England and Rugby: A Love Story

rugby

La victoire à l’arrachée de la France (26-24) contre l’Angleterre, décrochée samedi 1 février lors du mythique tournoi des 6 nations, s’inscrit dans cette tradition de rencontres toujours explosives entre les deux nations. Ces matchs, désignés par le terme de “Crunch”, sont toujours particuliers entre ces deux pays pour lesquels le rugby a une place centrale dans le domaine sportif. Pourtant nos visions de ce sport sont antagonistes. Qu’est ce qui nous différencie de nos homologues d’outre-Manche ? Quelle y est la place du rugby aujourd’hui ?

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England, homeland of rugby

Rugby is a British sport. Even if its origins remain vague, the sport was born in a British middle college, in the city of « Rugby », after William Webb Ellis allegedly took the ball with his hands during a football game in 1823. In fact, the rules of rugby rules date back to this event and that’s when the penalties were fixed.

The place of rugby is special: like cricket, rugby has always been a sport reserved for the aristocracy. The future British gentlemen learnt the virtues of respect beyond the brutal aspect of the game, self-abnegation and fair play in prestigious schools. Thus, rugby was absent for a long time in London where “popular” classes were encouraged to practice football, a less restrictive sport, with an easier practice and where rules were more simple to understand. Its reputation did not improve with immigration which brought to London a population more keen on football (except for the Oceanian and South African immigrants). That is why there is no high-level club in London’s center and the bastion of British rugby is Bath, a city situated near Wales. However, the development of rugby and its increasing economic weight made the balance gradually tilt in favour of London, which remains Britain’s economic center.

The Rose against the Rooster

rose rooster

While France aims at being the apostle of the beautiful game, British players have always been seen  as keepers of the flame. To understand why, it is necessary to have once known the British stadiums and the atmosphere of Twickenham, to have seen the silence settle down in the stadium when the strikers got ready to score a penalty game. A quasi-mystic moment of communion and respect for the opposite players, whereas, in Pip(Top) 14 ( French rugby) the players of the visiting team receive only whistles.

The French see rugby as a competition, and that is how it spread in France, with each game renewing quarrels on the field. The Brits, on the contrary, trained their elites in the combative values of collective games. Victory is sought as a victory over adversity more than anything else. This is why England created a championship quite late, in 1987, whereas in France, the first championship was organized during the previous century (1892).

But in spite of these differences, the best enemies find themselves on the field with the same desire to win and to triumph no matter what the cost may be. And they support the creation of a new European Cup.

The H Cup (Heineken Cup) affair

French and English professional Leagues announced the creation of a Rugby Champions Cup in 2013, a new continental competition. The main request from the National League of Rugby (NLR) and the premiership rugby was that the size of the competition be modified. They demanded the number of committed clubs be reduced from 24 to 20. Both nations also asked for a selection based on meritocracy. Demands are also linked with the fact that the French and the English, who intend to contribute largely to the European Cup economy, were not satisfied by the current financial distribution. Finally there is still a problem of synchronization between national and European championships which overlap each other. All this leads to the foundation of a new European cup that shows how much England wants to take part in the organization of this sport.

Contrary to football, which slipped from England’s control a long time ago, rugby remains in England’s firm hand, which views it as its baby. In the IRB, England encourages the promotion of rugby without granting it the necessary financial means but guarantees its central place. Its vision of rugby reminds of the values that led to the creation of the Commonwealth: division, under control.

Loïck BOINNARD & Léo BROTIN

 

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