Ruck it: experience Six Nations

We’ve reached a dark stretch of time, sports fans. The glories of the Super Bowl are fading into distant memory, and baseball is only just beginning to stir in the sunnier sections of this arctic wasteland we call a country. For those of you who miss the adrenaline rush of watching grown men hurl themselves violently at one another, you are in luck. The Six Nations rugby tournament across the pond is about to enter its third week of competition. Six Nations is fought between England, Wales, Scotland, France, Italy and reigning champions Ireland. It’s like the World Cup, if the World Cup were limited to only six countries and the teams spent 80 minutes beating the crap out of each other instead of pretending they were getting the crap beaten out of them.

The tournament is simple enough. Each team plays each other once, home field advantage alternating year-to-year. A win is worth two points, a draw is worth one and a loss is worth zero. There are no complicated bonus point systems, so for all of you struggling to understand the basic rules of rugby (and there are plenty), you can put your mind at ease knowing that the tournament itself is so simple small French children can follow it without too much difficulty. The winner of the tournament brings home the Six Nations trophy. The last place team earns the figurative “wooden spoon”, a delightfully English idea that involves humiliating the worst team of the bunch. Though I wouldn’t laugh at any wooden spoon recipient, the worst one could knock you clean into next week, and then you’d miss the 100 Nights celebration this weekend and with it all the panicking, desperate seniors who have recently been reminded there are only 100 nights until they face the real world.

There is a fierce rivalry between England and Scotland thanks to years of English rule over Scotland. One needs only to see the fantastic film Braveheart to get an idea of how hostile the history is between these two groups. As a bonus, Braveheart also prepares you for the outcome of most England/Scotland games.

Ireland, on the other hand, gets some sweet sweet revenge on the rugby pitch. While Northern Island remains part of the United Kingdom, the whole Emerald Isle comes together to don their green jerseys. In an interesting political twist, they also don’t sing an Irish national anthem at their games and instead have had to come up with a new song for the united group. It is “Ireland’s Call” and is one of the cheesiest songs ever written, which is especially amusing when they play France.

They are the reigning champions of the tournament and currently ranked fourth in the world behind the almost undefeatable New Zealand team, South Africa, and of course the widely booed but feared England. Ireland is currently tied for England at the top of the standings after two weeks of play, and the two teams meet in Dublin this Sunday for what’s sure to be a thrilling exhibition.

If you’ve never seen a rugby match, this is the time to do it. While the rules may appear confusing at first, at the heart of it the game is about running, tackling and kicking. In that sense, it is beautifully simple: a competition between which two groups of players attempt to get the ball far enough across the field to score a try (think touchdown).

The commentators will fill you in on the finer points, and if you’re lucky, the hilarious and openly gay Welsh referee Nigel Owens will be on the pitch to inform the players how stupid they are when they commit a penalty. Between that and the vast number of friendly Vassar rugby players only too happy to talk to you non-stop about the sport, you should be a fluent fan in no time.

If you like what you see in Six Nations, you’ll get all that and more when the best of the Southern hemisphere, including New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and others get into the fray in the Rugby World Cup this fall. Even the U.S. will be sending its team to Britain. They are coming off a record-tying game against New Zealand, where they managed to score six whole points, only to lose by 68.

There will be at least a few games where you can dress up in your best red, white and blue attire that only comes out for the Fourth of July and the soccer World Cup you really got into this summer, so paint your face and come out to watch the rest of the world destroy the Eagles in a truly cathartic experience. If you’re starving for something to distract you from those impending mid-terms, take a look this weekend at the crazy sport called rugby. You’ll be glad you did.

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