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Rugby! Now that must be a difficult ‘sell’ to a new nation. Once you’ve been told that your job is to stop a 250lb man-mountain running at you at full tilt without the aid of a hunting rifle, you’ll be seriously and rightly concerned. But when you’re also told that you get none of that ‘namby pamby’ padding let alone a helmet as in Amercian Football, then you’ll no doubt question the sanity of those who play!
And you’d be right to do so because most of them are indeed utterly insane. You have to be to go ear to ear in a scrum with someone who looks similar to a gorilla following a brief encounter with a Gillette Mach 3 razor. But those who do play though seem to love it. It becomes a way of life!
It ca only be assumed that the tangible enthusiasm of the British armed forces who brought the sport to Malta was enough to convince some of the locals to give it a go! Understandably, the initial reaction from the sensible Maltese was a combination of reluctance and hysterical laughter. But slowly they got the bug and in recent times, the attitude has swung full circle to the game played by men with odd-shaped balls.
Rugby has experienced an upward surge in interest, mostly down to some unprecedented successes by the national team. Youngsters were starting to play. A new crop of players emerged and people turned up to watch, which is not so hard to believe, as that has always been good fun and distinctly less painful than taking part.
Heightened interest led to the formation of new clubs and the creation of a national league. The clubs started to play each other regularly in spite of there being precious few proper pitches to stage the games. Grass is still a rare commodity on this island, although the national squad does get to use decent pitches and also tend to draw a sizeable crowd.
Now the sport is much more trendy among the young who see it as a refreshing change, or something different to try if they’re rubbish at the island’s sport of choice – football! Plenty more prefer to watch, especially internationals, although the Maltese team is not renowned for inflicting crushing results.
As a rule, rugby crowds tend to be much more civilised and friendly than the average football mob and you’ll find that if you choose to turn up to watch. There’s also much more honesty and obedience to officials on the pitch, which seems to transfer into the stands. Unlike footballers, who go down moaning writhing, as if they’ve taken a heat-seeking missile in the chest, as soon as someone breathes at the side of them, these hardmen get up and play on.
International games are held either at the Hibs Stadium, which is in Corradino, or at the Marsa Sports Grounds, a sprawling former colonial leisure complex that also has facilities for tennis, football, horse-racing, athletics, cricket, golf and polo.
So if you see a game advertised when you’re in Malta then pop on down and give it a try (sorry). As a novice you’ll almost certainly not understand the rules but the atmosphere and experience will be well worth it.
The obvious highlights of the rugby calendar are the international matches, which again are mainly held at the Corradino Ground but there’s also a Maltese League with regular fixtures. Information on fixtures can be found on the Malta Rugby website below.
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