There are some things I'm not sure about in this article. Is there a Disney rugby league of some sort? And what was rough treatment of what neighboring country? (Canada?) And as far as electrical tape is concerned, I wear it to keep my ears from getting cauliflowered, not to prevent any sort of rash. Anyway, there are some good points raised in this, the most obvious being that rugby players are different. - Wes

The toughest sport on Earth

by Christy McGinty

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on November 16, 1999.


That was rough treatment of our neighboring country, even by rugby standards. Such things are bound to happen, however, as the sport tries to scrum its way into the hearts, minds, ribs and ligaments of rugby rubes in this hemisphere.

The sport is huge in Australia, New Zealand and England. But then, Slim Whitman was supposedly immense in England. And nobody in America even knew who he was, much less ever bought one of his records.

Maybe you've seen rugby late at night on some obscure cable channel, though you might have mistaken it for a prison riot. But there is a method to the madness.

In Rugby League, 13 men line up and try to get the ball across the opponent's goal. It's sort of like a stripped down version of football, where they've taken only the most exciting elements and turned them loose.

Each play looks like the old Oklahoma triple-option. No, each play really looks like the old Stanford Band play, when California zigged, zagged and lateraled its way to a kickoff return that ended in the end zone on top of a Stanford trombone player.

Teams get six plays before punting. Scores are worth four points.

Oh, did we mention there are no pads?

These guys wear only jerseys and short-shorts. The trendy, knee-dragging shorts would make them too easy to tackle.

Some guys also wear electric tape around their heads. The reason is simple.

"Scrumrash," Drew Graham said.

He's Disney's head athletic trainer, so he's seen a lot of sports and athletes pass through the gates at Wide World of Sports. Graham's never seen athletes quite like rugby players.

Most are built like fire hydrants, only they're harder to knock over. The tournament at Disney has been going on for the past week, and Graham has treated plenty of head lacerations, separated shoulders and contusions.

Then there's scrumrash, which is what happens when your ears get ripped half off from sticking your head into the human traffic pileup known as the scrum.

All the injuries have one thing in common. They happen to guys who don't feel them. Or refuse to admit they do.

"'If they can walk," Graham said, "they usually go back into the game."

Most are guys like Broussard, who played football in college and now play rugby for the love of it. The stars in Australia make about $1 million a year. Nobody in America, and certainly no Canadian, is making any money scrumming around.

By winning Monday, the United States gets to face Lebanon -- yes, Lebanon -- on Sunday for 16th and final spot in next year's World Cup. That's sort of like getting the MEAC bid into the NCAA basketball tournament, but you've got to start somewhere.

It may be hard convincing soccer moms to let their kids play rugby, but there are amazingly few serious injuries considering the collision quotient. Another problem is Tonga could kick America's butt in rugby. And if Americans aren't dominant at a sport, they tend to ridicule it. (See soccer).

Take Canada's word for it, you don't want to ridicule rugby. At least not to any rugby player's face.

It has everything American sportsmen love. Collisions, excitement, blood, valor and beer drinking afterward.

And lest we forget, scrumrash.