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Rugby for beginners

With the annual Dubai Rugby Sevens just around the corner, alpha., tongue firmly in cheek, explains the not-so-finer points of the sport

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Rugby sevens is played at a much quicker pace than 15-a-side.

Football, as the saying goes, is a game for gentlemen played by thugs, while rugby is a game for thugs played by gentlemen. Nevertheless, throwing a right hook at an opponent’s face in a rugby match rarely gets you sent off, while doing so in a football match will get you banned for several games. Go figure.

Despite the number of ears and noses bashed to a pulp by the brutality of the average rugby match, the players are, on average, better looking. Compare rugby superstar Dan Carter with the current king of football, Lionel Messi. Carter’s the one more likely to get signed up for a Ralph Lauren ad campaign. Messi, in contrast, is more likely to appear as an extra in The Hobbit. And don’t even get us started on Wayne Rooney!

Apart from the shape of the ball, rugby has little in common with American football, where the players, bless their cotton socks, wear so much padding and protection that they make a bomb disposal expert look scantily clad. Rugby is much, much tougher – and there are no pom-pom-waving cheerleaders at half-time.

When half of each team gets together in a huddle and tries to push each other off the ball, it’s called a scrum. The mystery of what happens underneath that human umbrella is known only to the players themselves, but rumours that they tickle each other and have in-depth discussions about quantum physics have persisted for years. No, we’re just kidding. In reality they gouge each other’s eyes and bite their noses.

Rugby sevens is played at a much quicker pace than 15-a-side, so only the fastest, fittest players are selected. This means there is no place for the heaviest prop forwards, a position that is often filled by 20-stone lumberjack types. These players, though the strongest on the pitch, bring a certain novelty value to the game, with their cauliflower ears, pot bellies and grizzly beards.

Now for the serious stuff. You get five points for a try – ie, touching the ball down at your opponent’s end of the pitch – a bonus two points if you can then ‘convert’ it with a kick between the posts, and three points for any other time you can kick it between the posts, either from a penalty or a drop-kick from open play.

Confused? You will be if it’s your first time, but just sit back, relax and enjoy watching the teams from the Southern Hemisphere – specifically the Pacific Islanders – mow everyone else down mercilessly with their tree-trunk legs.