Simon Taylor's Analysis of Rugby Jargon

September 25, 2017

Jargon is everywhere. In the past, arcane terminology was predominantly found in the realms of science, technology and manufacturing and was necessary to describe processes and objects that were novel or unique to those spheres. But now, in an economy dominated by service-based industries, the language used to describe the simplest concepts has been work-shopped and bullshitted to the point that it is barely recognisable as English.

I’m sure you can immediately bring to mind common examples of what I’m talking about-”U.S.P”, “monetize”, “future-proof”, “adding value”-and probably agree that hearing them used without irony has an effect similar to fingernails scraping down a blackboard. You have to concede that some of these phrases do have their place: they are both universally understood and can save time by capturing the essence of a more complicated idea in one pithy package. But there are others which have the whiff of wilful obfuscation about them, and you might be tempted to think that they are part of a conspiracy to lend certain nebulous professions (change management consultant, anyone? Your guess is as good as mine) an added veneer of expertise and a further justification for sky-high fees.

There is even a bit of jargon to describe all this jargon - “#buzzwords”. Rugby is no different, and buzzwords are woven into the way we talk about and play the game. But there is no doubt that the jargon used when on the pitch is incredibly useful; mainly because you can go to any rugby club in the English-speaking world and the basics of pitch-speak will be the same. There are your very obvious terms such as “cut”, “loop”, “miss” and “grubber”, but I am also amazed by how players the world over, know what is meant by a “ranghi” or a “Gregan” (how sweet would that be, to have a move named after you for all time? Another one that springs to mind is the “Lomu” - a dummy switch then back inside to the blindside winger - but this has pretty much died out as it doesn’t really work against a half-decent defence. Or if you don’t have Jonah Lomu c. 1995 on the end of it).

As well as these universal buzzwords, each country develops its own rugby vernacular. It’s always interesting to listen to the ref’s mic during English premiership games and hear the same calls coming from a variety of teams. This is partly due to the movement of professional coaches (particularly defence coaches) from club to club, and partly the top-down influence of the national team.

So you’ll hear “Fire!” to mean counter-ruck, “Kill!” when putting pressure on the kicker and “Red/blue/insert team’s strip colour/ wall when organising a kick-chase. Pretty much every team uses “Blitz” or occasionally “Rhino” to go up hard in defence and a term that has definitely become more common in the past few years in reaction to the new breakdown laws is the urgent cry of “Chop!” The first guy I played with who wholeheartedly embraced the chop tackle was Nacho Lobbe, and when he would start screaming “Chop!” at the side of a ruck in his comedy Spanish accent before diving head-first at the ball-carrier’s ankles, I could only conclude that he was mental.

All these instantly recognised buzzwords are simple ways to allow any team to function better. You just have to play in France for a while to realise that the adaptability of the English language is a god-send to on-pitch communication. There are many punchy trigger words, such as “line-speed” that are simply untranslatable into French, and in France it is also much harder to turn verbs into nouns, so a simple English term like “offload” becomes something like “une passe apres-plaquage”. Try calling for one of those through your gumshield as your mate takes contact.

Meanwhile, the increased media coverage of rugby over the past ten years or so has also led to an enlarged lexicon of hyperbolic buzzwords outsiders can use to describe what happens on the pitch. The, classic, unavoidable adjective for something that was, admittedly, pretty good, is of course “immense”. Stuart Barnes should see if he can copyright this new meaning he has given to the word.

We are constantly told that it’s a “game of inches” (courtesy of Al Pacino, I think) decided by “fine margins”, usually won by the team that “wins the collision area”. As in any other walk of life, all this jargon can stray into the realm of cliché but equally it does provide a useful short-hand when talking about the game. And all very handy when averagely clueless onlooker wants to appear in the know.

Anyway I'm off to get M.W.I!

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