Ballet on a Battlefield

Posted on January 31st, 2013

Rugby League is back. Tomorrow sees the commencement of the new season of Super League (and the 2nd-tier Championship is engaged in its first match as I write) and the return of my favourite sport. I’m looking forward to watching the most demanding, brutal yet somehow poetic sport that there is for another year.

I was once asked by a female friend why I liked playing Rugby, and I couldn’t really come up with an answer. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was probably crazy playing it. Now there are the usual reasons for playing team sports like camaraderie and support for exercise and the like, but why put your body on the line in the name of fitness and entertainment, weekly no less? I don’t play so much now (my body’s giving up on me) but I think it’s largely due to the crazy intensity of the sport. Both mind and body have to be running at full speed. Basically, playing it is the most reckless thing I do.

The thing that appeals most of all to me about Rugby is the combination of skilful flair with sheer undiluted thuggery. There’s no getting around the fact that a large part of the appeal of Rugby is the level of violence and conflict contained within, which provides a sense of machismo that is central to the sport’s identity. Rugby League players put their body on the line – as Paul Wood’s ruptured testicle will attest to. But around this chaos and collision runs a vein of skill and ingenuity that provides an aesthetic thrill just as powerful as the physical one, heightened by being contrasted with the physical onslaught.

Rugby when it is played the right way is a ballet on a battlefield. ¬†Look at the promo video above. It’s not Wood or Adrian Morley or Richard Moore or any of the more brutish players who are the featured star – it’s Sam Tomkins, probably the most skilful, enigmatic player in the English game right now, and it’s the backs who become major stars because they provide the beauty, but it’s a beauty which would be impossible without the physical sacrifice of their forward packs. At its best, Rugby League is the perfect collaboration between brawn and finesse, a harmonious balance of brutality and artistry.

I’m a little bit excited for this season. A new season means a clean slate for all clubs, a chance for people to dream, and a World Cup at the end of the season adds an extra frisson to proceedings, an extra edge for players to perform (not that they need it). It’s good to have it back.

Let battle commence.