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How to speak rugby

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The rugby World Cup kicked off on Friday 20 September, with the final taking place on Saturday 2 November in Yokohama. Teams from 20 countries have been competing for the Webb Ellis Cup, named for William Webb Ellis, the Rugby schoolboy who is credited with inventing the game when he picked up the ball during a game of football. For the uninitiated, the commentary on a rugby game – foot-up, hand-off, head-up, put-in, knock-on – can make it sound more like a dance routine than the bruising sport it really is. If you don’t know your forwards from your backs, or have no idea why a player might opt to go blind, this guide is for you. In a game of rugby, each team has fifteen players; the eight forwards make up the pack or scrum (an abbreviated form of scrummage). Although a set-scrum is intended to be an orderly way of restarting play, it is often a good deal more chaotic, reflecting its roots in skirmish “an episode of irregular or unpremeditated fighting” between armies or fleets of ships. Scrums that are more informal are called mauls (from a medieval term for striking someone with a heavy weapon, originally Latin malleus “hammer”) or rucks (from a Scandinavian word for a heap or stack—related to rick “haystack”). The technical difference between the two is whether the ball is in the hand or on the ground—a distinction that can be difficult to apply when lying underneath a heap of bodies and being trampled on by studded boots. The front row is made up of a hooker (so called because his job is to hook the ball out of the back of the scrum), supported by two props. Behind them are the second row (or locks), while the back row (originally used of a chorus line of dancers) consists of two flankers (from the term used for the outer edges of an army) and a number eight. The forwards’ job is to outshove the opponent’s pack so as to deliver the ball to the seven backs, or three-quarters: the scrum–half, fly-half, wingers, and full-back. These positions were. . .

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News source: Linguistics – OUPblog

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