Strange but true
Dave Walder reveals some of the stranger rugby rules he has experienced whilst playing in Japan.
Last Updated: 02/01/13 1:07pm
When I arrived in Japan a year and a half ago, I had a rough idea of what I was letting myself in for.
I had been to the country on rugby tours twice and had a brief encounter with a culture which couldn't be further removed from what I had spent the last 10 years of my life enjoying first in Newcastle and then more recently in London.
I had been warned to take my time to adjust to how things were done and not to get too flustered should things appear out of the ordinary and have become able to appreciate when to question things and when it is best to keep my head down and keep moving.
However, if my experiences this season are to be believed, it appears Japanese rugby is ruled by a different set of laws from anywhere else playing the sport in the world. Here is a flavour of what I have come across from both playing and union officials alike.
Socks must always be pulled up and shirts tucked in. I am yet to find out what the punishment is should a referee find you on the pitch with your socks round by your ankles or your shirt untucked. One of the highlights of Shane Williams' debut for the Dynaboars was watching a union official tap him on the shoulder as he waited to get onto the pitch before explaining in pigeon English that his socks were too low.
No fluids allowed
An allocation of 15 minutes on the pitch before kick-off means the majority of pre-game warm-ups are done on astro turf tennis courts or a running track. I'm not sure of the benefit of keeping the teams off the pitch but the argument of protecting the turf falls down as we are about to play 80 minutes of rugby on the same field they are trying to protect. I can imagine before the 2019 World Cup Final, the teams sharing three astro turf tennis courts only metres away from each other trying to prepare for potentially the biggest game of their lives. This rule obviously means there is also no pre-game kicking allowed unless the team's management are happy for the time the kicker is on the pitch to be deducted from the 15 minutes allotted to each team.
Another rule in place to protect the turf is that no sports drinks are allowed to be drunk on the pitch during play. This was in place for our game at the weekend but fortunately, we had been warned and so had practiced in the week, only drinking water. This one was a bit harder for the officials to enforce, so they relied on the honesty of both teams.
The next fluid rule which is a bit more serious is where and when you are allowed to take a drink during the game. Pre-season games and the games at the start of the regular season are often played at 1pm in some of the hottest and most humid places in Japan. Despite there being reports annually of high school rugby players dying from dehydration, most stadiums ban water carriers from entering the field of play at stoppages. It is up to players to make their way to the designated water areas when the referee signals time off or calls an official water break (usually one each half). This extends to the person taking on the kicking tee. Often, I used to take a drink to try and settle my breathing and give myself a break before attempting the goal kick. Since I've been in Japan, I have had to adapt my routine.
Rugby in Japan is very much a growing sport and crowds are on the up. Often, there will be two games in an afternoon to try and generate a bit more interest and to try and encourage a better atmosphere. It's not a law being enforced although, on two occasions, the 1000 or so crowd have become too raucous for the referee's liking and he has asked them to remain quiet so the hookers can hear the lineout calls. I guess they aren't in favour of home advantage!
These all come as specific laws enforced by individuals or by the stadiums where the games are played. Having my nails checked as well as my studs pre game is very much the norm as is being told by the referee before every game that there is no place for rough play on the pitch. It is at this point in the referee's briefing before every game that I want to remind them that we are indeed playing rugby, and indeed at a level where it is often the more physical team which dominates the game!