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The Rugby World Cup starts this Friday in Japan.  Bars will erupt in rugby hysteria and NFL fans previously clueless about mauls and scrums will feel socially compelled to mask their ignorance and pretend to know what the ruck is going on.

In this ultimate pub survival guide for rugby newbies, we explain pub etiquette during rugby matches, equip you with a no-nonsense edit on the teams including USA and provide a handy translation of commentators’ jargon, and arm you with enough useful stats to ensure you can chat rugby in the sport bar without shaming yourself.

If you normally wonder why fans seem so happy when a kick sails over the crossbar, or why commentators’ keep talking so insensitively about ‘a breakdown’, this is for you!


Let’s explain the most important customs when watching rugby in your local watering hole.

What to order at the bar: “A pint of Guinness is an essential accompaniment for a rugby match.”

What not to order at the bar: “You wouldn’t get many rugby fans ordering a Piña Colada.”

What to eat: “Whether it’s pre- or post-match, you can’t go wrong with a classic burger, but the games will be played early morning in the U.S.  so go with breakfast eats.”

What not to eat: “Wings when you’re in a cozy pub environment. Enough said.”

What to snack on: “Chips and Salsa are a favorite amongst rugby fans.”

What not to snack on: “Again, nothing too smelly.”

What to wear: “Unlike NFL fans you can wear any teams colors, it’s a polite and friendly environment.”

What not to wear: “No big hats as you’ll only annoy the people sitting behind you.”

How to celebrate: “Hug your neighbor. Really. There is nothing wrong with a bit of man love.”

How not to celebrate: “Pour your beer over the opposing team’s supporters. Bad idea.”


Get up to speed on each of the 20 countries in 140 characters (or thereabouts).

England. Powerful forwards, talented backs. Enjoy beefcake Billy Vunipola’s bulldozing runs and Mike Brown’s mazy sprints.

Wales. Expect passionate, exciting rugby. Look out for Leigh Halfpenny’s laser-guided kicks are George North’s electric runs.

Ireland. Ireland head into the World Cup as the No 1 ranked side in the world for the first time in history. Last year saw them beat all before them as they won a Six Nations Grand Slam, series victory in Australia and beat the All Blacks in Dublin.

Scotland. In 2019, they have lost to Ireland, France and Wales, while also drawing with England from the jaws of a 38-38 victory at Twickenham. In the warm-ups, things couldn’t have started worse with a demoralizing 32-3 loss in France, but they recovered to beat France at home and Georgia home and away. All in all, their form is a mixed bag.

France. Magnifique or merde? Nobody knows. The exciting Camille Lopez, Teddy Thomas and Wesley Fofana ooze talent but coach Philippe Saint-Andre is always under fire.

Italy. The Azzurri’s only victories over the last two years have come against Russia, Japan (who they lost to in another Test) and Georgia. One has to go back to November 2016 for the last time Italy beat a Tier 1 nation.

Japan. The Brave Blossoms, who will be captained by loose forward Michael Leitch for the second successive World Cup, will be hoping they can ride a strong run of form and get out of the pool stages for the first time.

Russia.  This month’s showpiece will only be Russia’s second World Cup participation, having previously featured in 2011 without victory, failing to qualify in 2015. They open the tournament against Japan on Friday September 20.

Samoa.  Over the last two years, the only nations they have beaten have been Germany, Spain and Tonga. They have lost to Fiji (twice), Tonga, Georgia, the USA (twice) and Australia. But with most of their Europe-based players back in now, they could come alive this World Cup.

New Zealand. Since winning the tournament in 2015, New Zealand have failed to win in eight Tests – a highly unusual figure for them. They finished second in the reduced 2019 Rugby Championship, having drawn with South Africa and lost to Australia, while they have also lost to Ireland (twice), the Lions (and drew another Test), Australia (twice) and South Africa since the last World Cup. Still, who wouldn’t bet on them to lift a third successive crown?

South Africa.  Their opening game against the All Blacks, and a potential route to top the pool and avoiding New Zealand until the final puts them in good shape. For many people, the Boks are the favorites heading into this World Cup.

Namibia. This experienced spine of their squad will be crucial in trying to achieve a first-ever win at a Rugby World Cup competition.

Canada. The summer has seen them lose to the USA (twice), Fiji and Tonga, while further defeats came against Uruguay and Brazil earlier in the year.

Argentina.  Argentina have been drawn in Pool C in Japan with England, France, United States and Tonga, and will open their campaign against the French at the Tokyo Stadium on September 21.

USA.  A berth in the quarterfinals seems so unlikely as to be nearly impossible. For a team that has produced a 3-22 record dating back to the first World Cup in 1987, the three wins it would take this year to advance to the knockout rounds is all but out of reach.

Tonga. Tonga, ranked 15 in the world look for Tonga to be ready for USA in Pool C.

Australia. The Wallabies squad contains 1,406 Test caps. Australia begin their World Cup campaign against Fiji in Sapporo on September 21 in Pool D. Australia are a dark horse. Whether they have the depth or the ability to go all the way is one thing, but they could surprise a few sides again, as they did when they reached the final in 2015.

Georgia. Georgia’s big men can match even top opposition when it comes to scrummaging, but when it’s time to clear out rucks and support teammates, they’re often a bit too slow, which showed on several occasions against Southern Kings and Scotland. Discipline is another thing Los Lelos need to sort out. Fiji. Everyone loves

Fiji; their dazzling, dancing antics, the mesmerizing moments they have brought to the competition. Neutrals will be rooting for an upset.

Uruguay. Los Teros’ warm-ups have hardly provided a benchmark for what awaits, beating a South America select XV 24-20 before thumping Brazil 43-5. They have the goal to just win one game in this World Cup.


You don’t need to have cauliflower ears and 28-inch thighs to enjoy the soap opera. Here is a list of all the highlights, drama, gossip and strange nonsense you should look out for, courtesy of

Wales coach Rob Howley sent home from Rugby World Cup amid betting allegations

Jean Kleyn a recently eligible South African replaces long time Irish stalwart Devin Toner.

Don’t run out of beer, Rugby World Cup organizers warn bar owners



Earn additional kudos in the bar by pulling out these six pre-packaged stats and statements.

When watching England

Say this: “Vunipola is a wrecking ball.”

Why: The No 8 has, for some time, been absolutely critical to England and their success.

Antoine Dupont is a Rolls Royce of a player. Wonderful running and kicking game, he is as silky a nine as they come.

When watching Wales

Say this: “You’ll never beat Dan Lydiate.”

When Watching France

Say this: “Antoine Dupont is a Rolls Royce of a player. Wonderful running and kicking game, he is as silky a nine as they come.”


If you’re a complete rugby newbie, fear not: you only need to get your head around these ten terms to know (roughly) what the commentators are going on about. If you still get confused, just swear at the referee to cover your back.

Try: Come on, even you knew this one already. A player plants the ball down between the opposition’s goal line and dead ball line and bags five points – thank you very much. Cue caveman roar / celebratory fist-pump / punching of the ball into orbit all optional.

Conversion: After every try the scoring team gets the chance to hoof the ball between the posts and over the crossbar for an extra two points. The kick takes place directly in line with where the ball was grounded, which is why scoring a try between the posts is such a big deal – not just because it looks good.

Tackle: The painful-looking part when an opponent annihilates the ball-carrier and drags him to the ground. The tackled player has to release the ball and the tackler has to release the player. You can’t tackle anyone above the shoulders – even if they slyly punched you in the face five minutes earlier.

Breakdown: Admittedly this sounds like something that happens to middle-aged men when their wife runs off with an Australian spin class instructor, but it is actually just the chaotic period of play after a tackle when players scrap for possession of the ball.

Ruck: When the ball is on the floor and one or more players from each team smash into each other over the top, a ruck is formed. The tackled player must release the ball but other players can pile in from behind – not from the side – and compete for possession. The aim is to heave each other away then move the ball backwards with their feet. No hands allowed.

Maul: When a player with the ball gets held up off the ground – without being tackled – by both an opponent and a team-mate, it’s a maul. Team-mates can again pile in from behind – but not from the side – and drive the maul forwards. Done well, it looks like a human battering ram.

Scrum: The organized 16-man rumble that follows certain infringements, such as when a player passes the ball forwards or the ball gets trapped in a ruck or a maul without any sign of progress. The eight forwards from each team bind together and drive forwards to compete for possession of the ball. It looks like a massive playground scrap but actually involves real strength and skill.

Offside: A player is offside when they’re in front of the offside line – naturally – but this line changes in different situations. In open play the ball represents the offside line. At rucks or mauls it’s marked by the feet of the player furthest back.

Penalty: If you are awarded a penalty – normally as a result of dangerous play or an offside – you can kick for goal to earn three points, or alternatively tap the ball and run, request a scrum or boot the ball into touch for your own line-out. A drop goal (that thing Jonny Wilkinson did against Australia to win the World Cup in 2003) is also worth three points and can be scored from open play.

Line-out: Like a throw-in at a football match but much more fun. When the ball goes out of play between two and seven forwards from each team stand two meters apart and contest for the ball when it’s thrown in from the touchline. Players perform elaborate lifts and maneuvers to snatch the ball, like a team of 18-stone synchronized swimmers.


If you’re still not convinced you can handle 80 minutes of rugby in the pub, here are five surprising stats to amuse you as you clear off home.


  1. Although a rugby match is 80 minutes long, the ball is actually in play for only 35 minutes.
  2. There are normally around 221 crunching tackles in every game.
  3. Elite rugby players run between 4.45km and 6.84km per game.
  4. The fastest players can sprint at speeds of up to 36kph.
  5. You can expect to see 224 passes in a match. If you stayed in the pub, that is.


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