LAWRENCE MONEY goes sniffing out the clashing cultures of footy codes:
GOOD BLOKE, is my Kiwi mate Muzza, but he can’t stand Aussie Rules. “Stupid bloody game,” he says, nostrils flaring. He follows the code of his native country, rugby. “Your Aussie Rule is just aerial ping pong,” he says.
“That’s Rules with an S, Muzza,” I tell him, “there are more than one.” Muzza’s mutterings are fighting words but I’ve kept my cool. He loves his rugby – does a fair haka at birthday parties – but I’ve never really understood what rocks Muzza’s boat about rugby. For a start, is it rugby union or rugby league? What sort of footy code has two different sets of rules for games that look almost identical?
According to Dr Google, the big difference between the two rugbies is that “rugby league has shed from its laws several opportunities for possession to be contested that rugby union has retained: contesting the ball after the tackle, on the ground in rucks and through mauls.”
Notice how rugby uses “maul” as a noun. The verb “maul” means scratching, tearing, lacerating, wounding, mangling or savaging, like a lion mauling a human. There’s no place for faint hearts in rugby, I’ll give them that.
From what I’ve seen, both union and league are played by overweight males with no necks and headbands pinning back their cauliflower ears. Between mauls, they run for a few metres then they all fall down in a heap. They get up, stick their noses up each other’s backsides, throw the ball, run a few more metres then fall in a heap again.
Rugby players are known as the “bum-sniffers” for this reason. Dogs do this but no one pays to watch it.
I could never see much attraction in the bum-sniffing game so I was not surprised to note this year that, while crowds have soared for the AFL in 2017, you could fire the proverbial cannon through the empty seats at Australian rugby
Average cauliflower-ear crowds were 11,434, down from 21,233 only 10 years earlier. There was a time when it was said Australians would barrack for two flies crawling up a wall but it seems two groups of men without necks no longer inspire the same nationalistic sporting fervour.
I’m not surprised that 10,000 former spectators have given the game away.
Then again, you can never ignore a sport that has royal patronage. Princess Anne’s son, Peter Phillips, was rugby captain of Gordonstoun school in England. It is said that, in that role, he was given a unique option at the toss of the coin by one referee: “Grandmother or tails, sir?”
Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria's best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age -- and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines -- before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.