Sports This Week - A fresh look at 13s rugby

I am a rugby fan, as regular readers have no doubt already noted.

In fact, I would chose to watch rugby over any other sport, although, that has long meant union rugby, or as I term it 15s.

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Union rugby is what is played in the new Major League Rugby loop where the Toronto Arrows are in their first year, sitting fourth in the nine team league after five weeks of play.

There is however, a second type of rugby that I have shied away from, and that is league rugby, or as I term it 13s.

The use of numbers to differentiate the two types of rugby refer to the number of players each team has on the field, and simply makes it easier for fans in North America. Using the English labels of union and league is confusing since league is used across all sports to signify a group playing a schedule.

How the names came to be is unclear, but rugby split into two types way back in 1895, that’s a decade before Saskatchewan became a province, so the two types have long individual histories.

If you watch the two games you can see a common heritage, but they are largely unique sports after a century-plus of development.

My first experience  watching 13s was years ago catching some games out of Australia, where it is popular, one of only two locales where it is the top dog of rugby, the other being northern Britain where the game originated.

Without  a team to really care about, and with the 13s game being quite different in play – no line-outs, a scrum that is a scrum in name only, uncontested rucks, limited possessions – I couldn’t get into the game at all. It frankly seemed like an abomination of the 15s game I loved.

Then the Toronto Wolfpack came into existence.

Currently the Wolfpack competes in the Betfred Championship, (based primarily in Britain). The team began playing in 2017 in League 1 and won a promotion in its inaugural season. In 2018 the club competed in the Championship and The Qualifiers, where it was one win away from promotion to the top-tier Super League, which of course is the ultimate goal.

In searching out MLR Arrows games on GameTV, which is broadcasting the games in Canada, I noted they are also showing Wolfpack games.

So I did some research into the 13s game, and was struck by one comparison which suggested 13s was checkers to the chess of 15s. As a board game player, one who especially likes abstract strategy games, it was an analogy I could understand.

So with a more open mind, and now a Toronto team to follow, I DVRed my first Wolfpack game about a month ago. The 13s game is still a long way from 15s, but I have come to appreciate that. The two games are not looking to mirror one another. They were created out of differing philosophies, and continue being true to their roots offering two distinct styles of rugby.

Needless to say I now follow both the Arrows and Wolfpack. The Arrows game will remain first in my heart, but the Wolfpack are winning me over too.

Search out GameTV and give both teams a watch, they are definitely playing entertaining rugby.

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