LONDON (Reuters) - For the next six weeks images of mud-clad men wrestling each other for an egg-shaped ball will flash up on television screens around the globe.
Do not be alarmed. Do not adjust your sets. This is ‘rugby union’ and starting on Friday teams from 20 countries will compete for the sport’s World Cup in England.
The aim is simple. A group of 15 men try to get the ball to the opposite ends of the pitch to score points. The other team try to stop them.
But in order to really get to grips with this brutal but exhilarating sport, you need to master the jargon.
For a start, there are two main categories of players: the gnarled ‘forwards’ found in the heat of battle and the light-footed ‘backs’ trying to evade defenders and score ‘tries’.
A try earns five points and a free shot at kicking the ball over the posts for a ‘conversion’ and an extra two points.
The forwards often get together for a ‘scrum’, where they crouch down in a V-formation and crash into each other like rutting stags.
The man in the middle at front of the scrum is the ‘hooker’ who has to try and retrieve the ball from this melee with his feet. Doing this repeatedly sandwiched between two team mate ‘props’ and the opposing front row can result in your ears becoming so deformed they look like cauliflowers.
In the backs, the key man is the ‘flyhalf’ — or depending on where you are in the world he may also be known as the ‘standoff’ or ‘first five-eighth’.
He is rugby’s equivalent of the quarter-back in American football — a master tactician with a deadly accurate pass. The difference being that in rugby the ball can only be passed backwards.
It can be kicked forward, though, to gain territory. And this has become an important part of modern game, where gargantuan athletes rarely let their defences slip.
The ball may be nudged along the ground in what is known as a ‘grubber’, launched into the air with a ‘garryowen’ — a kick named after the Irish rugby club that popularised the tactic — or struck on the half volley for a ‘drop goal’.
If the referee deems that a particularly heinous offence has been committed, perhaps if a player has been tackled around the neck or speared into the ground, he may award a penalty kick.
As the victim of this assault is dusting himself down, his team gets a kick at goal for an extra three points. As for the miscreant, he may spend time in the ‘sin bin’.
Most of the other rules are a complete minefield — even the most seasoned rugby critic has little idea about the dark arts of the scrum, ‘ruck’ or ‘maul’. So if the referee starts talking about ‘early engagements’, ‘boring in’ or ‘wheeling’, just nod your head in approval and enjoy the rest of the bloodbath.
Editing by Ed Osmond