(For a post about my odd history with rugby, go here.)
Sadly, the Rugby World Cup 2023 has come to an end. My boys, The New Zealand All Blacks, took the silver, losing by one point to the back-to-back champions, the South African Springboks.
The All Blacks started out with a loss to France (27-13), but then dominated throughout the rest of the tournament. They beat Namibia 71-3, Italy 96-17, Uruguay 73-0, Ireland 28-24 (their closest match until the final), and Argentina 44-6. Meanwhile, the Springboks won most of their matches by a single try (5 points) or less, eeking out multiple wins by only a single point. So, going into the final, it seemed like it would be a cake walk for the All Blacks, but it wasn’t meant to be. It didn’t help that the All Blacks’ captain, Sam Cane, got red-carded early on for a high tackle (above the shoulders), which meant the Blacks were only playing with 14 players vs South Africa’s 15 for a better part of the match.
Although my team didn’t win, it was still a really exciting, very educational opportunity for me this year. Being able to watch the match replays on-demand with Peacock was so incredible; it was absolutely worth the $7 per month to have that kind of access. I was actually rather surprised to see just how much rugby Peacock carries.
Coming up in December on Peacock is Rugby SVNS, a series of 10 tournaments held across the world (including the U.S.!) with 16 teams playing at each location (15 are the core teams that travel with the tournament, plus one regional team that plays to provide a connection to the host city).
SVNS is sort of the commercial side of the style of play known as Rugby Sevens. It’s like the NBA versus college or high school basketball – they’re both the same game, but the spectacle surrounding them is different, too. Sevens rugby is quite a bit different from standard Union or League rugby, because the matches are played by seven players on each side (as opposed to 15 in Union and 13 in League), and the games are much shorter at only two 7-minute halves instead of two 40-minute halves. Because there’s less coverage of the pitch due to having fewer players, there are a lot more opportunities for a run-and-gun style of play, with frequent passing and offloads (passing the ball to a teammate as you’re being tackled), and the scores are typically much higher. It’s basically like if you played American football with no running game, just passing; it highlights all the exciting parts of rugby, somewhat at the expense of the strategic part of the game.
The corporate sponsors behind SVNS (currently HSBC Bank) really push a more communal, party atmosphere than you’d typically find at a rugby tournament. There are frequently DJs who play music at the matches, fans are encouraged to wear costumes, and some venues have carnivals and events outside of the stadium, too. This Tweet from the SVNS account is kind of a good representation of what it’s all about.
There’s also less emphasis on being a fan of a particular team in SVNS. With so many teams playing from so many different countries, and with the matches being so short, it’s hard to really build a fandom around such fast-paced matches. Instead, they try to put the focus on the spectacle and general atmosphere over wearing a certain team’s colors.
Since I don’t live in L.A., where the SVNS tournament is being held in America, and therefore can’t participate in the spectacle, I have to just rely on my feelings about the game itself. To me, Sevens is fun to watch, but it also feels a little too disposable. At only 14 minutes, it’s hard to really get invested in a single match. In addition, I like the strategy involved in a standard match with things like kicking to get the ball into the opponent’s territory, as well as the tension and excitement that lineouts and mauls add to the game. But I can also appreciate the excitement of a fast-paced game with high scores.
That being said, I don’t think I’m going to re-up my Peacock subscription in December just to watch SVNS. I’ll catch some, though, as it will still be going on when I do re-up for the Six Nations rugby tournament that starts in February.
Six Nations is an annual Rugby Union tournament between France, Italy, England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. For that tournament, I’ll be backing Ireland, mainly because of one player, Bundee Aki, who I discovered and became a huge fan of during the World Cup. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that he’s originally from New Zealand.
Unfortunately, the other big Union tournament, Premiership Rugby, is not available on Peacock this year.
Premiership is made up of 10 clubs from England that are obviously much more regionally-based with terrific names…
All of these clubs have long histories, reaching back to The Sale Sharks, who were founded in 1861, with the most recent being The Bristol Bears in 1888 (that is not a typo).
Peacock did have the rights to show Premiership last year, and from what I have seen, it’s a bit more fast-paced and a lot more rough-and-tumble than World Cup matches, which makes them pretty fun to watch. Premiership is available on The Rugby Network (TRN), but I don’t really want to subscribe to both Peacock and TRN at $7/each, so I’ll probably wait until the Six Nations and SVNS tournaments are over and give TRN a shot. I’m not too worried about watching matches live since I’m not really missing out on any water cooler talk here in America, but it would be nice to be exposed to as many different flavors of rugby as I can get.
So far, my rugby education has been strictly Rugby Union, but Rugby League is another form of the game. I’ve read up on the differences between the two, but I wish I could find some televised League matches so I could see the differences. I might have to just rely on YouTube to expand my knowledge in this case, though, as I don’t see as much commercial support for League for whatever reason, even though many people claim it’s the more spectator-friendly version of the game.
So, long story short, I really loved getting to watch the Rugby World Cup this year for the first time in 30 years. It’s been a blast to learn so much about the game and to start to get invested in the sport itself. It will probably always be a sport I’ll dip in and out of as far as really following it, but I do think it’s something I’ll return to often, especially every four years for the World Cup.