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Rugby Is Slaughter

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"Give blood: Play rugby."
T-shirt slogan

Rugby is one of several games that Americans, for the most part, do not get. (It's OK, people who get rugby often do not get American football.) While the two games look broadly similar there are three facts about rugby that tend to stand out:

  1. You get minimal padding.
  2. You have to stay on the pitch for the entire match.
  3. You get far fewer breaks in play. Well, time-wise...

For this reason, much media depicts rugby as an agonizing slaughterhouse that will put you in Ward 4.note note  This depiction is not confined to American media either. Nations where rugby is played a lot tend to compare it to other football codes and often come to the same impressions. Furthermore, the global rugby community seems to revel in their sport's reputation, taking perverse joy in the fact that the very mention of its name is enough to make football (association and American) fans squirm.


There are elements of truth in this. In every single rugby game, players have to leave the field because of an injury. There is even a system concerning bleeding players - they have to leave the field immediately to be replaced by a teammate, but the original player can return within 15 minutes if the bleeding stops without it counting as a substitution. They have afforded the same luxury to suspected head injuries due to long running concerns about the long term effects of concussion.note 


In the end, the truth of the matter is that both American football and rugby are about equally as dangerous to the players per minute of the match played. It's the risks, and the type of fitness needed, that are different. Namely, American football often revolves around players making headlong sprints into one another, which are the main reason why padding is necessary. In rugby, on the other hand, hard hits of that sort are less common, with tackles generally involving pulling the other players to the ground as opposed to knocking them down. The result of this is that, owing to the strict rules about forward passing and the lines being in much closer proximity, meaning that players usually don't pick up much speed before being tackled - and only players with the ball can be tackled. Also, historically, those who do tend to pick up speed, the backs (especially the wingers) tend to be smaller and slighter - however, this is now changing, with some wingers both weighing over 100 kg (220 lb) and moving at well over 30 kph (20 mph). As a result, historically, rugby has tended to have a higher rate of scrapes, cuts, and gashes than American football, the concussion rate is lower (though it does seem to be increasing - whether this is simply increased diagnosis or a trend remains to be seen) — a fact that isn't lost on many rugby organizers, especially those in American youth leagues seeking to market it as an alternative to football that won't cause the concussions that that sport is notorious for. A short truism is that American Football has lots of padding and very few restrictions on what you can do to people, while Rugby has no padding and lots of restrictions about what you can do to people (admittedly, most of those have been instituted since the turn of the millennium).

For reference, most games that involve a ball and an attempt for a team to get it from point A to point B share the same broad origins as a medieval peasant game played, in various forms, through much of Europe that was half Capture the Flag, half Big Ball of Violence.

Ironically, despite the violence of the game and the testosterone levels of the players, who are very rarely much less than six feet tall and even more rarely weigh less than eighty kilograms, they tend to be very polite to the referee. It can be very amusing to see a pocket sized referee call over the Captains, usually two men the size of small tanks, each of whom could probably rip him in half with only minimal effort, and give them a stern talking to while they stand looking thoroughly humble and contrite, mumbling, "Yes sir", "No sir", "Sorry sir", "of course, sir" and "won't happen again, sir." This is at a sharp contrast to Association Football where harassing the referee seems to be an unofficial part of the sport. This is in part down to the ref being much more willing and able to further penalise teams if they start annoying him, for instance by moving penalties 10 yards further up the field, and the greater power of the yellow card in comparison to Association Football (name goes in a book vs 10 minutes off the field, often a game changer.)

Compare Blood Sport. See also Unnecessary Roughness, with which this trope sometimes overlaps. For information on the game, see Rugby League or Rugby Union. Yes, there are two different versions. Rugby Union is more widely played, while Rugby League is more popular in a few regions such as Northern England. Non-Australians also sometimes confuse rugby with Australian Rules Football, which has a similar reputation and all the more so because the players wear only singlets, and many believe that rugby was a major influence in the creation of Aussie Rules football. Believe it or not, James Naismith actually adapted some elements of rugby when he created basketball. In the US and Canada, Ice Hockey has a similar reputation as the most violent of the four major sports played in those countries, though the NHL has tried to crack down on the violence and tone down this part of the sport's image.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Maison Ikkoku, Godai plays rugby with his old high school team — and he ends up with two black eyes.
  • Full Metal Panic? Fumoffu has the hilarious Rugby episode (pictured above) — which is something of a subversion due to the clear indication that it was excessive violence, which got Sousuke immediately kicked out. Sōsuke gives Training from Hell to a sissy team of rugby players. The ending result is... highly amusing.
  • The rugby-centered manga No Side starts with the main character dying by breaking his neck against the goalpost. Then he comes back to the sport as a girl. Later chapters use war images and much violence.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho at one point features a set of demons with a sports theme, one of them called Rugby. It's teased whether he picked the name because of the human sport, or whether humans named the sport after him. At one point he says he likes the game because it's basically organized violence.
  • In Space Adventure Cobra that Blood Sport named rugball is supposed to be based on baseball and rugby. It is apparently baseball plus violence, with nothing else in common with rugby.

    Comic Books 
  • Parodied with Asterix in Britain: a rugby game is made more "interesting" when it turns out that the players' drink has been spiked with magic potion. It was already pretty violent without the potion, what with one player jumping up and down repeatedly on another player's head. Obelix enthusiastically comments "We must take this nice game back to Gaul!"
    Anticlimax: It's really frightfully simple. You can do almost anything to carry the bladder over the other team's goal line. Anything's allowed except using weapons without previous agreement...
    • Note that the players emerging is the only time in the entire story that the extremely Briton Anticlimax gets worked up about something. In fact the look on the heroes' faces when an entire stadium of (up to this point) extremely stiff upper lipped Britons suddenly goes wild is priceless.
  • Gaston Lagaffe: Lagaffe briefly gives rugby a try but gives up after getting repeatedly and violently tackled.
  • France has (at least) two comic series on rugby: one is about a rural village team (where rugby is Serious Business) and the other is on France's national team, and is titled Barbarians. Yeah. Could be a nod to the stereotypical player of the game or the name of the sport's most famous invitational side.
  • Warren Ellis's word on rugby:
    Doc Samson: It's better than football. No padding or helmets, no stopping every minute, none of the dumb stuff. Two teams of gnarled, scarred freaks pounding the blood out of each other with a ball somewhere in the middle. It's awesome.
  • In the British Anthology Comic The Beano playing rugby, beating up tough rugby players or just scaring them by being there is a common gag used in comic strips, especially Minnie The Minx, to show how tough the characters are.

    Comic Strips 
  • Get Fuzzy: Rob Wilco has been seen wearing the above-quoted T-shirt. The portrayal of the sport is a bit understated compared to the rest of these entries, but it's still fairly violent.
  • Wal's dreams of rugby glory in Footrot Flats always end with him a bloodied heap being trampled into the mud.

    Fan Works 
  • Football came to the Discworld in Unseen Academicals. Reasoning that the fifteen-a-side code came from the same roots as the eleven-a-side, author A.A. Pessimal decided there was mirth to be mined by introducing a Llamedosian religious ritual involving two teams of fifteen men chasing a lemon-shaped ball (this is vaguely alluded to in the original Discworld Mapp). The idea spread, and Ankh-Morpork now hosts a Llamedosian Rules Fifteen-A-Side Foot-The-Ball league. Fixtures in the top flight in this League include representative sides from Hergen, Llamedos, Fourecks, The Foggy Islands, and possibly the most cheerfully violent national side of all, The Rimwards Howondalandian Springboeks. An observer ponders the accuracy of Fourecks and her own Rimwards Howondaland naming their teams after two essentially pacificistic and placid animals, the Wallaby and the Springboek. She considers the Purdeighsislandian Demon and the Rattel would be far more zoologically accurate as animal avatars.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life has a scene with a pretty brutal game of rugby, and to emphasizes the violence of it all, it leads into a scene in a war zone. As if it weren't bad enough, it's a game being played by students of a private school against their teachers, and the kids are being brutally roughed up. One of the professors watching the game even trips a student as he runs by so he can be tackled.
  • Invictus: Averted; the worst any player gets is a hamstring injury, and it heals up in time for the World Cup.
  • The opening scene of The Four Feathers has the junior officers from two British regiments playing rugby. In the rain. And the mud. And the sweet young English girls in their white linen leg-of-mutton-sleeved dresses standing on the sidelines under their umbrellas obviously getting—in a very understated, ladylike way—quite worked up over the sight of all those big, strong, handsome, muscular men beating the stuffing out of one another.
  • The Indian movie Sye: Granted, the writer was apparently a bit unclear about certain rules. He was convinced that a rugby match implied rivers of blood. The most ridiculous moment comes when the scrum-half wiggles inside the channel between the two packs during a scrum, and starts punching the opposing team's hooker straight in the face. (If you don't play rugby, this sentence is most likely lost on you, go watch the scene from the movie if you're curious, it can be found online).
  • In The Hole, Mike, who is American, is shown throwing the rugby ball gridiron style. As he does so, he is viciously tackled by one of the opposing players. Mike then hauls off and punches the guy in the face, which starts a brawl between the two sides. It is later shown that Mike does know how to play rugby and was just mucking about when he decided to throw the ball.

  • A gag in Jeeves and Wooster novels.
    • Tuppy Glossop finds this out to his cost in "The Ordeal of Young Tuppy" in the Jeeves and Wooster book Very Good, Jeeves.
    "[...] Besides," he went on, in a quiet meditative voice, "there is no power on earth that could get me off this field until I've thoroughly disembowelled that red-haired bounder. Have you noticed how he keeps tackling me when I haven't got the ball?"
    "Isn't that right?"
    "Of course it's not right. Never mind! A bitter retribution awaits that bird. I've had enough of it. From now on I assert my personality."
    "I'm a bit foggy as to the rules of this pastime," I said. "Are you allowed to bite him?"
    "I'll try, and see what happens," said Tuppy, struck with the idea and brightening a little.
    • In Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Major Plank says he tried to teach the natives of West Africa to play rugby, but there were "too many deaths."
  • In Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!) we're not sure about rugby, but scrumball apparently is. The Sisters of Battle acolytes weren't that good at it, since they preferred to take down players as opposed to scoring points, while unpopular students were regularly tackled regardless of whether they had the ball or not.
  • Discworld:
    • William de Worde attended a private university for Old Money, where he enjoyed great success in gesticulating wildly and expending great amounts of energy without actually approaching the ball.
    • Bar brawls have existed for so long in Ankh-Morpork they've become a kind of combination of rugby and gymnastics (complete with a scoring system).
    • Unseen Academicals, where the form of football that exists is known for violence and the wizards are tasked with reforming it.
  • Though he went to Rugby, the school where the sport was codified, Harry Flashman stayed well away from the game due to this trope. He did feature in the game in Tom Brown's Schooldays, but he and his chum Speedicut both took great care to look as though they were playing really enthusiastically while avoiding any risk of getting hurt.
  • In Safehold, the main character is from a future culture, blending in with a Future Imperfect Feudal Future. They know that he's a bit better than human, so the prince wants him to play rugby on his team, but "Merlin" admits he's never played their version of the game (which is a water sport). Turns out it involves holding people underwater until they give up the ball.
    Cayleb: It'll be fine!
    Royal Guard: He doesn't even know the rules!
    Merlin: Rules? In rugby?
    Royal Guard: Well, there is that...
  • Journey to Chaos: One of Eric's clients is an orc who thinks humans are fragile things and he supposes that the humans of Eric's homeworld must be even more so. Eric argues against this by saying they have many brutal, full contact, sports. The only one he mentions is Rugby.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Friends:
    • In episode "The One With All the Rugby", Ross plays rugby to impress Emily, and ends up in agony.
      Ross: Oh, just hold on a second. I'm watching this rugby thing on ESPN. I don't know what the big deal is. I'm man enough to play this sport.
      Joey: Dude, you're not even man enough to order the channel that carries the sport.
    • Joey tries to explain the sport to him.
      Joey: Right here, this is a "scrum," okay. It's kinda like a huddle.
      Ross: And is a "hum" kinda like a "scruddle"? Heh.
      Joey: Heh heh. Ross, these guys are gonna kill you.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Giles comments about gridiron as it compares to rugby, summing up the traditional British view:
    Jenny: I don't know what it is about football that does it for me. I mean, it lacks the, the grace of basketball, the, uh, poetry of baseball. At its best it's unadorned aggression. It's such a rugged contest.
    Giles: Rugged. American football. Heh.
    Jenny: And that's funny because?
    Giles: No! Heh. I just think it's rather odd that a nation that prides itself on its virility should feel compelled to strap on forty pounds of protective gear just in order to play rugby.
  • Harry Enfield and Chums: In the "Upper class drunks" sketch:
    Drunk #1: Good game on Saturday?
    Drunk #2: Bloody good! Three tries, two conversions and twenty-two hospitalisations.
  • An episode of ER had a haggard-looking English patient being treated, and when asked if he has hit his head or blacked out, he cheerily answers, "Of course I hit my head, it's rugby."
  • An unusual case from Kousoku Sentai Turboranger — the secondary Transforming Mecha, the Ruggerfighter/Turborugger is themed after rugby for no discernable reason; it even has a giant rugby ball it can kick at a target. So it is slaughter, albeit of giant monsters rather than humans.

  • "Jock-O-Rama" by Dead Kennedys from the album Frankenchrist describes a government-sponsored high-school American football tournament as a slaughterfield:
    Now boys, this game ain't played for fun
    You're going out there to win
    How d'ya win?
    Get out there
    And snap the other guy's knee!
    Beat 'em up! beat 'em up!
    Ra ra ra
    Snap those spinal cords
    Ha ha ha
    The star quarterback lies injured
    Unconscious on the football field
    Looks like his neck's been broken
    Seems to happen somewhere every year
    His mom and dad clutch themselves and cry
    Their favorite son will never walk again
    Coach says, that boy gave a hundred percent
    What spirit
    What a man

    Puppet Shows 
  • The satiric TV show Les Guignols de l'Info depicts rugby players as senseless brutes whose training consists in bashing down brick walls and drinking fresh blood. A particular example come to mind: a French team had to fight-play against the "All-Black" known for being quite good. The strategy include Military support and they don't expect every player to survive. In another episode, former French coach Bernard Laporte said "The first rugby game was a wedding in Brive (that's a French city), the ball only came 30 years later."

  • Bleak Expectations manages to take this Up to Eleven (and then some), with the amazingly violent Bastardball, played by the students of St. Bastards. It's rugby, but with absolutely no concern for anyone's safety or continued existence. The rules are simple; two teams with no set number of players, divided into five groups (hitters, kickers, punchers, pitchforkers and shooters) whose goal is to get the ball (i.e. the youngest person around) to the other side of the field and shove their head in a bucket of dung, which counts as one Bastard (or point).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Blood Bowl is set in an alternate universe Warhammer, where a rugby/American football-esque sport has become Serious Business and everyone wants to play that instead of the usual Warhammer thing. Of course, it's the Warhammer universe, so they take this trope and ramp it up past eleven. Inflicting injuries on the other team is encouraged in the official rules, chainsaws and flame pits are features built into the average pitch, and players dying in the middle of games is a startlingly frequent occurrence. The rulebook itself points out that any world where this sport is popular must suck HARD.

    Web Comics 
  • In the Schlock Mercenary universe, where all sports from Deathball to Ballet are unified in the same league with the teams choosing which to play, Rugby is not on the list because it is too dangerous.
    • And this is in a universe where they allowed to put high explosives in a football and deliberately aim for an interception.
  • The "Rule Brittannia" arcs of Witchprickers concern an extremely brutal sport known as "Scrumby", all that has been revealed about it is that the death toll is extremely high and it's popular everywhere but America.
  • An Alt Text in Housepets! describes Aussie Rules as a combination of every sport, and then rugby again.

     Web Original 
  • A What If? entry about New Horizons uses the example of a bullet travelling across an American football field to give an idea of how fast the spacecraft is moving. The Alt Text for the illustration of this claims it's a legal play in rugby.

    Western Animation 
  • Mr. Barken plays Rugby in Kim Possible. In one episode he gets glued to Ron and, well, Barken enjoys himself...

    Real Life 
  • Back during the 2007 Rugby World Cup, one French player (Sébastien Chabal), nicknamed "The Caveman" when playing in England, went through Memetic Mutation as a violent, hairy lunatic who ate babies and wore a Badass Beard.
  • Truth in Television for anyone in the UK who wasn't built like a brick shithouse during their school years and had to face down a squadron of their classmates during enforced physical education lessons.
    • Just watch the ball and stay away from it.
    • This is particularly true for private schools, many of which have a proud rugby-playing tradition (7% of the British population is privately educated. So is 50% of the England rugby squad. This is probably the reason for the quote "Football is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans and Rugby Union is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen"). The main difference is that the players tend to be better trained and thanks to better training facilities and dietary guidance, much, much larger.
    • City of London Boys, a well regarded and extremely old private school, stopped playing rugby after one boy was killed. The scrum collapsed and his neck snapped. The South African headmaster, though from a culture where rugby is Serious Business, immediately stopped the game. Considering the size of the players in the modern game (supposedly 14-year-old players have been known to comfortably top six feet and be similarly wide), it was far too dangerous.
  • Rugby has had its particularly painful moments with a controversial tactic known as the "squirrel grip". All Black legend Buck Shelford suffered a ripped scrotum during the 1986 "Battle of Nantes" after an opposing player carried it out, and Australian NRL player Haydn Peacock had his penis torn during a similar tackle in 2016.
    • In the case of Shelford, he famously had his scrotum ripped in a ruck, playing for New Zealand against France in 1986. It is "famous" because, with one testicle dangling free, he calmly asked the doc to stitch him up and went back out to play. He ended the game with four teeth knocked out and a concussion, and has no memory of the match.
    • Close-up film exists of the squirrel grip being used in a ruck. South African prop-forward Adriaan Strauss was on the receiving end from the Samoan full-back during an especially bad-tempered game. It says a lot for the size and constitution of Strauss that he was still able to come back fighting and was even able to swing a punch at his attacker. Incredibly, the offender was merely warned for committing an "indecent tackle". See it here from about 5:45 onwards.
  • John Sattler in the 1970 Grand Final for the Australian Rugby League. Suffered a broken jaw only ten minutes in, to which he reacted to be refusing to be taken for treatment or even be shut out of plays to avoid further injury. He finally agreed to go to hospital, after remaining on-field for most of the match, accepting the winner's trophy and making the acceptance speech.
  • Gordon Brown became blind in his left eye after he was kicked in the head during a rugby union match when he was a student.
  • Sadly, people (often younger players) sustaining permanent injuries (such as broken necks, fractures resulting in permanent damage) is an uncommonly common occurrence in Rugby.
  • A rather popular joke is "There are no winners in rugby, only survivors".
  • As mentioned above, for non-Australians, Australian Rules Football sometimes gets confused with rugby, and has a similar reputation. This made worse by an exhibition match in London in 1987 between Carlton and North Melbourne, dubbed "the Battle of Britain", which is still infamous for the brawling that occurred today. Apparently, an ad campaign in England in the leadup to the game emphasised the game's violence.
  • In New Zealand, the Accident Compensation Corporation (the government-owned universal accidental injury insurer) received 460,360 new claims for sports-related injuries in the year to June 2017 - of which 55,187, or 12.0 percent, were from rugby union alone! With around 157,000 registered rugby players in New Zealand, that equates to 352 new claims per 1000 registered players!
  • An infamous example is the fate of Max Brito, a winger for the team of Côte d'Ivoire in the 1995 World Cup, who was crushed under a ruck of Tonga players and ended up paralyzed below the neck.
  • Technically the Haka performed by New Zealand's national team, the All Blacks, just before a match starts is not a war dance. However, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for one. Tonga, Samoa and Fiji have their own versions.
  • The Paralympic sport of wheelchair rugby is also known as murderball and yes, it's for a very good reason. Let's just say that the special wheelchairs have to be made of titanium. (A dark joke from some players is that if the worst injuries that could happen to you already have, why worry about further ones?)


Video Example(s):


Boys vs. Masters

And one player in the former is there as punishment for laughing in class.

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