A Guide To Various (Confusing) Sports

Jardine PattenContributor IMay 27, 2010

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - MAY 02:  Karmichael Hunt of Biarritz runs with the ball during the Heineken Cup semi final match between Biarritz Olympique and Munster at Estadio Anoeta on May 2, 2010 in San Sebastian, Spain.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
David Rogers/Getty Images

Recently I read an article here on B/R about the 'Top 15 Most Successful Streakers in Sports History' , and eventually I left a comment. My comment wasn't about the quality of the article, or the fact that I found the article rather amusing.

The comment I felt I needed to leave was a statement that I could not believe that the writer made no effort to distinguish two sports that are played in Australia.

The writer noted that the video entry at number five was from a "Rugby game". Whilst he got the picture accompanying the entry right, in that it was from a "Rugby game," he did not notice the minute details in the video that clearly showed that it was a different sport.

I find this to be common among many North American writers, as they tend to focus on sports mainly originating from the United States, or at the very least...soccer.

So let us begin a guide for those North American writers; English writers who may not understand the finer points of "Gridiron;" or anyone else willing to enjoy a detailed read on the differences between many sports that some may not understand.

The Codes of Rugby: League VS  Union

I will start off with the two sports that I am more acquainted with, those being the two separate codes of Rugby.

The differences between these games are numerous, but to those that are not familiar with them, I can understand the confusion as to which may be which.

The main problem with telling the difference is that fact that League is an off-shoot of Union, made possible due to Union officials refusing to pay its players compensation if they were injured during a game, which would commonly make them unable to continue to do their regular everyday jobs.

This was because until 1995, Union was considered an amateur sport, which is why it had been included at the Olympics on a few occasions in the early 20th century. League broke away from Union in 1895, and became a professional sport, paying its players properly.

The rules of League have evolved over the years, with seemingly new rules coming and going every few years, and have made it so League is vastly different from the game it originally broke away from.

Whilst Union tends to be a slower game and usually rougher in some regards, League is faster and most players have more developed skills in both offense and defense.

Many aspects are shared between the two codes, such as: being able to kick at any point; legally only being able to pass backwards; a knock-on occurring if a player fumbles the ball forward from where they are standing when it happens; and the fact that all players on the field play both offensive and defensive games.

Both sports also play over two halves of 40 minutes, in total going for a minimum of 80 minutes. Extra time may be granted if both teams are on a shared amount of points, and depending on individual rules for the game being played, it may continue playing until a set amount of time is played in which case the game is drawn if no team has scored.

It may also continue with a rule that the game will not end until a team scores, and in the event that a team does score, the game will usually end.

Unlike other sports, there are no time outs allowed.

The games are played on a rectangle field made up of 100 metres in general play area, and two in goal area that vary in depth depending on the stadium the game is being played at. Two goal posts stand at either end, with a cross bar sitting at roughly 2 metres in height.

In League, the team in possession of the ball has a limit of 6 tackles before the need to hand over possession of the ball. Usually, the fifth tackle is when a kick is made down field, but kicks can be made at any point during play or they can attempt to run the ball in an effort to score.

After each tackle, the tackled player must stand up and place the ball on the ground in front of them, and play the ball backwards to a receiving player in a play-the-ball by using their feet.

If the sixth tackle is made, it is a turnover to the opposition wherever the tackle was made. If a player of the opposition touches the ball, the attacking team is given a new set of tackles, starting from zero.

Union however does not have a limit to the amount of times your team can be tackled before handing over possession of the ball, as after each tackle, the player tackled must stay on the ground and place the ball behind themselves.

It is then the role of his teammates to try to secure the ball in a ruck, which will allow them to continue their attack. Otherwise, if the opposing team takes possession of the ball, the ball is handed over.

A penalty is given to the team that is not in possession if the tackled player holds onto the ball and fails to let it go.

Tackling in the two codes is allowed anywhere from the shoulders down, and a number of tackling techniques are deemed illegal. A spear tackle is one such technique in which a player is lifted past the horizontal into a position in which their head can be speared into the ground. Another illegal technique is a head high tackle in which any contact above the shoulders is considered high.

The number of players on field were shortened from 15 in Union to 13 in League, whilst the size of the benches was changed from 7 to 4 respectively. Scoring points is done in identical ways in both sports, but the amount of points received for doing these various ways are different.

Scoring a try, which is essentially a touchdown where the player has to actually place the ball onto the ground in the opposition in-goal area, will give a team either 4 points in League or 5 points in Union. In League's early years, a try was worth 3 points, but was changed in 1983.

After scoring a try, a conversion is allowed, in which a designated kicker must attempt to kick a ball between the goal posts and over the cross bar in order to convert. This is worth 2 points in both games.

If a penalty is given to either team, they may attempt to take a shot at the goal by kicking from where the penalty was given. If successful, a penalty goal is worth 2 points in League, whilst in Union it is worth 3 points.

A field goal, otherwise known as a drop goal, is scored by dropping the ball on the spot and attempting to kick the ball between the goal posts and over the cross bar.

In League, this is worth only 1 point, whilst in Union it is also worth 3 points.
Because of this, most points in a Union game is tended to be scored via penalty goals or field goals.

When a ball goes out of play in Union (otherwise known in both sports as going into touch ), a line out between the two teams is given to the team opposing the side that last touched the ball.

A player from that side then throws the ball towards the two teams lines, in an effort for their side to gain possession of the ball by jumping to acquire the ball and/or lifting a teammate to gain some height advantage to acquire the ball.

In League, when the ball goes out of play, players from both teams come together to form a scrum where a struggle for possession of the ball happens after the ball is fed into the centre of the huddled mass by a player from the team who was awarded the scrum.

A scrum may also be set if the previously mentioned knock-on occurs, and happens in both games.

League, however, has removed much of the struggle from the scrum, and it is a mostly redundant feature of the game, where in Union it is still an important part of gaining possession.

Penalties occur for various reasons: being offside from a kick, an illegal tackle and various other behavioural infringements. The team being awarded a penalty may either: take a kick at goal as previously mention; tap the ball with their foot on the spot the penalty was awarded in an effort to continue play as quick as possible; or they can kick to touch in an effort to advance further down field, and will then either be different for either sport.

In League, the attacking team will tap the ball from wherever the ball entered touch. In Union, the attacking team is given possession of the ball for a line out.

So other than all these rules, how can one tell the difference between these sports visually?

There isn't much between them actually. Both sports are competed with a minimum of protective gear, usually the bare minimum of a mouth guard to protect the teeth.

Headgear is allowed to protect players heads, but these are still lightweight and only absorb a small amount of force.

Lightweight shoulder padding worn underneath the jersey is allowed, but in many instances, senior players of the sport do not wear these and they are usually left only for children playing the sport.

If you get these two sports mixed up at first glance and aren't a regular viewer of either of them, then I can totally understand the struggle to identify which is which.

But that doesn't excuse getting other sports mixed up with them. Which brings me to Aussie Rules football.

Aussie Rules Football

Whilst this sport seems to be the one most associated with the Australian sport playing public according to other countries (along with Americans seemingly believing that Foster's is the beer of choice for us, yet I don't even think it is sold here), it is in fact only played almost entirely within only one of Australia's seven states and major territories. That being Victoria.

For the majority of it's life, it has been known as "Victorian Rules football" because of this fact and is derogatorily known in other states as "aerial ping pong" due to its style of play which involves a large amount of kicking which sometimes can go back and forth between both teams for large periods of time.

In recent years, it has become much more of an Australian wide sport, and is quickly becoming played in most areas, including many in which it has struggled in the past to gain interest.

The origins of Australian Rules Football (or Aussie Rules) are vague, but it is essentially built from various other football codes. Some rules in it's early years were taken from Rugby Union, soccer and the Irish sport of Caid from which Gaelic Football originated.

Aussie Rules and Gaelic football are the same in many regards, up to the point that international matches between an Australian Aussie Rules side and an Irish Gaelic football side are regularly played under the term "International Rules."

Rules are usually combined together from both sports, to create a mix of the two, allowing for both teams to essentially play the exact same as they do in their respective codes.

The point I wanted to bring up which tipped me off about the aforementioned video from the streaking article, is the style of dress. In Rugby League and Union, a full jersey is worn by players, and includes covering of the upper arms.

Whereas in Aussie Rules, jerseys do not usually cover the upper arms and are more akin to tank tops. On some occasions, players may have covering on the upper arms, and/or may even have covering down to their forearms...but in most cases, this is not true.

Now that I have that out of the way, let's move on with some of the rules of this sport to which I must admit I am not entirely aware of myself as I live in New South Wales, and have not been a fan of Aussie Rules throughout my life. I don't like watching it, as I find it dull.

What follows is mostly just the basic understanding of the sport that I have, that I will share with you.

The game is played between two teams which field 18 players, and they have four players on the bench, and they play on an oval shaped field in which the sport of Cricket can also be played.

These fields vary in size, but are all generally over 100 metres in both length and width. In the game, there is no offside as players may stand in whatever location they want to in regards to their playing position.

The most used tactic within the game is kicking, and is due to limitations set upon running and passing. To run the ball, you must either bounce the ball every few yards similar to Basketball, or you may bend down and touch the ball on the ground. Passing or more frequently known as hand-balling is done by holding the ball in one hand, and essentially punching the ball towards a teammate.

To do otherwise will be deemed a throw , and a free kick is given to the nearest opposing player. Hand-balling can be done in any direction.

Kicking to another player is the preferred method of advancing down field, due to marking .

When a player catches the ball from a kick on the full without dropping it, he is marking the spot on which he caught the ball, and they are then allowed a free attempt to kick again down field without any interference from the opposing team apart from a single player standing in front of them to try to block the kick.

Scoring is done by kicking the ball between two of the four goal posts. Between the two centre posts, it is considered a goal, and is worth 4 points.

It is considered a behind and only worth 1 point due to a number of different circumstances: if the ball goes between the two outer posts either side of the centre goal; hits any of the four goal posts; or is touched by an opposing player before going through the centre goal.

Tackling in Aussie Rules is allowed on the torso and around the waist, but anything below the waist or above the shoulders is deemed illegal and will result in a free kick to the player who was tackled.

Once tackled, the player in possession of the ball must try to hand off possession of the ball, otherwise it is a free kick to the opposition.

Players do not wear any padding in Aussie Rules, and it was also fairly common until recently that players didn't even wear any mouth guards.

However, even without padding, Aussie Rules is found by most parents to be "safer" along with Soccer for their children to play in junior competitions, compared to both codes of Rugby, due to the restrictions imposed upon tackling.

Stoppages in play due to various causes will result in a ball up or a bounce , which is also how each half is started and how each resumption of play after a goal is handled.

This is done by the umpire, who will either bounce the ball onto the ground so it bounces high into the air, or will simply throw it up for the two opposing teams to compete for possession.

If the ball goes out of play, the umpire will throw the ball back into play by throwing it backwards over his head. The two teams compete for the possession similar to a ball up.

If the ball goes out of play from a kick and failed to touch the inside of the field first, it is out of bounds on the full and a free kick is awarded to the opposition team close to where the ball went out of play.

The game is known for its spectacular catches made by players, as it is not an uncommon sight to see players leaping a great height. It is also not uncommon, and in fact, not considered illegal to use your opposition in getting a height advantage as long as you are in fact going for the ball. If you blatantly take out an opposing player, they are awarded a free kick.

These rules are essentially all I known without looking into it further myself. I suggest that if you are more interested on following up this brief guide, and want to learn more about Aussie Rules or in fact any other sport I may mention, then you can take a look at the links I have provided at the end of this article to various Wikipedia pages dealing with these sports.

That is all for now, as I have covered three sports so far. I will continue adding more information about various codes of football and also other sporting subcultures...at least, the ones that I do know about. Otherwise, I will be reading up on a few things myself.

Note: The player in the photo for this article is Karmichael Hunt, who was a Rugby League player for a number of years. The photo is from a recent Rugby Union game that he is playing in France. He is playing there whilst he waits for the introduction of a new Aussie Rules team in the Gold Coast, with whom he has signed.

This means that he is, as far as I know, the only player that will have played all three of the major football codes in Australia.


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