The Roar
The Roar


Rugby league vs rugby union is like checkers vs chess

Roar Guru
3rd June, 2008
25324 Reads

Rugby union is like chess and rugby league is like checkers. Checkers is a game where the piece does the same thing. And rugby league is a game where all the players do the same thing.

They take the ball up. On the tackle, they put the ball through their legs and start again.

Rugby league scrums are golden oldie scrums, so that doesn’t count. There are no line-outs or malls.

Sure, running the ball up has a different degree on demand between the forward and backs, but not much.

To disallow one team having all the possession, there is a six tackle count, as the game does not allow more contests for possession to change hands.

Rugby league players, if put together in a police line-up, would all look the same physical design.

Chess, on the other hand, is a game where the piece does many different things.

The array of very different abilities of each chess piece allows the chess player to be very creative when it comes down to tactics. Chess has more structure than checkers, just as union has more structure than league.


And it should remain so.

Rugby union can be broken down into combinations: frontrow, backrow, loose forwards, the back of scrum, centre-field, back three.

These combinations perform as units within the structured game of rugby, performing specialised roles, with specific skills and body shape.

Fracturing the demand for a player with these specialised skills is a move away from the structured (chess) game and a move towards a more generic player (checkers). The generic player will be selected on his ability to multi-task rather than perform a specialised role (like having 15 loose forwards).

Rugby has been able to live within a fine balance of structured (scrums, malls, kick offs, 22 dropouts, full line-outs) and non-structured play (phase play, quick taps, quick lineouts).

The operative word is ‘balance’, and all rule changes should be measured on how they keep this very fine balance (see my comments on ELVs) .

Balance is critical, as it allows a fair chance for the rugby player’s specialised skill (prop, half back, 2nd 5/8, and so on) to be exercised within the game’s many contests (frontrow contests, mid-field contests, tall timber line-out contests, speedster wing contests, and back of the scrum contests).


Non-structured play reduces the fair chance of these type of contests occurring within a game as the play in a one-on-one contest is random and not structured.

If rugby administrators break the rule that ‘rugby is like chess’, they will have a hybrid game that is somewhere between checkers (union) and chess (league).

A hybrid game will see rugby lose its hard won identity, and the marketing boys will tell you that to have a good brand, you need a distinctive point of difference from the competition.

The honest intention to attract TV revenues from the temporary fan (those that watch rugby league, Australian Rules, American football, and football) is commendable, but not at the expense of the ‘true rugby fan’.

Rule changes and playing times suitable for TV viewing are not always in the best interest of the rugby fan. Administrators must protect the base that got the game from 1901 to 2008.

Forwards should be forwards, and backs should be backs. Rugby must remain game for fatties, skinnies, tall and short players!

Any thing else is not the rugby game that I fell for when I was a young fella watching the All Blacks win and lose. If I my views are in the minority, then I will be another number in the statistic titled ‘Declining attendance’.