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Let's return to yesteryear, at the first time you attended an initial talk about the sport of rugby. Maybe a film accompanied the presentation, and, after viewing, rugby seemed easy to play and fun.
At the first practice you were barraged with unfamiliar nomenclature: "ruck, maul, scrum, knock-on, touch. etc." Words to be learned, and soon.
For an older generation of American rugby players, the introduction to the laws of the game originated with the reading of a singular, helpful booklet by English humorist and rugby enthusiast, H.F. Ellis entitled, Why the Whistle Went. Notes on the Laws of Rugby Football.
Originally published in 1947, this pamphlet with its light-hearted prose and sketch ink drawings of scrums, lineouts, and all items rugby, introduced newcomers to the game. It was sanctioned by the Rugby Football Union, an official imprimatur that added weight to the amusing prose and cartoon illustrations.
Humphrey Francis Ellis, MBE, was perfectly suited to make the arcane rules and regulations understandable and an enjoyable read to players and coaches. He had earned a Double First at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1931, and won his Blue in rugby.
He became an active submitter of entertaining pieces to Punch, and also wrote urbane humor for The New Yorker. (Rugger readers aside, he is best remembered for The Papers of AJ Wentworth, BA, the hilariously fictitious tales of a frustrated British schoolmaster.)
American athletes comprehend football, basketball, and baseball by growing up with these sports and learning by constant play and osmosis the regulations that govern each game. But rugby union was new and different and the laws - a word with ominous legalistic connotation and different from just the simple rules of the game - had to be read in printed form and memorized by American neophytes.
Often in the past, written quizzes were given by foreign coaches who recognized that the quicker Yanks became familiar with the rules, the significantly fewer the amount of three point penalties awarded to the opposition.
And woe to that new-to-the game American player who committed some horrible infraction of the laws in a practice scrimmage only to be screamed at and humiliated by a British/ANZAC/South African/Irish coach, exploding with, “You dense muttonhead, didn’t you read the bloody book?”
In the 1960s, the Ellis book was replaced by a tome by British writer, the Cambridge educated, Derek Robinson entitled, Rugby: A Player's Guide to the Laws. Robinson worked in advertising in New York City and played for Manhattan RFC. He simplified the language and the description of the laws. Later, he enjoyed a brilliant career as a novelist, especially, in books about the Royal Air Force, most notably, "The Goshawk Squadron."
World Rugby has made the laws accessible on its website.