• Sports

5 Reasons Why You Should Pause American Football and Watch the Rugby World Cup

6 minute read

The Rugby World Cup kicks of in London on Friday evening when England take on Fiji. The tournament has 20 teams including the U.S. although the strong favorites are New Zealand. While rugby is very popular in some parts of the world and spawned American football in the 19th century, it remains a minority sport in the U.S.. Universal Sports and NBC Sports are broadcasting 16 of the games, although bars popular with expatriates will be showing many more.

If you are more inclined towards American football, here are five reasons you should start paying attention over the next six weeks of the Rugby World Cup.

1. Rugby players don’t wear helmets

This is not simply, though it is this too, a question of toughness and courage, it is one of aesthetics and safety too. Though rugby, like American football, is increasingly conscious of the dangers that can be caused by repeated concussions, the lack of helmets — and the extravagant padding that is a feature of American football — paradoxically aids player safety. Head to head collisions are rarer in rugby, largely because the lack of helmets means players are not (wrongly) convinced of their own invulnerability. American football coaches are beginning to appreciate they could learn from rugby. The Seattle Seahawks, Superbowl champions in 2014, have introduced tackling techniques borrowed from rugby to their training sessions. So have the Ohio State Buckeyes, the reigning college football champions. Other elements of American football are also borrowing from rugby: the increasing prevalence of Australian punters in college football and the popularity of “rugby style punting” is evidence that American football can learn from rugby’s greater, more varied, range of skills.

New Zealand v Australia - Bledisloe Cup
From left: Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Ma'a Nonu of the All Blacks perform the haka during The Rugby Championship, Bledisloe Cup match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies at Eden Park on Aug. 15, 2015 in Auckland.Phil Walter—Getty Images

2. Rugby players have to be multi-skilled

American football is a game of specialists. With the exception of dual-threat quarterbacks, most players on a gridiron squad have only one job. In the modern era, few players are expected to play on offense and defence. Their rugby counterparts, however, have to be all-rounders. Every player must know how to run, pass, tackle and ruck. No man’s contributions are limited to a single facet of the game. Half the players — the backs — must also know how to kick the ball. Every position demands a degree of specialisation but every player must also play his part in the collective effort. All this helps ensure that rugby is a richer, more rounded, game than American football. Trade-offs abound: a player’s strength in one element of the game must be weighed against his relative weakness is another facet of rugby. Ultimately, however, more is asked of the players. Rugby is a lateral game as well as a vertical one.

3. A rugby game doesn’t last all day

A rugby game last 80 minutes and is over in less than two hours; an American football game lasts 60 minutes and can sometimes take more than three and a half hours to complete. The ball is “live” in a rugby match for 40 minutes and sometimes longer than that. In American football, by contrast, the actual playing time amounts to no more than a handful of minutes. Most of the time nothing is happening. As George Will once observed, “Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings.” Rugby, of course, is a violent game too but it is also a poetic one, in which the ceaseless ebb and flow of the play creates its own kind of martial rhythm. It is not, as American football frequently seems to be, a three hour commercial break during which, for a few seconds a time, some sport is permitted.

See the Top 10 Boxing Matches of All Time

Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, Oct. 1, 1975 As close to death as he'd ever been. And that's how the winner described it. Little wonder that the "Thrilla in Manila" (aka Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III), tops TIME's list of greatest ever fights. The pair entered the decisive third heavyweight fight at 1-1 and the searing Philippine heat made conditions as close to hell as was possible. From the start there was nothing humane about the way the pair went at each other. You feel that had it not been for the 15-round limit and, ultimately, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch throwing in the towel at the end of the 14th, they would still be boxing today. "I want him, boss," screamed Frazier. Futch simply replied, "It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today." As for Ali, in typically modest fashion, he described his opponent as, "the greatest fighter of all time, next to me."Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Images
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Angel Firpo, Sept. 14, 1923 Short and sweet. That's how you'd have to describe heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey's defense of his title against Luis Angel Firpo, the "Wild Bull" of the Pampas, before 80,000 people at the Polo Grounds in New York. Dempsey floored Firpo seven times, with Firpo knocking Dempsey clean out of the ring — and that was just the first round (there was no three knockdown rules back then. Indeed, Dempsey was allowed to stand over the fallen fighter and immediately knock Firpo down again, as there wasn't a rule about going to a neutral corner either). Conspiracy theorists believe that Firpo was denied a valid victory in the first round as Dempsey was helped back into the ring by the writers at ringside and the referee was accused of counting incredibly slowly. Nevertheless, after 11 total knockdowns between the pair, Dempsey won by KO in the second. The fight was also important from a historical perspective because it was the first time that a Latin American boxer would fight for the world heavyweight title.AP
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Sugar Ray Leonard, Sept. 16, 1981 This early 80s showdown at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas — billed as "The Showdown" — between WBC welterweight champ "Sugar" Ray Leonard and the hitherto undefeated Thomas "Hitman" Hearns, owner of the WBA crown, was a fight of beauty, full of an ebb and flow throughout. They were fighting to unify the World Welterweight Championship and the stakes couldn't have been higher. First Hearns, then Leonard and then Hearns again held the lead. Between rounds 12 and 13, Leonard's trainer, the legendary Angelo Dundee, exclaimed "You're blowing it, son! You're blowing it!" Leonard simply exploded in the 13th, knocking Hearns through the ropes. He didn't relent and finished him off in the 14th with a furious flurry of punches that forced referee Davey Pearl to call a halt to proceedings. Even worse for Hearns was that he was actually leading on all the judges' scorecards up to that point.Dirck Halstead—Getty Images
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti, May 18, 2002 This pair put fans through the ringer three times, but their first fight will be seen as their fiercest. Both withstood almost non-stop punishment through 10 rounds of grueling action. Ward, who dropped Gatti in the ninth round with a savage left hook to the body, won the fight by majority decision. That ninth round was called "The Round of the Century" by Emanuel Steward, who co-hosted the fight on HBO. Ring Magazine named the fight the best of the year with boxing fans and writers going one (hyperbolic) step further, hailing it as the fight of the century. Wherever you stood on this, you undeniably wanted more. And fans got it, with Gatti winning two subsequent rematches. Ward announced his retirement before their third fight and will be portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in the film 'The Fighter'. Gatti tragically died in 2009.Steve Miller—AP
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn, June 18, 1941 Legendary heavyweight champion Louis took on the Pittsburgh Kid Conn at the Polo Grounds. Giving away at least 25 pounds, Conn was the heavy (or should that be light?) underdog but proceeded to outbox Louis. Boxing historian Bert Sugar wrote that, "Conn could block punches with his arms, elbows and gloves, and further nullify his opponents' punches by 'rolling' with them." By the eighth round, dehydration had set in on Louis and by the 12th he was completely exhausted with Conn ahead on two of the scorecards (Louis later admitted in his autobiography that he rested up toward the end of his training schedule because "I didn't want them to say in the papers that I beat up on some little guy"). Conn got cocky in the 13th and tried to finish Louis off; but by going for the KO, he exposed his impressive defense, was caught by his opponent and was counted out with two seconds left in the round. Let that serve as a lesson to underdogs everywhere.Joseph Costa—New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo, May 7, 2005 They may not have been household names but with the WBC lightweight title at stake, Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo wowed every house which watched this classic. The pace was simply unrelenting with both fighters landing and receiving repeated blows over nine nasty rounds. The fight ended in memorable fashion in the 10th when Corrales, after being floored twice, rose and landed a devastating series of shots that left Castillo draped helpless on the ropes. But this devastating denouement would not be without controversy: upon getting up for the second time, Corrales spat out his gumshield, thus benefitting from an unofficial 30 second timeout, whereby he literally regained his senses. The pair fought against each other again with Castillo easily gaining revenge. But the decisive final fight, inevitably dubbed "The War to Settle the Score", was canceled due to Castillo weighing too much.Eric Jamison—AP
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns, April 15, 1985 Arguably the greatest opening round in boxing history, the savage pace set by "Marvellous" Marvin and the "Hitman" at Caesars Palace is still discussed to this day. At the time, sportscaster Barry Tompkins, calling the fight for HBO, yelled out "This is still only the first round!" Of course they couldn't keep it up and the aptly named "War" came to a swift end after, in the words of Ring Magazine, the "most electrifying eight minutes ever" as Hagler scored a third-round KO. The enduring image of a blood soaked Hagler being carried around the ring in victory with Hearns being taken back to his corner in a state of semi-consciousness serves to remind us what a brutal sport this can be.AP
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera I, Feb. 19, 2000 Mexicans beam with pride when recalling their countrymen's epic effort back at the turn of the century. Ring Magazine's fight of 2000 was fully justified as the slender boxers belied their small stature to deliver a heavyweight performance which didn't relent (the fifth round has to be seen to be believed) and resulted in Morales winning by a split decision. But considering that Barrera had the only knockdown of the fight, many complained at the outcome which — quelle surprise — led to a rematch (won by Barrera via a unanimous outcome). Cue the third fight (this time at Super Featherweight) where Barrera was declared the winner by a majority decision.Jed Jacobsohn—Getty Images
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor, March 17, 1990 Endings don't get much more dramatic than this. Expectations were high for the bout nicknamed "Thunder Meets Lightning", referring to Chavez's punching power and Taylor's speed. And while the fight definitely delivered, it enters folklore for the nature of the sudden, dramatic, and controversial ending that continues to be debated to this day. Taylor steadily built a commanding lead on points thanks to easily evading his opponent and outpunching him by a margin of 5-1. But when Chavez did manage to connect, his punches did considerable damage as a result of being the heavier man. Going into the 12th, Taylor was ahead on all three scorecards (and by a big margin on two of them) but for some reason, Taylor's trainer Lou Duva told his man that he needed to win the final round. Bad move: Taylor was so tired that he fell to the canvas just by failing to land a wild left hand. The final minute was all Chavez and he dropped Taylor with seconds remaining. Taylor got to his feet and was asked by referee Richard Steel if he was able to continue. By not answering (though some say Taylor gave a slight nod), Steele concluded he was unfit to carry on and stopped the fight, scoring a TKO victory for Chavez with only two seconds to go. No wonder his 2009 autobiography was called Two Seconds From Glory.Ken Levine—Getty Images
Top 10 Boxing Matches in History
Chris Eubank vs. Nigel Benn I, Nov. 18, 1990 These two British boxers reached the peak of their careers around the same time. Naturally, fight fans demanded a match-up. The drama kicked in before a single punch had even been thrown: As Eubank walked out to the sound of Tina Turner's "Simply the Best", the song suddenly stopped. It's alleged that Benn's entourage sabotaged the music (to his credit, Eubank was nonplussed and still managed to perform his trademark cocky vault into the ring). Benn, ominously known as the Dark Destroyer, looked furious. As for the fight itself, it went back and forth as both men gave their all (commentator Jim McDonald screamed at one point, "Jesus, look at that right hand!"). But it was Eubank who took the World Middleweight title when the fight was stopped in the ninth after Benn was subjected to a barrage of blows in the corner despite the fact that he'd floored Eubank earlier that same round. The two fought out a draw a few years later. Despite the build-up, that match couldn't live up to their first meeting which was, indeed, simply the best.Chris Smith—Popperfoto/Getty Images

4. Rugby is an international game

Bob Ufer, the long-time commentator on Michigan football observed, “Football is a religion and Saturday’s the holy day of obligation” and the gridiron game certainly brings Americans together. Despite taking a handful of games to London each season, however, football largely remains a uniquely American pastime. Rugby, by contrast, is international. The World Cup has become a quadrennial festival of the sport. There are few, if any, other sports in which countries such as Fiji are afforded a moment in the global limelight. What unites rugby people, wherever they are from, is vastly greater than anything that divides them. It brings people and nations together, celebrating the game for the sake of the game just as much as we might, each of us, desperately want our own nation to prevail. National pride is on the line, but there is pride in just being part of the game too. French rugby is very different from Australian rugby which in turn is very different from South African rugby which in turn is distinguished from the brand of rugby played in Samoa. It is a winning and warming mix of styles and people that helps give the game its unique appeal.

5. Most rugby is amateur

Adults actually play rugby for the love of the game. Vanishingly few Americans play football after they have left college; rugby, by contrast, is played into adulthood and even, often, early middle age. It is a game to be played, not just watched. In New Zealand and other heartlands such as Wales or southwest France, every town, no matter how small, has its rugby team. Rugby is how these places define themselves, how they make their mark on their small corner of the world. The vast majority of rugby people play for nothing more than their love of the game and the pride of their club. It is a badge of community honor. The game is bigger and greater than just its highest echelons. Professional rugby stands on the shoulders of the amateur game and, if a game can be said to have a soul, it resides in the countless amateur clubs around the world, not in the relatively small number of players paid to play the sport. Like a fine wine, rugby has “terroir” and this helps make it a deeper, richer, more nourishing sport than American football which, once high school and college have been left behind, largely exists as just a professional circus played by one dimensional behemoths.

Read More: Multicultural New Zealand Has Melded Spirit and Skill To Create the Perfect Rugby Squad

Read More: In Its 8th World Cup, Rugby Hopes to Take Over the World

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com