's see who you'll be supporting (Done in order of world ranking, personal opinions may be present):
New Zealand All Blacks: Defending World Cup champs, newly crowned champs of the Nations Championship. The best team in the world. Do stuff like this before they play their opponents. Unleashed the freak of nature Jonah Lomu on the world. They wear all black and when they don't it feels really wrong. Playing the Kiwi way generally is overall domination of the game for 3.75 years until the World Cup rolls around. Then if the World Cup is not in New Zealand, expect a meek loss in the quarterfinals.
Australia Wallabies: The Wallabies, Australian for Rugby. Two time WC champ. They wear yellow shirts with green shorts. I don't like them much.
South Africa Springboks: Matt Damon.
England: Well if it weren't for them, everyone else wouldn't be playing... Also the polar opposite of the ABs, tend to play down expectations then proceed to make an unlikely extended run at the WC that sometimes (read: once) leads to the prize. Also arrogant pricks.
France: Ah the French are as always so very, very French. Wildly inconsistent though often very good. Often they shun their best players for being, well, French.
Wales: Wales win when they don't play the Welsh way. Seriously. The Welsh way is a free flowing game that just doesn't work in today's game. When they are disciplined they dominate, when the Welsh way creeps in they fall apart and the knives come out.
Ireland: Fun fact! Rugby is the only sport where both Republic and Ulster are united to play under a banner of one Ireland. The Irish usually have a dominant forward pack, particularly in the second row.
Argentina: The new kids on the block. Although they're starting to get to the point where they're so talked about they might be getting overrated.
Scotland: You want to root for years of futility hoping that the next player/coach/scheme will finally get you out of that rut? Sound familiar? Welcome to Scotland Rugby, the Islanders of rugby.
Samoa: They will play the best nations on this list to their limit. Also no one wants to play them because you will be hurting afterwards. Seriously, they hit and hit hard. The danger for most teams playing Samoa isn't the week they play them it's playing the game afterwards because they're still hurting.
Italy: The Jersey Shore of rugby. Also most of their players aren't Italian but Argentinians, Kiwis or Australians with Italian blood.
(5 teams in between)
USA Eagles: We suck. We're lucky if we can beat England and Wales' second teams.
There you have it. Pick one, root for them. You can pick based on style, based on your personal family history (Me supporting Scotland) or at random. Pick wisely though. You can pick a very good team or a team destined to loose for 20 years and counting (Me supporting Scotland).
I would also tell you support your local rugby club. It's never too late to learn to play and the local clubs are always looking for more people to come out and play. There is a spot on the field for literally everybody, from the short and stocky to tall and thin.
I'll continue this with our next sport: Soccer (maybe?)