Christian Cieri, Illustrator

I don’t understand why you would need any convincing.

Rugby is a sport that began when a bored English schoolboy picked up a soccer ball and ran. It’s a sport that led to the birth of basketball and influenced the rules of American football. It’s a sport that is nearly two hundred years old, and more than half of the world’s population—4.2 billion people—tuned in to watch during the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

So why wouldn’t you be excited? Simply put, rugby is a game in which two teams try to move a ball down a rectangular field towards an opponents “Try-Zone” using a combination of running, passing, kicking and tackling, with a couple of set pieces thrown in. A game lasts 80 minutes with one break for halftime.

But there are a few extra special rules to remember. You can’t play a ball forwards down the field. You can’t tackle above the shoulders. Imagine that there’s a magical line stretched horizontally across the field where the ball is at a given point: if you’re past it, you’re useless in the play.

In the Rugby World Cup—which kicked off on Sept. 18—20 teams are divided into four groups of five,  seeded based on their world rankings. They’ll all play each other once as they compete for the two top spots in each group. From then on, it continues in a “win and move forward” fashion.

But, who are the ones to watch?

#1 New Zealand: There’s a reason that they’re first on the list. With their mix of power, pace and precision, they’re a team heading out to retain their World Cup title. With the likes of Dan Carter controlling the play and Richie McCaw leading the charge, they have lost just two games out of the 42 they’ve played since lifting the World Cup four years ago.

#2 South Africa: South Africa shouldn’t struggle too much in their first round as they compete in a straightforward group made up of Samoa, Japan, Scotland and the U.S. This team is consistently a class act. Dogged in everything they do, they take everything they can. Jean de Villiers, brutal up front and precise in the back, has consistently demonstrated his prowess. Just like in New Zealand, rugby is part of the cultural fabric of South Africa. The two teams have an exciting rivalry to match their dedication to the sport.

#3 Ireland: As the reigning champions of International European Rugby, Ireland now sits second in the world rankings. So much hinges on the performance, fitness and form of their key players like Johnny Sexton. Given the pressure to reaffirm their reputation, Ireland has much to accomplish. With Paul O’Connell at the helm and plenty of young talent forming the rest of the roster, Ireland has the potential for a competitive campaign and a shot at the World Cup.

#4 England: England has proven itself to be a tough competitor in past World Cups, reaching five of the last seven finals games. They’re the perfect “smash-and-grab” team, and their traditional style—brute force up front with plenty of speed out wide, is a crowd favorite. George Ford will be pulling the strings at fly half to orchestrate the race to the final.

#5 United States: Of course, we have the U.S. Tired of being tagged the “sleeping giants” of rugby, the Eagles are determined to shake up the world order. Plenty of individual talent will create some free-flowing play and make for an exciting step in the right direction.

With this rudimentary knowledge of the game and of the competition, let’s add some drama.

Rugby is a battle—it’s a game of strategy, power and skill that is beautiful to watch. It’s controlled chaos in its finest form. There rarely are easy games. Physically and mentally, it is a demanding sport that does not stop. It takes an immense effort, and winning a match is no walk in the park.

If you’re a lover of the underdog, rugby is the sport for you. It’s all about smarts and heart. Lose yourself in the exciting sights and sounds of the game, and let yourself get wrapped up in the phenomenon that is rugby.

Conway is a member of the class of 2017. 



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