With the British Lions having just drawn their final test match in New Zealand, resulting in a drawn series, many dedicated 'football-only' fans across the British Isles may find themselves wondering what exactly the Lions are. The Lions, rugby fans might reply, are a touring squad featuring English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh rugby players - sort of like the Olympic British football team, except without all the politics that made it a disaster before it started. While rugby may trump football when it comes to camaraderie between the home countries, does it manage to stay ahead when it comes to the final whistle?
Respect for the referee is integral to rugby. While football players commonly argue with referees, rugby players are expected to accept the referee’s decision or be marched back 10 yards.
There’s also respect between players and fans when it comes to rugby. Whatever happens during the game is forgotten about at the final whistle. Opposition players and fans may shake hands and buy each other a beer - such a scenario is unthinkable for a lot of football fans.
When it comes to popularity there’s no doubt football wipes the floor with rugby. 700 million people around the world watched the 2014 FIFA World Cup final, thousands placed a bet online for the outcome of the winner, and by the 2018 World Cup in Russia their will be even more viewers. On the other hand, only 33 million watched the Rugby World Cup final. There simply is no comparison.
Only one winner again here. Football is a truly global sport, whereas rugby is only really played competitively by a dozen countries. While football may be more competitive globally, the case shouldn’t be overstated. Over 80 years and 19 Football World Cups, only 8 countries have won, and 5 of those teams have won it 16 times between them. On the other hand, 4 teams have won 7 Rugby World Cups in 24 years.
Football is a simple game that just needs one ball, and a makeshift goal. The rules are simple and the same the world over. Rugby, on the other hand, is complicated. It requires special posts and, to be played properly, lines marking the 22. Many of the rules seem open to interpretation - especially when it comes to scrummaging.
While rugby has been happy to adopt technology, using television replays to determine whether a try has been scored for example, football has dragged its heels, despite high profile cases such as England’s disallowed goal against Germany during the World Cup. However, the recent introduction of the VAR (Video Assiaant Referee) system sees football trialling technology at long last.
While fans of both sports may know their game isn’t perfect, they’re unlikely to concede that the opposing code is better. For us, it's obviously football. But whichever game you choose, at the final whistle when the scores are tied, and we’re into extra time, it's great sport...