Oh man, you know you're old when you actually catch yourself saying, "back in my day". Well, as for my day; it was when a try was 4 points, jumpers jumped for themselves, there were only 3 subs allowed, front rows engaged from 5 meters with no instructions, a jersey was loose fitting heavy cotton, cleats were black, most game balls were still leather, men could punch away their differences, blood was a sign you needed more tape(no blood sub), you could "play through" a concussion, raking was a teaching tool, the players sorted out fair play, practice was more competitive than most games, there were only 3 divisions with Firsts being the top, Firsts played against International players regularly, no yellow & red cards - just a verbal warning and a sending off, no unopposed scrums(if you couldn't push you went backwards all day-sometimes quickly), you could push a scrum or maul as far as you wanted, the referee didn't tell us we had to play the ball, skyhooking a front row was a tactical advantage, no professionalism, fitness was part of practice, and kicking for points was acceptable on penalties, you know the way God intended.
Ah yes, those were the days. When I returned to the club, after a 20 year hiatus, I had to learn the game all over again. Making a try worth 5 points + 2 points for the conversion, makes a converted try worth more than 2 penalty kicks and thus trys were more highly valued and penalty kicks have somewhat gone out of fashion and virtually killed drop goals. The strategy in the "modern game" is to kick for touch, win the line out, and ruck or maul in a try. Which is fine if it is successful. In the line outs the jumpers actually jumped for themselves and any effort to lift them or prolong their hang time was a penalty-it was a true jumping contest and not a lifting contest. I can't believe lifting is being allowed, from a player safety context, and I can see a day when it goes back. Every player who started a game was expected to finish it, especially front rowers, as there were only 3 subs allowed, they were reserved for injuries, not cause you were tired. You could have as many subs as you liked on the sidelines, but could only use 3. This was the biggest driver to ensure you were fit enough to handle 80 minutes of what ever kind of game it was to be. The front rows didn't need the referee to control engagement, depending on the level of play the front rows collided like Big Horn Sheep, but there was a level of mutual respect for an obviously weaker opposition. If one scrum was terrifying the other they only pushed enough to secure the ball and lock out. Unless the opposition were assholes, then you skyhooked them and doubled over the second row and stomped and raked everyone underfoot as you trampled over them. You very rarely had to do that more than once for the desired effect. It left a lasting impression, usually on legs and backs and shoulders and arms. The uniform was big heavy cotton jerseys and shorts that absorbed water and mud like a sponge, easily holding what may have been 5 pounds of moisture & mud, but just as much they were unbearably hot to play in on really warm days(BC Summer Games, July & August in heavy black cotton). The modern fabrics don't hold liquid or heat. "Amazing", said the dinosaur. All the cleats only came in black, except for a couple of flashy backs who found some white shoes. Game balls were mostly a specialized leather that was thin and treated. This only slightly inhibited the balls ability to absorb water. Scrum Halves needed some upper body strength when the ball gained 5 pounds on wet days. Fully synthetic game balls were introduced relatively soon into my playing career and were very welcomed. Rugby can certainly be a frustrating game to play and from time to time and tempers tend to flare up. We used to be able to sort things out for ourselves with a stress relieving 'dust up' or 'punch up', which went along way settle bad feelings and let off some steam. These days, one punch-connected or not-is a six game suspension. I have been in 30 man brawls (Douglas RFC) where no penalties were given, let alone sending offs. The situation was sorted and we went back to playing rugby with a precise understanding. The odd punch in the head or a well placed stomp or rake also sorted out individuals who may be cheating in areas hidden to the referee. I think the efforts to clean up the game and not allowing some some 'vigilante-ism' has driven the behaviour to subversive solutions like high tackles and so called no wrap tackles which I believe have driven up the concussion rates. There were no blood subs or concussion protocol. If you were bleeding from the nose you just kept wiping it away. If you were cut and bleeding, it depended where the cut was and how big it was. Most of the time players were mummified in tape until it stopped leaking through, on the field, during play. Players were not permitted to leave the field of play during the game, without referee permission. No waiting for one player. Concussions were less common than today. Remember, only 3 subs, so you had to be out cold or staggering to be taken out of a game. I think I can say without too much contradiction, everyone has played after having their "bell rang a bit", some players don't remember some of the best games of their lives, while playing concussed. There were only 3 divisions and it was rare that clubs didn't have 1st, 2nds, and 3rds. The Gobbler used to be the only time elite 1st Division teams could play each other (very proud to say I was on 2 winning teams). The bulk of the Canadian National Rugby Team was based in BC, as our climate allowed year round training and BC had the strongest leagues in the country. In a 1st Division game it was common to see Canadian Internationals, one season when Seattle joined the FVRU, they had the US Eagles back row. The rugby was very strong and well supported. Oh ya - NO PROFESSIONALS, we were all proud to be amateur. Though clubs provided or helped with employment that allowed for training and touring. Some clubs had houses, or their clubhouse, where players lived with subsidized rent, etc. So the 'pay for play' was subtle. If you wanted money to play rugby it was playing Rugby League. Many of the big names or Rugby Union played their amateur International careers and retired from National Team duty when their time was up. They then cashed in at the pro Rugby League leagues in Aus and the UK. Rugby League was despised as a player poaching upstart driven by money rather than the amateur purity of Rugby Union. This is why there is professional Rugby Union today. I think professionalism has hurt our game, 1)our internationals are playing abroad and not improving our home leagues and 2)many of the players in the BC Premiership are from overseas, further stopping local players from the highest levels. The general feeling is that some clubs are taking a shortcut and buying championships instead of building strong clubs with home grown talent, which is seen to be a bit of a cheat and not an even playing field. Literally someone could pay Super Rugby champion Crusaders to play in the BC Premiership, in their off season. There are many practical and contractual reasons this would likely never happen, but the concept is sound. Then there's the practices, our practices were 100% full on. We all believed that you have to practice how you play, if you practice soft you will play soft. We also had a talent heavy 1st & 2nd Division pool, there probably could have been two 1st Division teams most seasons. The internal competition was extremely high. Everyone HAD to go hard because no one wanted to let off for a second and maybe loose their spot. There were internal fisticuffs quite often, on one such occasion yours truly was bitten on the face. We were extremely competitive with each other to an intensity I just don't see now, maybe for the best. It's strange for me to see players opt out of a drill because they might get hurt. Also, in practice we ran for fitness. We did endurance and short burst fitness, long & short runs, hills, runs and hills while piggy backing someone your own size, and anything else devised. Some of us got into it after a while and saw it as a challenge to defeat the task, and accomplish the goal, pushing yourself increasingly harder as you got more and more fit. We all didn't love hard runs and there was complaining, but we all did everything together. What we really had no active concept of, at the time, was the team building aspect and how a shared perceived hardship can galvanize a group and forge a tight bond with a common experience. This factor helped build the brotherhood we shared and was responsible for our success as a group. It was all about the group. Anyone who got to high on themselves ended up being taken down a peg by the group. No one was above the collective. Captains led by example and competed the hardest in every part of training no matter what. Our rugby was precious to us, we hated not playing and practicing, bye weeks and winter breaks was just a time with no rugby and to be suffered through. No one wanted to come out of a game or not play a game. Today I see players who plan trips and holidays during the season, it was sacrilege when I missed a game for my own wedding. I hated missing the game also and during the ceremony my thoughts went to, I wonder what the score is?. The first of many compromises one makes to a wife, and probably rightly so, as my marriage has lasted the 24 years after my playing career and has now been 10 years longer than my playing career. As a 54 year old man I can now look back and regret every opportunity missed to play rugby, thinking there's always next week or next season. I can tell you for ALL of us, the day we can no longer take the physical abuse and have to retire from rugby comes to us all and when that reality sets in it is with a seemingly sudden and unfair development. Don't let that milestone pass easily as the end is the end, our rugby careers are finite. I can guarantee every retired player would give anything for one chance to go back in time or to be young enough to play today for one more game. I don't think the players of today will necessarily feel the same in future, as some will miss GAMES for the seemingly flimsiest of reasons (ie: to referee a different rugby game, this is honourable and respectable, but it's a game you will never get back, and something else I don't understand about Millenials.
Some say rugby was better back then, some will say the modern game is better, in someways maybe it is. In my experience they are two different games being played by two different types of athletes. Not better, just different from 'back in my day'.