Rugby is not a game for the faint hearted. A rugby match is where you’d take a recently thawed-out Viking berserker to keep him from feeling homesick. When even the dullest match features enough carnage to fill an average episode of Game of Thrones it takes something truly spectacular to stand out as particularly insane. These are those moments.
The ’74 Lions and the 99 Call
Modern rugby is as close to legitimate Neanderthal warfare as any of us are ever likely to see without a TARDIS but like all things in life, it was so much crazier in the ‘70s. Case in point, the 1974 Lions tour of South Africa. The South Africans have always been a notoriously physical team to play against and when you get noticed as being especially physical in rugby it usually polite code for “Good God! You people are monsters!”
So when the Lions toured the country in 1974 captain Willie-John McBride knew that they’d need to come up with a strategy to keep from being intimidated and muscled off the pitch.
Apparently that strategy was “prison riot.” The infamous 99 call was to rugby what the nuclear option was to American-Russian relations, with fairly similar consequences if implemented. It was a remarkably simple tactic: If any South African tried to start something with a Lion then the entire team would immediately retaliate against him or, if they were too far away, just straight-up turn around and punch the nearest opposing player.
This medieval strategy came to a head in the infamous battle of Boet Erasmus stadium which was less of a rugby match and more of a UFC pay per view event. Welsh fullback JPR Williams famously ran half the length of the pitch to deck the South African second row just so he wouldn’t feel left out. Here’s the clip.
Believe it or not, there was some strategy behind the cartoon-esque brawls that resulted from the call. The tactic prevented referees from penalizing the tourists. With the entire pitch resembling a scene from “Braveheart” the refs were unable to tell who’d started the fight and, short of sending off the entire team, weren’t able to discipline anyone.
The Lions went onto win 21 out of their 22 games because, contrary to what we learned in school, sometimes violence is extremely effective.
David Nofoaluma and The “Flying try”
Going aerial in rugby is a brave, some might even say foolhardy move. Jumping up to catch a high ball might well win your team possession but every second you’re falling back to earth at a sedate 9.8 m/s is a second that you’re not running away from the very large men that are charging at you at terminal velocity.
Such petty fears were absent from David Nofoaluma’s mind during a game between the Wests Tigers and the overcompensatingly named Manly Sea Eagles earlier this year. Nofoaluma’s teammate chipped the ball high into the endzone ahead of him and David leapt into the air like some sort of manly sea eagle to catch it. This was especially brave when one realizes that he was essentially running directly at the defensive line at the time, one of whom helpfully slammed him in midair towards the sideline.
Now, anyone else in David’s position (in midair, hurtling rapidly out of play) would have likely accepted their fate and dropped the ball in favor of, I don’t know, frantically flapping their arms in a desperate attempt to fly. But David is a rugby player and, as such, the rational decision making part of his brain has been hemorrhaged into uselessness by now so instead the Samoan flipped almost upside down in mid-air and, in the millisecond-long window he had between crossing the tryline and heading out of bounds grounded the ball for a try.
Now on an intellectual level I know that this try was a product of Nofoaluma’s skill, years of muscle memory and impossibly good timing but I still think we should burn him as a witch just to be on the safe side.
Brian O’Driscoll’s Resurrection Tackle
I’ve mentioned this previously but rugby games don’t stop for injury unless the player’s lifeless corpse happens to be getting in the way of the rucking. So it’s not unusual to see the game continuing on one side of the pitch while the medics are desperately trying to resuscitate a comatose player on the other.
Such was the case in a game between Leinster and Munster in 2011 when medics were treating Leinster’s Brian O’Driscoll after he’d been illegally bodychecked by the 230lb Marcus Horan. The incident didn’t look like much at the time but for a split second Horan’s shoulder was pretty much inside his solar plexus. The referees missed the foul and play continued over to the opposite side of the pitch while the doctors ran on and desperately tried to re-inflate the mulched remains of O’Driscoll’s lungs.
While the medics were desperately roaring at O’Driscoll to stay away from the light and brainstorming ways to tell his wife that she’d need to invest in a stairlift, play swung back towards their side of the field. Munster had recovered the ball and seemed destined to score. That is until O’Driscoll decided that playing with an intact ribcage was for pansies.
The Ireland captain shrugged off his much-needed medical attention and rose from the turf to bring the ball carrier down, simultaneously stopping the Munster advance and providing the Catholic Church with some much needed competition.
Greg Inglis’s Superman Save
Have you ever dropped something and then caught it before it could hit the ground? It’s as close as some of us will ever come to feeling truly successful but nobody has ever done it as impressively as Greg Inglis.
During a 2008 game between New Zealand and Australia the ball was kicked high into the New Zealand endzone and Inglis was perfectly positioned to catch it and put it down for the try. Inglis’ put Australia into an early lead over their arch-rivals…or he would have if he hadn’t dropped it. As the entire world looked on the ball bounced out of Inglis’ hands and out of bounds.
In the split second following this major public embarrassment Inglis stared at the treacherous ball as it flew out of reach taking his hopes and dreams with it and thought only one thing: “Not today!”
Without breaking his stride Inglis dove out of bounds after the ball and somehow managed to catch it in mid-air. While this was undoubtedly impressive he was then presented with the slight problem that both he and the ball were now flying out of bounds towards the stands. Before gravity could figure out what the hell was going on Inglis blindly tossed the ball over his head, directly into the arms of a teammate who scored the try.
I was watching this game when it happened and I’m still not convinced that the whole thing wasn’t just choreographed by both teams before the match started. The only other person to perform a mid-air save as impressive did it to rescue Lois Lane from a crashing helicopter.
George North vs. Israel Folau
I wrote a lot about this year’s Lions tour because it all seemed like an elaborate method of culling Australian rugby players before the World Cup. The first test resulted in so many Aussie injuries that “wheelchair manufacture” is now Australia’s third most successful industry.
The most interesting match-up of the tour was on the wing between Wales’s George North and Aussie newcomer Israel Folau as both were known as aggressive ball-carriers that move far faster than any human beings their size have any right to. Folau had outplayed North in the first test, slipping by him twice to score tries and preventing him from scoring at the last minute. So when Folau tried to intercept North after he got the ball on the wing 60 minutes into the second test North decided that he’d had just about enough of this nonsense.
A quick scuffle between the two players told North that he wouldn’t simply be able to break this tackle so the Welshman chose plan B: Toss the 200lb Australian over your shoulder and carry both him and the ball. Presumably plan C was to kick the poor Aussie over the crossbar in a dropgoal attempt.
Granted, the giant Welshman only made a couple of yards before Folau’s teammates stopped pointing and laughing long enough to go help the poor guy but it was just long enough for this photo to haunt Folau for the rest of his career.
Could be worse though. In some cultures he’d now be considered North’s wife.
Richy Craven is a sophisticated machine for turning whiskey into regrettable life-choices. You can check out more of his stuff over at Cracked, A Series of Terrible Decisions or, if you like mediocre jokes about Batman and Game of Thrones, follow him on Twitter.